On Nov. 4, D.C. residents will get to choose who some of their next school board members are going to be. But, it doesn’t seem like anyone cares.
Amidst a hodgepodge of direct mail pieces, sponsored Facebook posts, and scattered election signs for attorney general, mayor, and other offices, it seems like the D.C. School Board of Education race has gotten lost. Several factors contribute to this.
Board President and Ward 5 candidate for re-election, Mark Jones.
One is historical. When former D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty took control of the District of Columbia public schools in 2007, public attention shifted. Now, instead of the local school board, residents tend to look to the mayor, the superintendent, and even the D.C. Council as major contributors to public education.
Archived election results reported by D.C.’s Board of Elections further demonstrate public interest and opinion. When Ward-specific data isanalyzed from 2008 until now, D.C. voters cast fewer votes for school board elections than for Mayor or D.C. Council. This indicates that the local electorate lacked knowledge about the races, or what’s more alarming, that they just didn’t care.
Another contributing factor to the missing 2014 school board race is resources. School board candidates raise less money for campaigns than their counterparts do. Using this year’s race as an example, Councilmember Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4), a mayoral candidate still has $1 million to spend to reach voters. Some council candidates have up to nearly $100,000 left, but school board candidates haven’t raised nearly as much.
Nationwide public apathy may also contribute to lack of D.C. resident engagement. Voter turnout is historically low in non-Presidential election years, and D.C.’s low turn-out for the 2014 Mayoral Primary shows that some residents have already checked out and lost confidence in D.C. government.
In the face of public indifference, however, school board candidates are adamant about the importance of the race. “There are several reasons for parents and families to care about this race,” Board President and Ward 5 candidate for re-election, Mark Jones told the AFRO Oct. 19. “We decide what a child learns, how children are assessed, and what public policies, such as No Child Left Behind, our education system will or will adhere to. All of these issues are gravely important.”
This year’s school board race includes a total of 12 candidates in four Wards: 1, 3, 5, and 6. Wards 1 and 3 are the most highly-contested races with five and four candidates in each race, respectively. Out of all candidates, only two are black: E. Gail Anderson Holness, candidate for Ward 1, and Jones.
First elected in 2008, Jones, wasn’t originally seeking the education post. “I was looking for a candidate to run and advocate for our schools, but wasn’t satisfied by anyone. I talked to my wife and she suggested I should run, and here I am.”
In 2008 Jones had two opponents. In this year’s election, he runs unopposed. “I think that my running unopposed is a reflection of what I’ve done while on the board. I think the voters feel I have done a good job and I hope to continue to do so,” he said.
Jones is proud of his accomplishments in office. Since 2008, the board has gained budget autonomy, a new office of Ombudsman, and is currently accepting applications for a student representative. The board is also working with other officials as city-wide assessments transition from the District of Columbia comprehensive assessment system to Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers.
All in all, multiple school board races, and participation of Black candidates, show that the state of D.C. public schools remains a salient issue. The key is getting the rest of D.C. involved.