If not school boards, try another way to help kids

Kindergarten teacher Peggy Watson keeps 32 pupils on task at Phoebe Hearst Elementary School in Sacramento.
Kindergarten teacher Peggy Watson keeps 32 pupils on task at Phoebe Hearst Elementary School in Sacramento. rbenton@sacbee.com

Students returned to the classroom at Sacramento City Unified schools last week, a cloud of dispiriting Common Core test scores hanging over their young heads.

Turning around urban school districts has never been easy. It requires an army of community champions. So it’s troubling that for the first time in decades, only a handful of people are interested in driving policy as members of Sacramento City Unified’s school board.

As The Bee’s Loretta Kalb reports, the district couldn’t lure enough candidates for a single competitive race this November. Instead, four candidates will waltz into office without even an election campaign.

This includes two incumbents, Christina Pritchett and Jessie Ryan, who will get new four-year terms as trustees. Pritchett is finishing her first term and was president of the board this past year. Ryan was elected in 2014 to fill a midterm vacancy.

Also, Michael Minnick, an adjunct instructor at Sacramento City College, will take over Gustavo Arroyo’s seat. Mai Vang, a community activist backed by the Sacramento City Teachers Association, will replace trustee Diana Rodriguez. Both incumbents opted against running again.

Why so few found this civic duty attractive this year is unclear. It could be that school board races have just become too political, even for Sacramento.

Campaigns typically run in the tens of thousands of dollars. Plus, with the influence of the county Democratic Party and the Sacramento City Teachers Association, there’s a growing sense that races are often won before they’ve been run. So why bother?

There’s also the possibility that parents and the community are just satisfied with the job the current trustees are doing. That may be tough to believe with Sacramento City Unified continuing to rank as one of the lowest-performing districts in the region. But budgets are flush and teachers aren’t being laid off.

The same thinking could apply to other, higher-ranking districts, including Folsom Cordova, where two people will join the board in uncontested races. For the past two elections there, all trustee candidates ran unopposed.

None of this should give a pass to community leaders and parents, though. Students need champions. And there are other, less stressful ways to be one than running for school board. Joining the PTA is one. Another is pitching in on a school site council, which updates each school’s plan for student achievement, including how best to use funding.

Or you could just help a kid with some of that Common Core homework. There’s plenty of civic duty to go around.