Politicizing Education – One Opinion

Today the filing for three Board of Education seats began along with other elected offices, and it marked a significant change in the county’s philosophy towards its school board. Lincoln County residents are faced with some tough political realities, and one of those realities is that our Board of Education is now purely partisan.  Among other implications, the change made the election of an unaffiliated voter close to impossible with the number of signatures of a petition required to just get on the ballot, thus limiting the pool of possible effective candidates.

Given the importance of education, the sad reality of partisan conversation contradicts the universality of the schools’ mission. Differences of opinion about policies and procedures are inevitable, and lively debate should be encouraged, but the tone of that debate should never begin by being political.  All conversation regarding public schools should be based first on what is best for students, and second on how the county can employ and keep the most capable staff possible to address the first priority.  Sounds easy, but it is the very difficult and sophisticated challenge that should keep effective Board of Education members awake at night.

Ironically, lots of people complain about everything being so political these days, but voters’ silence allowed the push by the County Commissioners to make our local Board of Education elections partisan.  Rest assured that the recent debate over mask mandates and the secret construction of new district maps are only a prelude to the litany of political issues that our local Board could choose to tackle in the coming months.  Topics that are dividing other communities across our state and the nation will find their way into Board discussions when there are basic issues that educators are begging to be addressed.  It’s always that way when there is a political agenda to complete and future political careers to be made. 

After over 30 years in NC public schools, one of the things I learned is the little acknowledged and often ignored fact is that in order to have a truly outstanding school system, the community must have a Board of Education that is united in over-all purpose, laser-focused on high expectations, and unapologetically dedicated to the community’s students.  When a group of elected officials works hand in hand with community, business, and civic leaders to create a coherent plan for all students to achieve their potential, the results can be amazing. Effective boards eliminate barriers to learning, ensure the creation of effective programs, promote an environment that encourages good teaching, and tirelessly seek the resources to make it all happen.    

Most Americans support their local public schools in spite of the unrelenting attacks by conservative politicians whose public statements and official actions attack the credibility of the system, cripple their effectiveness with rumors and innuendo and who find legislative strategies that among other things, scrimp on employee pay, fringe benefits, and staff development.  (More on the state’s budget to come in future articles.) Lincoln County voters would do well to put the politics aside and ask candidates questions that get at the heart of the candidates’ real priorities and their commitment to the education of ALL children – regardless of their party. 

Elaine Jenkins