When only about 1 in 12 eligible voters feels compelled to go to the polls to help chart the direction of local public schools, it hardly seems like a number worth cheering about.
But we'll give a contained hurrah for the just under 8 percent of Dubuque Community School District voters who turned out and chose thoughtfully with kids' best interest in mind.
At least that seems to have been the motivation when voters overwhelming backed the instructional support levy. That's the tax that for nearly two decades has spread about $5 million annually throughout the district on educational programming. It paid for all-day, every-day kindergarten and creating smaller class sizes in elementary schools. It is, quite intentionally, funding that goes directly to student experience. Voters figured that out, and 80 percent of those who went to the polls supported it.
It's not surprising, then, that those who voted with kids in mind on the instructional support levy also picked a strong slate of representatives for school board seats.
Voters supported one no-nonsense incumbent with decades of experience as a teacher, a longtime educator with nearly a half-century of time working in the district and a young man with an earnest interest in helping kids and a unique perspective that is currently lacking on the board.
Anderson Sainci is a 29-year-old African-American father of three who grew up in poverty. He knows what it's like to overcome obstacles. He has faced some of the same challenges so many students in our school district face. That's not a perspective we typically see in Dubuque leaders. That Sainci is ready to step up and serve is a credit to him; that citizens gave him the opportunity is a credit to them.
Sainci's lack of experience with the school district is offset by the vast history incumbent Jim Prochaska and retired district administrator Nancy Bradley bring to the table. Collectively, they will complete an already strong board.
Still, it's interesting that 92 percent of voters didn't bother to weigh in on the direction that board will take. The Dubuque Community School District has a bigger budget than the City of Dubuque, and virtually all (more than 90 percent) of the district's money comes from state aid and property taxes. School board members must make spending decisions judiciously.
While a 7.7 percent turnout might not seem like anything to brag about, this year is not so terrible. Consider its place in history:
. Last year's vote on the physical plant and equipment levy garnered a turnout of 4.8 percent.
. In 2013, when the ballot included four candidates for three board seats plus a referendum on the renewal of Northeast Iowa Community College's physical plant levy, just 4.9 percent of voters showed up.
. In 2015, when seven candidates were competing for four board seats, turnout still couldn't get to 7 percent.
By comparison, 7.7 percent doesn't seem so bad. And given the outcome of votes cast in support of kids, we'll take it.