Dear Legislators, we don’t need partisan school board races

The following speech was written and spoken by Dawn Mann, Charlotte County Democratic Party Chair to our FL Reps.  Michael Grant and Spencer Roach and FL Sen. Ben Albritton at the Charlotte County Legislative Delegation meeting in Punta Gorda on Jan 11, 2o23.

To our elected representatives here today: thank you for the opportunity to speak.

Pursuant to proposed FL Senate resolution SJR 94 and House resolution HJR 31, I’d like to suggest that there is no need to make candidates for school board elections in Florida declare any political affiliation.

In 1998, over 64 percent of Florida voters agreed to make school board elections nonpartisan. The voters’ will is reflected in our state constitution:

Article IX, SECTION 4. School districts; school boards.

(a) Each county shall constitute a school district; provided, two or more contiguous counties, upon vote of the electors of each county pursuant to law, may be combined into one school district. In each school district there shall be a school board composed of five or more members chosen by vote of the electors in a nonpartisan election for appropriately staggered terms of four years, as provided by law.

Florida is currently one of 41 states and the District of Columbia that prohibit partisan school board races. Another five states let localities decide whether candidates should declare any party affiliation. To put it differently, 97% of the school board races in America are nonpartisan.

I’m not so naïve as to think that school board members are apolitical creatures. Of course not. But studies show that when candidates are required to publicly identify their political affiliation, their willingness and ability to compromise plummets. When given partisan cues about key policies, partisan-elected officials toe the party line more so than nonpartisan-elected officials.

Conflict with the aim of reaching a compromise is beneficial and necessary. Conflict based on partisan labels can derail school boards entirely, leaving them stuck in ideological ruts.

Thus, the goal of nonpartisan elections is not to remove all politics, but to eliminate potential conflict points that can prevent a school board from doing its job.

Do voters have a right to know where school board members stand on the issues facing our schools? Absolutely. And the best way for voters to find out where a school board member stands on these issues is to ask them. After all, what do the labels “No Party Affiliation” or “Republican” or “Democrat” tell a voter about a candidate’s views on funding for arts education? Nothing at all. Candidates need to share their views with voters and voters need to educate themselves about the candidates who will oversee the education of our children.

Everyone who seeks a seat on our school boards–regardless of the political party they associate with– should want to provide the best education for all students.

In conclusion, I’d like to propose that the legislature take up a different revision, one that adds “and school board” to subsections 105.071 and 105.09 of Title IX, Section 105 of the Florida Statutes, which defines nonpartisan elections in Florida. These subsections currently refer only to judicial races, but the rules are equally appropriate for school board elections.

Thank you.

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