With few exceptions, eastern Long Island’s school boards do not accurately reflect the demographic makeup of their districts. This is something very much worth noting as the 5 p.m. Monday deadline for board election petitions approaches. Most absent on the local boards are members who could be considered part of our region’s Spanish-speaking communities — this despite the fact that students from such backgrounds fill classrooms now and are in the majority on some campuses.
The divide between student population and board composition is stark. More than a quarter of the population counted in the East Hampton Town 2020 United States Census identified themselves as “Hispanic or Latino”; the proportion was about the same in Southampton Town. The Springs School is 62 percent Hispanic or Latino, according to the New York State Schools Report Card. The East Hampton Middle School is 59 percent. Montauk and Pierson in Sag Harbor come in at about 25 percent Hispanic or Latino. None of the school boards in these districts have elected board members with backgrounds in the new-immigrant communities they represent.
As candidates must be at least 18 years old, the East End’s young-adult population could come to the rescue. There are a number of organizations, such as Run for Something, that provide guidance for progressive millennials and Generation-Zers to seek office. Resources include training, mentorship, and a network to talk to other candidates across the country. Local elected posts, such as school boards, can be steppingstones to higher office and careers in government — and society only benefits from greater diversity in the halls of power.
To pass muster, nominating petitions must be signed by a minimum of 25 qualified voters, with their addresses included, within the candidate’s district of residence. Candidates must have lived within the district for at least one year prior to the election, which takes place on May 17. Depending on the school district, terms are for three or five years.
Diversity of ethnicity, race, and cultural background is not the only demographic factor that matters when representation is considered. School boards could also benefit from the perspectives of members of the L.G.B.T.Q.+ communities, those with disabilities, and people with a wider range of professional backgrounds and educational experiences.
As thoughtful and caring as school boards may be, as their districts’ leaders they should better reflect the makeup of their student bodies, as well as of parents and caregivers. Fixing this ethnicity gap should be a priority for existing boards. Boards of education are the overseers not just of scholastic agendas and priorities but of tax dollars. Better representing their respective communities should be both an immediate and long-term goal.