Felicia Davis is a mother of three who says she has been voting in every election for the last 15 years but until she started to serve on the board of her local Head Start program she did not even know how the school board was formed. “I didn’t know that there was an election that everyone in the city gets to vote for it,” says Davis, “I didn’t know how many people, I knew nothing else. I didn’t even know the [school] district was separated into [board] districts.”
The person Davis used to be is the target of a new initiative launched by A+ Schools and the person she is now is the type of person they want to enlist to help. Pittsburgh Public School Board districts 2, 4, 6, and 8 are up or election this year with a primary set for May. A+ Executive Director Carey Harris says the last time those districts were up for election, only 14 to 26 percent of the voters bothered to cast votes. The new effort launched today has a goal of increasing voter turn out by 6,000 voters or 26 percent.
The School Board watchdog group hopes to accomplish those goals through a multi-pronged effort. Harris says it starts with education about how the board members are elected. “If you are not sure if you have a race this year go to our website and we’ll help you figure it out,” says Harris. The site includes a map of the 9 districts and a list of neighborhoods in each district. A+ will also be sending out flyers to people in the districts up for election and sending out doorknockers just to make sure the message is heard.
Petitions to run for school board are due Tuesday so it is still unclear who is running. Harris says once the names are known her organization will be posting candidate profiles on the web and will be calling on residents like Davis to host candidate forums and spread the word in any way they can. Davis says in all her life she has not seen an ad for a school board candidate. “With the voter turnout being so low they don’t have to,” says Davis, ”They probably know, ’well I only need to get this many people on my team so I don’t have to work too hard if I want to get in.’”
At a campaign launch event this morning Harris told the group gathered, “We are asking you to do this because you want to show the board that you’re watching and because we want to show our kids that we care enough about our education to do this single easiest thing.” “26,000 kids are counting on you to cast your vote,” says Harris “A vote for school board is a vote for progress.”