Michigan Farm Bureau wants to increase the number of farmers serving in government 20% by 2022. This is part of a series of articles aimed at informing Farm Bureau members about elected and appointed positions that offer opportunities for representing agriculture in government.
Ingham County Farm Bureau member Laura Cheney knew she wanted to give back to her community and serving on the Mason Public Schools Board of Education seemed like a natural fit.
“For me, I wanted to get involved in community service and I felt very strongly about education given my background,” she said. “Both my parents were teachers and I spent my entire professional career working in upper education.”
Soon to retire from Michigan State University, where for 15 years she worked as associate professor and director of the undergraduate agribusiness management program, Cheney taught about agri-food systems, vertical coordination and contracting in livestock, environmental impacts and livestock economics. She and her husband Dave operate their centennial family farm near Mason growing corn, soybeans and sunflowers.
For those curious about school board involvement, Laura offers this advice: get involved when your children are in grade school, not high school.
“Many decisions made by a school board are three- to five-year plans — they’re not immediate,” she said. “Also don’t wait until your life ‘slows down.’ When you have young children there is so much to do.
“If you wait until your children are older, you might not have the influence you think in the decision-making process for your children’s education.”
School board service is about much more than education.
“It’s really about shaping lives and bringing different perspectives. Every person on a school board has a different journey and life experience that brought them to that position, and when a board doesn’t have a concerned voice for agriculture, it leaves a void,” Cheney said.
“Agriscience and FFA are often on the chopping block in districts with budget cuts. Sure, the teacher can come in and explain the program’s benefits, but when a board member has firsthand experience with a program like FFA, it’s much more impactful.”
There are also ample opportunities for farmers to help the non-farming public understand their viewpoint. Millages are impactful to farmers because they’re typically large land owners paying a large tax bill.
“It’s important for a farmer’s voice to be present on a school board so others understand how a millage increase could affect them personally. The same goes with helping inform farmers about how that revenue would be used.”
Cheney said much has changed in education over the years and it’s important for others to learn as needs change.
“Dave and I feel this is our community and we believe we have a moral and social responsibility to care of each other,” said Cheney.
Most public school boards have seven members elected for terms of either four or six years, depending on district bylaws. Any registered voter living within the school district is eligible to run for board of education positions —taxpayers, parents, business people and community leaders.
Boards of education can act only during properly convened meetings; individual members acting on their own have no authority to act on the board’s behalf. Board actions are not valid unless approved by a majority of its members during a proper meeting.
Contact your local school district for more information about school board service.
Tim Rogers is manager of Farm News Media Services.
Local government positions examined in this series:
More coming soon!