BAKERSFIELD, Calif. — The COVID-19 pandemic took many students and teachers from the classroom to their living rooms. The virus closed school campuses across the nation and caused school board members to make controversial decisions for their districts, on whether to go back on campus for in person learning or begin the school year virtually. A decision that can only be made by the school board of education.
Carol Lloyd is the Vice President and editorial director of Great!Schools, a national website that offers information on public and private schools throughout the nation. Lloyd told 23ABC it's important parents know who sits on their school boards because they are responsible for making all of the big fundamental decisions like hiring the Superintendent and budget decisions.
"It's amazing how few parents actually understand what a school board does, and we know that only 10% of voters turn out for these elections. Yet a school board is vital to the well-functioning school system. They decide the curriculum, they decide on whether buildings get refurbished or if they go into disarray and don't get supported at all. They decide whether a school gets access to online programs. They decide what those online programs are. In this moment that's really important with all the distance learning going on," said Lloyd.
Lloyd said there are a few reasons why there's low voter turnout for school board elections. One reason being a lack of understanding of how influential a board is.
"I think a lot of people have a fundamental lack of understanding about whether or not school boards are influential. So, if you don't know what they do, why should you care about who has the job?" said Lloyd.
The second reason she said parents should care who is on their school board is, "The elections with the most money end up grabbing our attention. And ironically those are the ones that we have the least control over as voters."
Llyod said for those parents who will be voting this year should know that school boards should be responsive to their needs and concerns, and parents should know that lack of involvement can sometimes lead to school boards not reflecting their community concerns.
"School board members are the largest elected body of representatives in the nation and most people don't know that," Lloyd said.
In Kern County there are 47 school districts and more than 190,000 students are enrolled in Kindergarten through12th grade, according to Kern County Superintendent of Schools. The Kern High School District is the largest high school district in California and serves over 40,000 students. Jeff Flores, is the KHSD Board Clerk told 23ABC some of his boards duties include managing a 500-million-dollar budget, and setting policy direction for their district. Flores stated that historically there has been low voter turnout for board elections but said this year is the most number of candidates he's ever seen running for seats.
"If you look at Bakersfield City and Panama and Rosedale, there are a lot of candidates running. I cannot remember a year that had this many school board candidates running for office," said Flores.
He also added that voting for local government positions is important and gives the community a chance to impact policy at the local level.
"There's a more realistic chance of impacting policy. There's a higher chance of participation and there's a chance to serve. Those are the things that make the school board really relevant," Flores said.
He also believes more parents are paying attention and getting involved. Prior to COVID-19, KHSD had just begun streaming their board meetings. Which Flores said had around 20 views but now he believes parents are more connected to what's happening in their district and what the board is voting on.
"If you look at the number of viewers now during COVID, we're having record numbers of viewers watching our meetings. We had 1,700 - over a thousand - the last couple of meetings. So, we've never had that kind of participation on our board meetings. Those are higher numbers than the Kern County Board of Supervisors viewers," said Flores.
In the KHSD district there are two seats up for election which are the Vice President and Board Clerk. This election Vice President Joey O'Connell and Board Clerk Jeff Flores are running again. However, two outside candidates have entered the race. David Manriquez will be running against O'Connell and Dayle Record against Flores.