Public education supporters will find few advocates among northeast Indiana’s legislative candidates this fall, but don’t despair: Area school board races are where citizens can and do show the greatest commitment to their communities and students.
The filing window for school board contests opened this past week; it closes Aug. 22. One of the small successes of the state’s Kernan-Shepard government reorganization proposal was to shift all school board contests from May to November, when voter participation is greater. It never made sense to require independent voters to show up for GOP and Democratic primaries to choose among nonpartisan school board candidates.
The political standoff at the State Board of Education aside, Indiana school boards are overwhelmingly apolitical – populated by members whose primary objective is to maintain strong schools in their communities.
One of those is Ron Felger, a 32-year member of the Northwest Allen County School board and former president of the Indiana School Board Association.
“I think as an American citizen, we have a duty to contribute to our communities,” the Fort Wayne attorney said last week. “Good, strong public schools are essential to our country.”
Felger said he’s preparing to seek re-election to an at-large seat, eager to work with Superintendent Chris Himsel in helping the underfunded district obtain a more equitable share of state tuition revenue and to address problems created by property tax caps.
As a member of the Education Roundtable under Gov. Frank O’Bannon and state Superintendent Suellen Reed, Felger said it was gratifying at the time to see members of different political parties work together to improve Indiana schools.
“I think, for whatever reason, public education isn’t valued the way it used to be,” he said.
All school districts deserve representatives who understand the value of public schools in a democratic society. Private and parochial schools have commanded an inordinate amount of attention from state officials in recent years, but public schools – which are open to all students – continue to educate the overwhelming majority of Indiana’s children.
They are the best hope for developing lifelong learners, for promoting civic engagement, for eliminating poverty and intolerance.
Northeast Indiana students and schools need public education advocates working on their behalf.
In Allen County, three seats will be on the ballot in both the Northwest Allen and East Allen County districts; two in Southwest Allen and four – a majority – in the Fort Wayne Community Schools district.
The pay is minimal and the commitment is great, but the rewards in supporting students, schools and communities are even greater.