4 Tips for Running a Smart Campaign for the School Board

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Running for your local school board — whether as a first-time candidate or for reelection — will be a memorable experience. Campaigns can be good-natured competitions in the community between those who share a common ambition to improve student outcomes.

But dissatisfaction with the status quo and incumbents can also be an energizing force that motivates some to run for public office. It’s no surprise that some candidates may try to focus public attention on what they regard as their opponents’ more notable shortcomings.

Here are several tips for navigating election season.

1. Focus on a positive campaign, not personalities.

While the strategy of attacking opponents, current trustees, or school personnel might get short-term results, as a trustee you’ll want to look at the long-term picture of what’s best for your schools and community.

Campaigning against school employees or publicly disparaging their job performances is almost always a bad idea. Candidates shouldn’t inject the job performance of specific staff members into their political campaigns.

Going negative in your campaign against other candidates and current trustees may cause community members to question your judgement and integrity. And if you win, you may be setting yourself up for a difficult relationship with others on the board. All of this could significantly diminish your ability to influence your board and community.

A much better strategy is to focus on the issues. Do your research about what’s working well in your district and what needs to improve. Understanding the real issues in your district not only helps you campaign more effectively but also sets you on the right path to be a successful school board member.

2. Learn your local issues.

One of the best ways to get a handle on what the actual issues are in your district is to communicate with a wide variety of people. Ask lots of questions, and, most importantly, listen to what’s being said.

There are numerous stakeholders in public education who can offer a variety of perspectives:

  • Parents
  • Students
  • District staff
  • Business owners
  • Other community leaders
  • Superintendent
  • Current trustees

By seeking input from these stakeholders, you can establish positive relationships and learn about their priorities.

Make sure you understand the district’s current priorities and history of issues. Also, find out about important issues that will be coming before the board soon. If you know the facts surrounding issues, you’ll be able to explain them clearly and accurately during your campaign rather than relying on assumptions, unfounded impressions, or misstated facts.

3. Only make appropriate promises.

Candidates need to be careful about the promises they make during a campaign. A school board can only take official action as a body corporate. Individual trustees have no official authority outside a legally called board meeting, and the board cannot commit to actions not passed by a majority of those present at a legally called meeting. Promises that run up against these facts can cause embarrassment, disappointment, or anger among constituents.

On top of that, it’s unethical to make promises that will appear to bind or commit the entire board. If you must make promises, commit to attending meetings regularly, studying issues carefully, taking your role as a trustee seriously, and doing what’s best for public education and all students.

Related: What You Need to Know about Running for Your School Board

4. Concentrate on what you stand for.

Focus on the issues and values you stand for rather than what you’re against. Knowing the issues facing your district will help you have a clear picture of and stay focused on your key priorities during the campaign.

Be aware as the campaign goes on that you’ll continue to receive new information. As this happens, you may want to adjust your key messages.

We wish you luck as you run to serve on your local school board. This is important work in making decisions that will affect your students and community for many years.

TASB’s School Board Candidate Resources

If you’re considering a run for your local school board or getting ready to seek reelection, TASB has a wealth of resources to help you out.