September 19, 2019

How To Run a School Board Campaign

Running for the board of education is challenging. Here are some school board campaign ideas and steps to help you get started.

Congratulations! You have decided you want to take an active role in the community. School board members are decision-makers. You will decide how the local school district operates and set policies that affect students, teachers, and administration.

Every year, education is among the top voter concerns. More than $550 billion is entrusted to the school boards of more than 14,000 public school districts . Board of education duties include solving district-wide issues, such as updating facilities, reducing achievement gaps, and overcoming budget shortfalls. Successful candidates have a solid understanding of the role and are strong leaders. Effective board members want the best possible outcome for students and the community. Here are some school board campaign ideas that can help you start planning for success.

school board meeting

How to get started

As a school board member, you do not need a background in education or public policy. You don’t need to have children attending school in the district, and you do not need to have local government experience. What you do need:

  • Commitment to improving the quality of education in your community
  • Ability to listen
  • Willingness to support and defend local students
  • Confidence to make decisions
  • Skill to incorporate the consensus, needs, and priorities of the community into strong policies

Research the Rules 

Explore the requirements for running for a position on the school board. Determine which forms you must complete, deadlines, and whether there is a fee. Depending on your location, forms may include the following:

  • Candidate intention statement
  • Economic interest statement
  • Organization statement

In addition to federal and state requirements, there may be additional forms mandated by local ordinances. Research the rules regarding campaign organization, fundraising, and sponsorships.

Determine Eligibility for Your Area

To be eligible for a seat on the school board, you must meet specific criteria:

  • Registered voter
  • Resident of the district in which you are running
  • High school diploma or equivalent certificate
  • No felony convictions
  • No current employment by the district
  • No relatives employed by the district

The exact qualifications vary from state to state. Contact your local election or school board office for more detailed information.

Understand Your Responsibilities

If you have never run for an elected position before, reach out to those who have. These individuals can provide valuable insight into what to expect during a campaign as well as what will happen once you are elected. They can also help you become familiar with the issues facing the board, both immediate and long term. Here are some other factors to consider:

  • Can you afford to run? Although school board campaigns are typically not as expensive and in-depth as those for other elected positions, they still carry a cost.
  • What type of time commitment is needed? In some cases, it may only be part-time; in other situations, it may call for full-time focus. If you work full-time, can you give the position the time it requires?
  • Who are the other candidates? Learn about who you are running against, their focus issues and their qualifications.
  • Who will be on the board with you? Seldom do all board seats come up for election simultaneously. Find out who is keeping their position and who you will be replacing.
  • Is the position paid or volunteer?
    determine why you are running

Determine Why You Are Running

Is there a single issue you wish to change, or do you want to make an impact on the overall quality of education in your area? Productive members of the board have a clear vision for their district. They work as a team to develop and achieve goals, from academics to selection of administrators. If you are focusing on a single issue, consider why. Are you open to collaboration and compromise to move the school district forward?

The answers to these questions can help you develop your platform. Research and analyze what has been done in the past and which ideas have worked. This can help you prepare for the questions you will be called upon to answer by parents, students, and other community members throughout your campaign. Be prepared to state why you want the position, what you want to accomplish, and how you plan to do so.

Establish the Budget

An adequate budget should allow you to take the steps necessary to gain the votes needed to win the race. Make sure you know what resources you need to run a successful campaign. Funds are typically allocated for several types of activities. From an operations perspective, you’ll need to consider expenses such as office space and supplies, research, consulting, voter lists, and salaries. For marketing and communications, there is a broad range of activities and materials that must be covered, including:

  • Radio, newspaper, and digital ads
  • Event and meeting space
  • Direct mail and literature
  • Yard signs and banners
  • Phone banking

Most candidates cannot afford to pay for the entire campaign themselves, which means the budget must also include fundraising. If this is your first election, research how much previous candidates spent. Due to financial disclosure requirements, the expense sheets are publicly available.

Sources for Campaign Funds

Money for your campaign can come from a variety of sources. You may receive donations from individuals within the community who agree with your message. Those donors  can be found through purchased voter lists. Special interest groups also typically endorse candidates whose platform aligns with their vision and goals. Some districts and cities have programs that allocate a percentage of taxpayer money to campaigns. Vendors such as printers, caterers, and transportation companies may donate services.

assemble a team

Assemble a Campaign Team

Hire people to fill key positions that keep the campaign on track. At a minimum, you will likely need a campaign manager, treasurer, and press secretary. You will have plenty to do, without trying to run your own campaign. Volunteers are the backbone of virtually every election campaign. A volunteer coordinator helps get others involved with the campaign and keeps the atmosphere positive and upbeat. While a campaign manager may be able to fill this role in a small area, if the district is sizable, the person will need help to keep volunteers on target.

Include Family and Friends

Do you have children in school? Include them in your planning and messaging. They help voters see who you are and show the heart behind your campaign. Friends and family members can be your strongest advocates. Ask for their thoughts, concerns, and priorities. They can help you during your campaign by providing input and helping you understand where the community stands on specific issues. If elected, you can help them by representing their stance and perspectives with the board.

Create a Slogan

You will want a differentiator to help you stand out from the other candidates. A slogan is a catchphrase that is unique to you. It communicates an idea or benefits that you want voters to associate with you. It often helps to brainstorm slogans with a group of people, which allows you to incorporate a variety of perspectives. Here are some tips to help you get started:

  • Know your audience. During the exploratory phase of the campaign, you likely discovered the most prevalent voter concerns. Address the issues that affect them the most. Is nepotism an issue? Focus on change. Are policies or procedures outdated? Focus on being a new leader, having a new direction, or having a new vision.
  • Keep it short and simple. The most effective slogans are less than 10 words. Nike’s “Just Do It” is one of the most effective slogans of all time.
  • Focus on differentiators. Capitalize on what makes you different from everyone else. Is it your background and experience? Figure out what makes you different and use it.

Catchy slogans can give your campaign a boost. Try to incorporate your name into it to make it clear whose phrase it is. Make sure the message you send builds your image positively.

Connect With Voters

Keeping open the lines of communication is imperative not only for getting your message out, but also for engaging voters. Getting involved in local events or hosting your own are  effective ways to get in front of people. It allows people to get to know you, what you stand for, and what you want to achieve.

Putting up a website, writing a blog, and being active on social media are quick, easy ways to share your vision and build a following. Encourage your network of friends and family to share your information. Respond to input and refine your message as your campaign progresses. This helps you communicate more effectively and shows voters that you are responsive and open to their ideas.

Posters and banners are popular methods to bring attention to your slogan and spread your message. However, they are not the only tried-and-true techniques.

  • Email marketing reaches more readers than direct mail, and is less expensive.
  • Voters want to digest your message quickly. Create a short video that promotes your campaign and use a shortened link to encourage them to share, comment, or get involved. Post the video on social platforms and as a television ad to bring attention to your campaign.
  • Write to the newspaper or other key influencers in the community to bring attention to your platform and message.
  • Volunteers going door to door engage voters and spread your message throughout the community quickly.
  • Your team should have brochures containing information about you and your platform to hand to voters. It can help you attract attention and engage your audience.

Great responsibility comes with a school board position. You can be an instrument of change in your community. By listening to parents, students, and experts, you can build a platform that addresses their concerns and communicates how you will make a difference. XQ’s school board guide can help you navigate the complex process of deciding whether to run for a seat on the board. Learn how to develop a plan and use school board campaign ideas to help you win the election.

Team XQ

Stories and insights from the changemakers rethinking high school—in XQ schools and beyond.

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