With voter turnout rates so abysmally low in this country, efforts to get people involved in their government tend to focus largely on encouraging more people to vote.
Certainly, voting is vitally important in ensuring that we place the best people in positions where they can make a positive difference in our lives and our communities.
In May, nearly 2,300 voters in the Johnstown school district turned out at the polls to narrowly defeat a proposed budget. A month later, nearly 2,200 showed up for the revote. The turnout was spectacular and demonstrated widespread voter interest and concern.
But voting is just the first step in making our government institutions better and more responsive to our needs.
In Johnstown, citizens earlier this week had an opportunity to have a direct, tangible impact on the future of the district beyond just voting on the budget.
Seeking to build upon the voter interest in the district, the school board and new interim superintendent hosted a forum in which they sought input from the community into what kind of school district they wanted for the future.
Citizens were asked to share what they thought was special about the district, what they wanted the district to be known for and what the district could do differently to improve.
It was an ideal opportunity for citizens to follow up on the budget votes and help their representatives on the school board shape the future of the district.
But instead of a rousing crowd of enthusiastic citizens throwing out ideas and debating and arguing and sharing, the event drew almost no one.
While over 2,000 people voted in the district’s elections just five months earlier, and only eight bothered to show up for the follow-up effort.
That’s not going to get it done.
If citizens truly want to improve the district, improve their tax situation and provide opportunities for the next generations of students, they’re going to have to come out and make their voices heard.
Citizens still have a chance to share their views with district officials by participating in an online survey through Oct. 18 on the district’s website: https://www.johnstownschools.org.
Go to the right and click on the box that says, “A Vision for the Future,” and answer a few simple questions.
Of course, the vision meeting and the survey won’t be the only or last opportunity for the people to help shape the district’s future.
Start attending school board meetings. Start emailing school board members. Send them letters. Show up at events and participate in discussions.
Voting is important. But don’t forget there are other ways to make a difference. Take advantage of them.
For the rest of us, the lesson learned in Johnstown is one from which we all can benefit.