The Wichita school board
A Wichita school board meeting. Kansas Rep. Rebecca Schmoe said school districts in the state's large metro areas raised concerns about the heavy workloads boards face without pay. (Courtesy image/USD 259)

When you want to run for a spot on the Wichita School Board,  there is a lot to dissect, understand and complete. Something as small as where you place your yard sign  can be dictated by city ordinances. 

Getting the information you need isn’t easy. It’s not readily available online. It took The Wichita Beacon more than one month calling and emailing the Sedgwick County Election Office to get answers to basic questions such as, “How do you officially file to run in Wichita?” 

What information we couldn’t get from the election office we found by talking with previous and current board members and campaign staffers. Here are the most common tips and advice they shared. 

This year, District 3,  4 and at-large seats are up for election. You have until June 1 to file to run. 

What is the first thing I should consider before running for school board?

Time. The school board meets at least once a month for regular scheduled board meetings and semi-regularly for special meetings and student award programs. Each of these meetings can run hourslong.

Board members are also expected to spend time staying informed about the budget, visiting schools in their district, preparing to discuss each topic presented at meetings and talking regularly with people in their district. 

This can add up to 30 hours of unpaid work per week. 

What else should I consider?

Consider your platform. What issues do you care the most about and what changes do you want to enact? Identifying your platform can help you consider which funders, supporters and teachers to connect with. Campaigning is expensive and we will talk about how to raise funds below. 

What exactly does the school board do? 

It’s important to know what a school board does and doesn’t do. The school board is responsible for approving the school district’s budget, approving funds to be spent, shaping school policy and supporting school programs. 

To run for school board, you must know what education policies you want to support. 

Common stances in local education right now in Wichita focus on school curriculum, safety of students and teachers, budget and diversity.

You can try to run a school board campaign on noneducation issues such as abortion access, but you may be perceived as not knowing the scope of your sought-after office. 

How  do I file to run for USD 259 school board?

There are two ways to declare your candidacy and become a candidate recognized by the elections office. 

The first and easiest way to become a candidate is submitting a filing fee of $20 and then an extra $50 candidate report filing. This is required by the Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission. 

The second way to become a candidate is to submit petition signatures and then pay the $50 candidate report filing fee. Your petition must have 50 valid signatures or 10% of registered voters in your district, whichever is less. 

Besides saving $20, the benefit of filing by petition is showing opponents you have a supporter base.

How do school board elections work ? 

Beginning this year, school board elections will be run only by districts within USD 259. This means that candidates running for District 6 will  be voted on by residents of District 6 only, and the same for every district in USD 259 – with the exception of one at-large member voted on by all residents in USD 259. 

Where can I get money to fund a campaign?

Running a campaign is a costly venture. Luckily there are people who are willing to help. Special-interest political action committees (PACs) and local businesses often help local candidates fund their campaigns. 

To find PACs or businesses willing to support you, look at previous candidates’ receipts and expenditure reports. There you can find previous candidates who ran on issues similar to yours and see who was willing to donate to their campaign. 

You can also contact your local political party office. While school board races are officially nonpartisan, the local chapter of the political party you most align with can help open connections to potential contributors.  

Pay attention to how much you raise. There are limits on how much one person and entity can donate. 

What do I need to know about campaign finance laws?

Money in politics is heavily regulated. In USD 259 school board races, one person may only donate up to $500 towards your campaign, and all contributions must be documented in a receipts and expenditures report.

In Kansas, businesses are treated as individual people and may donate a separate amount of up to $500. This means a business owner can donate $1,000 or even more, if they have multiple businesses. 

If someone pays for their own campaign with no outside help, an affidavit of exemption must be filed with the Kansas secretary of state. 

An entity can also make a donation in-kind. This means they donate goods or services and not money. However, the value of the in-kind donation cannot exceed $500 and an individual’s in-kind donation and total monetary donation together cannot exceed $500.

For more commonly asked questions about campaign finance regulations, there is a FAQ page on Kansas’ ethics website. 

Where can I find people to help run for school board?

You need not run your campaign alone. Most candidates we talked to recommended having at least two other people helping you. Specifically a treasurer to manage finances for your campaign and someone adept at running a website and social media presence. More people can be added to help ease the responsibilities. You can find past campaign treasurers in previous candidates’ receipts and expenditure reports.

How do I find supporters while running for school board?

This can be done by holding events, social media campaigning and advertisements. 

Several previous candidates added, “Don’t be afraid of knocking on some doors.” 

You can also directly target people who you know are previous voters. Voter records (that show who voted and not how they voted) are readily available for candidates though a voter registration data request. There is a fee for this, and records cannot be shared. 

What are best practices for running a successful campaign?

Each campaign can be different, but there were some common tips shared by previous and current local officials on running a successful campaign.

Make sure you have a professional headshot photo to be used for news stories and campaign material. Also, find a friend or hire someone who is good at graphic design to make campaign print materials. 

Find other candidates with similar platforms running in different races and hold events jointly, especially if you are running a citywide campaign. You can also go door to door together. 

And finally, ask questions. Contact the board of education clerk, the Sedgwick County Election Office or your local political party when you are unsure about something. It is better to ask first and not run into a problem later. 

Contact information for those offices: 

Board of education clerk
Phone: 316-973-4553

Sedgwick County Election Office
Phone: 316-660-7100

Sedgwick County Democratic Party 
Phone: 316-247-0210

Sedgwick County Republican Party
Phone: 316-302-5480

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Trace Salzbrenner is a community journalist for The Wichita Beacon. Follow him on Twitter @RealTraceAlan.