Flaws with the Cherry Hill School Board Elections must be addressed so as to ensure a more informed community


Courtesy of The Cherry Hill SUn

Only twenty community members attend the Board of Education’s Candidate Forum.

Jacob Graff, Eastside Staff

Because the foundation of democracy is public control over government, it is the responsibility of every citizen to do their duty and vote in elections. However, this has to be done with a general populace that is informed of what is going on in the community and what needs to be improved. In order to accomplish this, every effort has to be made to make the local community knowledgeable. However, it seems that a lack of public knowledge, stemming from a stunning absence of promotion, exists within Cherry Hill. This has to be addressed.

It starts at a basic level. At the Board of Education Candidates Forum on October 11, 2017, one candidate, out of the five running, was not in attendance. We vote as citizens based on our agreement with the principles and opinions of others. Granted, each candidate has a job that supports them and their family. Evidently, said job is the first priority, as it should be in all circumstances. But how should a concerned citizen vote for a candidate whose views could not be expressed as others’ were?

This is not the biggest issue, however, in the ongoing school board election campaigns. Having only twenty citizens attend the forum represents poorly on the Cherry Hill community. If people feel like sharing their preconceived ideas on Facebook in groups such as Parents for Cherry Hill Teachers and Cherry Hill United, they should have attended the forum, the preeminent method for distributing information about the future of the Cherry Hill education system. They didn’t though. There has to be a better method to ensure the community has the best grasp on education-related current events. The forum was supposed to be that; twenty people shows it is not.

Candidates are allowed to post signs throughout the community and obviously present their views through facilitated, moderated settings like the candidates forum, but it is not enough. 

The discussion on social media regarding the state of Cherry Hill’s public education system is based on concerns for the well-being of the students in the current setup. The best way to validate concerns is by electing an official that best represents and agrees with the views an individual holds. Therefore, the candidates should be allowed to represent themselves and promote their opinions where the majority of meaningful discussion and debate occurs; however, they can’t, for multiple reasons.

One reason is that the current board members’ free speech is restricted in such groups, where a moderator has ultimate control over what is posted. Eric Goodwin, an incumbent and the vice president of the current board, tried to inform the members of Parents for CH Teachers, a Facebook-based group dedicated to supporting the teachers in Cherry Hill schools, of his opinions on critical issues and a message to vote for him and his two “running mates.” His post was taken down, although not in violation of any rules established by the group or Facebook. A similar instance occurred again when Steve Robbins, a former board member himself, posted in support of the aforesaid trio. His post was taken down hours later. This censorship, however limited, is detrimental to the process of getting the community to its most informed.

The next, and more important reason, why the candidates cannot express themselves to the fullest extent on social media is because of the strict ethics laws governing the behavior of incumbent candidates. They are bound by state ethics code to carry out responsibility as a collective board, not as individuals. They are not allowed to take private action that may compromise the collective nature that is the Board of Education.

Thus, in order to make the school board elections easier to follow, it would be wise to soften the regulation of incumbent Board of Education members on social media. The result of this would be a more informed community. They would be able, now more than ever, to make an informed vote for the future of the Cherry Hill public school system. This, over time, creates a sustainable pattern of voting for candidates that truly represent the views of an individual.

Also, in order to maximize the output of information regarding the most important issues facing our schools, Cherry Hill has to increase the amount of opportunities each candidate has to speak in an impartial setting. The one chance they each had to speak was at an event attended by twenty people out of the 6,800 families currently in the district. That is .29% of the families that are impacted by the current elections. This can be changed; probable attendance can be increased if topic-based discussions are held that are based on the most important concerns facing the public school system in Cherry Hill. Increased promotion, whether by the medium of social media or through our schools, is then necessary; however, by making parents aware of the opportunities to share their views on the issues that matter most to them, it will inherently bring more parents, and students, to the debates.

There is no doubt that the system is flawed. Nevertheless, there is an opportunity to correct it. By increasing the access candidates have to their constituents, we can ameliorate the elections and make the community the most well-informed it can be.