ATLANTA -- One of the most important political races on your local ballot next week is something you may not have thought much about: school board seats.
From protests over closing schools in Atlanta, to the uproar over cutbacks to Fernbank Science Center in DeKalb, to anger over teacher layoffs in Cobb County, it's clear school board issues can stir fierce passion because how a board votes can have a direct effect on families.
"Grassroots decision-making at the very best or the very worst," said Jenne "Sis" Henry, Director of Georgia School Board Association(GSBA). "Local decision-making by school boards is very, very important."
Yet, when it comes to actually choosing who will serve, few voters know much about those they select. The GSBA created a document that helps voters determine what to look for when selecting a school board candidate.
"In last 30 years, there's been diminishing focus in local elections of board officials," Said Mark Elgart, CEO of AdvancED, which includes the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.
In 2008, a dysfunctional school board led to Clayton County schools becoming the first American district in 40 years to lose accreditation.
It was a dramatic wake-up call, but allegations of micromanaging and abuse of power have landed other districts on probation. Sometime people seek office with a personal agenda.
"I seen people come on the board and have an epiphany. (They realize) oh my word, I can't fire people. I can't fire that principal. I can't fire that football coach," Henry said.
Elgart with AdvancED believes some use a school board seat as a stepping stone to higher political goals and may not to focus on what's best for children.
A poorly functioning board can not only hurt student achievement, but cause property values to drop and businesses to stay away.
That's why both Henry and Elgart think voters should look closely at the people who are running for school board before casting a vote.
"Do they (school board candidates) have the knowledge and skills to provide that leadership? What is their vision, reason for running?" Henry said.