The shocking revelation about the challengers in today’s school board election is that there aren’t any. Last year there were eight candidates for three positions — this year two incumbents are running unopposed. Does this show a lack of interest in school politics, or satisfaction in how things are being done?
Yet, there is still an vote today to approve the 2009-10 budget ($69.2 million) and a second proposition about new roofs for the schools ($1.47 million). Without lawn signs, mailers and a candidates’ forum, it’s a good bet that turnout will be considerably less than the 16 percent that voted in 2008.
Conventional wisdom says that taxes drive public interest but school elections turn that logic inside out. In Nyack, there are five candidates for mayor for a jurisdiction that accounts for only 10 percent of tax dollars. By comparison, 65 percent of Nyack property owners’ tax dollars are spent on schools. This year no challengers stepped up to the task of overseeing that spending and running for the board of education.
There isn’t even any interest in discussing *why* no one is running. One of last years’ challengers has moved on and decided to focus on creating a charter school in the district. With the exception of one sitting board member who honestly responded, “I don’t know why no one ran this year,” no other candidates from last year responded to an email on this subject. Last years’ losers might be burnt out. Or maybe they just lost interest.
None of this is good for the democratic process. If fewer than one in five voters turn out to approve a budget than takes up more than six of ten tax dollars, something isn’t right.
Maybe democracy needs a little PR — perhaps raising a banner over Main Street during election week will help increase awareness and interest. It’s a tactic that gets a turnout for street fairs.
Or maybe we should just pass on the whole election thing and have the villages and towns in the Nyack Union Free School District appoint school board members proportional to their populations. Perhaps a variation on “use it or lose it” might serve us better as a community.
And that would be the most shocking revelation of all. With less democracy, we might get more representation.