Political groups are pouring big money into school board campaigns in Indiana this year. These hotly contested elections help shape the future of education, but school boards make decisions that have a wide impact on their local communities.
School boards do a lot: they hire superintendents, oversee budgets, and shape the priorities of their corporation. This year, they also make key decisions about how schools should operate and evolve during a pandemic.
Fort Wayne board member Steve Corona said those decisions ripple out into the community. One clear example is how boards can affect property values by opening or closing schools.
“There’s no better way for the value of your home to increase in value than by having a great, renovated, up-to-date school building in your neighborhood,” he said.
Boards also decide when to offer a funding referendum to voters, which can increase local property taxes for businesses and homeowners. Corona said a school board’s priorities can also influence business leaders; school systems that focus on things like career and technical education can attract different employers to set up shop.
School board members don’t manage schools, but they do influence the direction their school corporations take and different education priorities.
MSD Washington Township board member Wanda Thruston said that’s why it’s essential for voters to know why candidates are running, and who helps fund their campaigns.
“If they don’t investigate who is running for the board, and where is their money coming from, what are their principles and what are their values, and what do they envision for the school – we could have a completely different kind of a school district,” she said.
But not all of Indiana’s school boards are elected – a handful of them are appointed by other local authorities. One example is in Muncie, where members are appointed under a General Assembly-approved operating agreement with Ball State University.