Cynthia Juedemann
School board members negotiate how much school district employees earn. They're the ones who determine salary raises for teachers, and they're the ones who choose a district's superintendent and how much he makes.

So, who chooses the school board members?

Voters. But some of them have more on the line than others. A school district is one of the few places where employees have some say in choosing the people who will ultimately affect the size of their paychecks.

A district employee has a greater incentive to vote for a board member who would raise school salaries than does someone not employed by the district. And, with turnout in some Missouri school districts lower than 10 percent, school employees might just be able to decide the election.

As Terry Moe noted in a 2006 article in Education Next, "district employees have strong incentives to get involved in school-board politics and to take action in trying to elect candidates who will promote their occupational interests."

In other words, if turnout of non-school personnel is too low, district employees are a much more potent force in school board elections. So, they may ultimately choose the very people they will later bargain with for salary increases, benefits, and retirement packages, to name a few.

In many Missouri counties, a school district is no small thing. There are counties where one in five employees gets a paycheck from a school district. And, if most of them vote, that's substantial. And potentially decisive.

Let's look at the Pattonville School District. I've discussed its superintendent's contract in an earlier post. If you recall it, you know that the Pattonville superintendent's salary and benefit package is substantial.

Well, the Pattonville School Board approved that contract and all its attendant benefits — and the district's voters elected the board members.

So, just how many voters showed up to choose who negotiated on their behalf for the superintendent's pay? Well, not many. From 2000–2007, an average of just 16.31 percent of registered voters in the district turned out at the polls.

This is not to say that the voters who did turn out were only school district employees. In truth, I have no guess as to the number. But low turnout makes it that much more possible that district employees will have decisive electoral power, should they turn out in high numbers. The higher the overall turnout, the more diluted the influence of district employees.

How much say should district employees have? Well, for me, at least, that's not the real question. The question is: How much say will taxpayers allow district employees to have by repeatedly failing to show up at the polls?

If you would like to know more about school board election turnout, or if you have ideas about the extent to which district employees affect school board election results, feel free to leave a comment below, or email me.

About the Author

Cynthia Juedemann