School boards face shortage of candidates

March 25, 2019

School board council seats often go unfilled during election season because of the difficulty in fielding candidates among communities that see little reward in serving the public in that capacity. Somerset Area School District currently has that problem with the exit of Brian Brant from his position.

No one is currently running to fill that chair.

“We’ve had similar circumstances in the past,” Board President Randy Welker said. “No one wants to run for school board. It’s a thankless job. That’s what it boils down. It’s not unique to Somerset. I’m sure every school district in the county has similar concerns.”

In February, the Pennsylvania School Boards Association issued a letter to state legislators that spoke on behalf of 4,500 elected officials who govern the commonwealth’s public school districts. They urged support for House Bill 227, which would amend the Pennsylvania Election Code to require 10 signatures on a petition to run for school director. Under the current law, the required number of signatures on a petition varies from district to district, and even seat to seat on the same school board.

“We respectfully request that this simple reform be passed without amendment as it will serve to enhance candidacy in areas with numerous school board member vacancies,” the association issued in a news release. “We are happy to support this legislation and look forward to continuing to work with you on this and other important issues affecting public education this session. We appreciate your time and attention to this matter.”

There are a number of problems that a vacant seat bring to school boards, Welker said.

“When you have one vacancy, that region doesn’t have equal representation as the other regions. That’s one problem,” Welker said. “The other is the headache of what you have to do to fill the position if no one runs or has a write-in campaign. The board has to interview anyone who applies. The last time we did that the candidate was not in my opinion was not qualified for the board.

“We found someone to do a write-in campaign. But it’s time-consuming to replace someone if no one runs with the position. There are a lot more issues we have to worry about than filling a board seat.”’

Citing time demands, increased training and other requirements, many local superintendents expressed that it is becoming more difficult finding people who would sacrifice the time needed to serve their local school district.

Aside from Somerset, Berlin Brothersvalley School District also lacks two candidates for open positions on the school board in the next election. Berlin Superintendent David Reeder said several candidates may engage in a write-in candidate.

“The district is looking for candidates who have a desire to serve students and the community, are able to work collaboratively in a group process, are willing to learn about their role and the responsibilities associated with the position,” Reeder said. “The governance process requires knowledge and decisions on a broad range of topics including instruction, facilities, transportation, athletics and extracurriculars, music and the arts, negotiations, special education and budget.”

Jeffrey S. Malaspino, Turkeyfoot superintendent, said they do not have a shortage of candidates, but he acknowledged that sometimes the work required of board members can be demanding. They, “have to set aside time to not only attend meetings but also do the pre-work such as reviewing policies, agendas, budgets and other items of regular business. Additionally, there are now state mandated training requirements for new board members and reelected members as well,” he said.

Somerset Superintendent Krista Mathias said that time commitment was the biggest deterrent for candidates considering a run for school board office.

“Being a school board director is not an easy job,” Mathias said.“It requires a large amount of volunteer service and takes a significant commitment of personal time. Outside of long meetings, our school board members take the time to educate themselves about a variety of educational, legal, financial, and social issues that impact our district and public education in general. They also attend many school events, which are typically in the evenings or on weekends.”