Budget committee is investment in school board membership’s future
Sami Al-AbdRabbuh got his school board start with a Corvallis School District budget committee appointment.
From there, the school board chose him for an open board seat from among a big group of applicants. He is now Corvallis board chair and an OSBA Board member.
The budget committee offers an important door to the full school board, especially for voices who aren’t as often heard. Sitting school board members hold the key.
The filing period for the May 18 school board elections opens Saturday, Feb. 6. School board members can’t decide the vote, but they can influence who might run.
Prospective candidates have until March 18 to file. OSBA’s Get on Board campaign can help, encouraging sitting board members to continue to offer their experience and urging community members, especially those of color, to accept the challenge.
The budget committee offers a ready-made candidate pool, perhaps with a bit of encouragement from a board member.
Oregon law requires every school board to have a budget committee. With a relatively small time commitment, they are an ideal introduction for a community member who doesn’t have as much time, such as a young, working parent.
A budget committee gives members a chance to get to know school and community leaders as well as a school district’s inner workings. Once community members get a taste for education issues, they might consider running for the school board.
Al-AbdRabbuh said that while on the budget committee, he raised issues outside the group’s mandate. A school board member suggested he apply for a board vacancy. Al-AbdRabbuh had applied for a vacancy on the board before and lost, but the second time he had more experience.
Incumbents have an advantage, and Al-AbdRabbuh won his seat in 2017.
“The budget committee is a chance for the board to burst the echo chamber bubble and hear the voices of the community,” he said.
Al-AbdRabbuh is the Oregon School Board Members of Color Caucus president. The caucus’s goals include supporting a pipeline for people of color to run for school board seats.
Caucus Vice President Bill Graupp considers the budget committee a great networking opportunity, especially for people who are not usually in the city leadership circles. Budget committee members get to know school board members and district leaders in deeper ways than they might in their daily lives.
Because school board vacancies are often filled by budget committee members, Graupp recommended looking for community-minded people for the committee.
Graupp, who is a North Marion School Board member, acknowledges it’s tricky to reach out to communities of color, especially if you have an all-White board, without seeming condescending or engaging in tokenism.
The events of the past year and the awakening to a greater need for diversity and social equity, however, offer an opening to engage with communities over the issues and then invite people to be part of the solutions, he said.
“The budget committee is a great entry point into community leadership,” Graupp said.
OSBA Board President Maureen Wolf is a passionate advocate for recruiting more diverse school board members. She thinks school boards should create more paths than just the budget committee. Wolf is board chair for the Tigard-Tualatin School District, which has a half-dozen advisory and oversight committees.
Wolf said these committees offer an opportunity to engage deeper with representatives of different lived experiences and bring them into the process on long-running issues, such as finances and bond campaigns, and more recent issues, such as dealing with hate speech.
“The strategy of appointing folks to get that experience is a good stepping stone,” she said. “Who are the leaders we want in the future? … You should be building your own pipeline.”
Wolf took a common school board path, starting with parent panels and committees before ending up on the budget committee. A couple of board members encouraged her to run, and now she has been on the board for 12 years.
Bend-La Pine School Board Chair Carrie Douglass said those taps on the shoulder are powerful motivators, especially for women and people of color who might not feel confident about running for office.
Douglass is co-founder and CEO of School Board Partners, a nonprofit that offers a two-year fellowship for school board members, with an emphasis on school board members of color and board members who want to engage in anti-racist work.
Douglass said she created the nonprofit to provide the kind of professional development she was looking for when she joined her board in 2017.
School board members should work to make the job less daunting and more accessible to all community members, Douglass said. Boards that want to diversify must make the goal and the invitation to join explicit, she said. They also need to offer training and support and to make sure the board environment is welcoming, rooting out microaggressions and inadvertent systemic barriers.
“Ideally our boards would be representative of the communities they serve,” Douglass said.
- Jake Arnold, OSBA