America's democratic government relies on citizens to volunteer their time to serve in leadership positions for the well-being of their communities. The position of school district trustee is one of the most important elected offices in every city, as education is the key to creating prosperous communities.
In recent years, however, being a school district trustee has meant dealing with an ever-dwindling budget and tough decisions on how to spend whatever money can be found. But for Denair Unified School District Trustee Louisa Allen, the bumps and bruises along the road makes it all worth it.
“I loved every minute of it,” said Allen.
Allen served as a paralegal at DUSD for 24 years before becoming a trustee in the fall of 2001. She’s dedicated a total of 36 years to the district.
“The most rewarding part about serving on the board is when you watch the students you helped in kindergarten grow up and handing them their diploma at the end of their senior year,” said Allen. “It’s when they keep in touch with you and tell you what they’ve done with their life. It feels good knowing that I helped them get there.”
Even though the rewards often outweigh any of the struggles, Turlock Unified School District Trustee Frank Lima advises that new members to the board come into the position with their eyes fully open to the challenges trustees face on a day-to-day basis.
“A board member must be willing to work with the remaining board members and the district office administrators, compromise on occasion, but remain true to his or her ideals,” said Lima. “A board member must understand that only a majority of the board, consisting of four board members, can institute change.
"A board member must also have discipline, vision and understand that board decisions today can significantly impact our schools and our community 10, 20 or 30 years from now,” he said.
Lima served on the elementary and unified school boards for over 11 years. When he first joined the elementary school board, the district’s biggest challenge was addressing the lack of adequate school facilities to accommodate the growth in the community.
“We built Medeiros Elementary School and the Walnut Elementary school and implemented significant modernization projects throughout our district in the last 10 years,” said Lima. “The last five years have been the most challenging because the state cut our budget per student dramatically. It was very difficult to minimize the impact of the budget cuts on the student programs and on the teachers and employees in our district.
"It has taken a lot of patience and collaboration from all stakeholders. I am very grateful that our employees were asked to take salary and benefit cuts far less proportionately than the amount actually cut from our budget per student, and at the same time, our district was able to preserve most of the extra-curricular activities and student programs that are so important to our students and our schools. Thankfully, our community has been very understanding and supportive through this very difficult budget cycle," he said.
Although November is still three months away, election season is underway. There are six local school districts with seats up for election.
Candidates interested in running for local office during the Nov. 5 Consolidated District Election can apply during the filing period, which will run to Aug. 9. Candidates, including incumbents, must file nomination documents during this period in order to run for office and appear on the ballot.
For more information on how to file candidacy papers, visit stanvote.com.
Allen has some veteran trustee advise for potential candidates: “You don’t know what it’s like to be board members until you’re behind the table. Be very open-minded, don’t listen to gossip and always remember that the children are the first priority of the district.”