January 6, 2016
Guest Viewpoint
by Bret Begert

Recognizing the Outstanding Work of Local School Trustees

We live in an age when the ideas of a global economy and being a citizen of the world are more and more true. Our communications allow us to be in touch with people on the other side of the planet more immediately than ever. But at the same time, the value of the local community, of neighbors helping neighbors, cannot be replaced.  

Volunteering to Serve

One example of neighbors helping neighbors is the local school board. In more than 1,000 public school districts in Texas, citizens elect their neighbors to serve as trustees to ensure that the schools are the best they can be for the community’s children. The quality of schools is an important aspect of our lives, and we are blessed when people we know and trust volunteer to serve freely—there is no salary for this demanding job—to benefit our families.

There are more than 7,000 locally elected school trustees in Texas, which makes them the largest group of elected officials in the state. Even though they receive no pay for their work, they are required to get a certain number of training hours each year. The state and federal requirements, the intricate accountability system, and the funding formulas for schools are a few of the complicated topics trustees must navigate.

A Big Responsibility

School trustees are responsible for the ongoing education of the more than 5.2 million school-aged students in the Lone Star State. Five million seems like an overwhelming number to me, but you can’t stop there. For the last several years, the Texas student population has been growing by 75,000 to 85,000 annually, so the responsibility keeps increasing.

It takes a lot of infrastructure to provide classrooms for that many students. We have more than 8,500 public schools and more than 334,000 teachers statewide. I am proud to say that the 2015 National Teacher of the Year is a Texas teacher from Amarillo. She exemplifies the outstanding dedication and innovative spirit that characterizes the many hard-working teachers in Texas schools.

Saying Thank You

The tremendous effort going on in our schools is largely invisible to most Texans. If you don’t have a student in a Texas public school, you may not know about the hard work of our large and growing student population, the caring and creative instruction by our army of teachers, and the dedicated service of the thousands of school trustees.

Let me urge you to make time to visit a Texas public school in your neighborhood. They are places of incredible energy and purpose. You will be greatly impressed by the many opportunities available to our students in these schools.

Let me also encourage you to express appreciation for the teachers in your community. They are a diligent and inspirational group of people. They deserve your applause and support.

And finally, let me recommend that you seek out the trustees serving your school district. They are volunteers who generously offer their time and insight for the common good. Our communities benefit greatly when our schools achieve their goals, and locally elected trustees are public servants in the true definition of that label. They have accepted significant responsibilities for students, teachers, facilities, and school budgets.

Governor Abbott has declared January to be School Board Recognition Month, a time to learn a bit more about the role these often unsung heroes play in making sure our communities are strong. Join me in saying thank you to the many men and women who serve as school trustees in Texas. We appreciate you.

Bret Begert serves as a trustee for the Fort Elliott Consolidated Independent School District and is currently serving as President of the Texas Association of School Boards.