Next time candidates run for school boards, they might have to post a photograph on the Internet and tell how long they’ve been married and where their children attend school.
State Sen. Linda Gray, R-Glendale, is pushing a bill that would require school board candidates to answer an extensive list of 25 questions on their school district’s Web site.
Aside from personal questions, the questionnaire also asks about what spending issues the candidate disagrees with and what the district can do to compete with charter schools.
“I think it’s needed because this is an unpaid position and school board candidates typically do not get any fundraising to get their message out,” Gray said.
“I don’t think that the voters know that much about their candidates.”
In recent elections, she said, the local teachers unions were able to mobilize and help candidates they support to run, putting others at a disadvantage.
“Sometimes the union will stand outside and hand out information. They are organized to be able to get their candidates out there,” she said.
John Wright, president of the Arizona Education Association, said November’s elections were indeed good for local associations, especially in the Phoenix Union High School District, as well as some other West Valley districts.
“It’s one of the reasons members join AEA — because it allows individuals ... to use collective action to influence public policy. That’s democracy,” he said. “I believe the voters will seek out information they believe they need to make a vote.
“The idea we would inject some tailor-made questionnaire and require school districts to post it in certain ways runs counter to our democratic process.”
Dave Braswell, who lost his re-election campaign for the Glendale Union High School District governing board, testified Wednesday before the Senate Education Committee.
He said the high cost of running a campaign makes it hard to get a message out, which is why he supports the bill.
“We’re finding wealthy people who want to become school board members will jump into a race because they can afford to spend their own dollars,” he said.
But that isn’t different from other branches of government, said Janice Palmer, a lobbyist for the Arizona School Boards Association, which opposes the bill.
“Why is the school board put to a higher level?” Palmer asked, adding that some of the questions are “very leading.”
Some lawmakers said their towns never hold forums for school board candidates who rarely receive press coverage.
Jennifer Petersen, governing board member for the Scottsdale Unified School District, said that’s not a problem in her city.
“These are very sophisticated, passionate and savvy parents,” she said.
“They have lots of questions during the campaign, asking very specific questions from curriculum to AIMS to sex education to the calendar.”
In one past Scottsdale election, for example, four forums were sponsored by various education groups, and candidates ran television ads and messages in cinemas, she said.