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Late Nights. Life Decisions.

Laptop on a desk

Now, in the dark of night, at 9 pm, I can finally be school board member Ethan Ashley. Only after, I am husband and father, Ethan Ashley, and my wife and children all sleep soundly in their beds. Only after a full day of work, where I was filled with joy and challenge, after successfully managing separate and persistent calls from my mother and sister. It is only now that I can fully step into this critical role. First, I must be a daddy, husband, employee, manager, son, brother, and friend before I pick up the mantle of School Board Director. And while I do manage many identities, years of experience serving the students and families in my District have taught me that being a Part-time School Board Member, a designation only made to justify the pay, carries full-time responsibilities. And, unlike the other roles I play, the compensation has never matched the demand for my time and energy.

Most of us who serve as School Board Members want to do good and believe the local school board is a space where we can be agents of change and significantly impact the systemic issues that persist in our public school systems. But we did not foresee doing “good” would be accomplished at the end of a long-ass day that has already taken a toll on our finite brain power and limited hours. Now in my thirties, I would be lying if I said that I could sustain the late nights as I could in my 20s. Yet, now, in the dark of night, with the weight of 40,000 plus students and 5,000 educators who are my responsibility, I work to solve the deep seeded systemic issues of my District. Rhetorically speaking: “How can elected school board members adequately deal with the challenges of the school system, let alone improve the system, if we don’t have the time nor support to do so properly?” Traditionally, we haven’t had the time to do the school board job well because the job doesn’t pay or if it does pay, it isn’t nearly enough to solely work on school board issues and sustain the status of someone making a livable wage. Additionally, being on the school board often blocks us from well-paid jobs because employers do not want to deal with our politics, or we are conflicted from working in our field of expertise, which is often education. Speaking, most school board members, myself included, don’t make a livable wage based on the pay for our work as school board members.

While all of that is true, we still need leadership representative of our student population, meaning we need school board members of color who are working class. These leaders, like me, need consistent training, support, and increased capacity. We need help to ensure that candidates for school board and current school board members have plans for their financial sustainability- LEE is an organization supporting school board members in this way, but we need more.

Beyond the lack of pay, there isn’t any staff provided to school board members to help them manage the workload, keep a calendar, focus on constituents’ issues, or research policy changes, which is a huge problem.

Additionally, there isn’t readily available coaching for school board members who may need it. In most cases, the amount of money the District has for School Board PD isn’t enough. It is often depleted by board members attending the national school board association’s annual conference, which isn’t nuanced enough to be helpful. With that said, we need Superintendents to proactively put in larger PD budgets for its school board members to ensure they are adequately trained. I say it this way, because school board members shouldn’t have to fight to have their PD in the budget they approve.

So, when the political left and right-wing leaders yell about what the school board is doing or not doing, focusing on or not focusing on, the chances are that these leaders’ capacity and support are low. And if that’s the case, we can try to do everything we can to make these school board leaders successful, but until we expand their capacity and offer more support to school board members, we won’t see the change we desperately need.

If you are a school board candidate or current board member, I challenge you to take our capacity assessment to determine if you have high or low capacity. Please take our school board’s impact assessment here if you want to analyze your effectiveness.

School Board Partners highlights significant sector issues with the hope that we can help inform how best to professionalize this essential aspect of our nation’s fabric- school boards. The mission of School Board Partners is to train, support, and re-elect diverse anti-racist school board members across the country to lead with courage, competence, and impact.