Elected officials who serve on their local school boards, typically, do not attract as much attention as their higher profile counterparts in city, county and state government. And they are probably grateful for that fact. But school board members exert an enormous influence over one of our most important responsibilities educating our children.

Under the guidance of innovative, committed school board officials our public education systems have the potential to flourish, even in hard economic times. the same token, when mismanaged they falter and fail. That is why it is so important for citizens in the Park City, North Summit and South Summit School Districts to be aware of the upcoming opportunity to enter the races for two seats on each of their school boards.

This year, the terms for school board members representing the 4th and 5th precincts in each of Summit County's three school districts are up for election. In a couple of cases, the incumbents have already signaled their intentions to step aside, while others have said they want to continue in order to see their initiatives come to fruition. Either way, it is time for all school district patrons to tally up their school board representative's report cards.

School board members are elected by their specific precincts and run in nonpartisan races. If more than two file for a particular seat they will face off in a June primary and the two highest vote-getters then go on to the General Election ballot. Campaigning for a school board seat in Summit County, where the precincts are usually comprised of two or three adjacent neighborhoods, is usually done on foot with a small investment in hand-printed flyers outlining the candidates' main objectives.

Despite the low-profile campaigns, school board members wield a big hammer. They decide how to spend the lion's share of every property owner's tax bill. In Park City, for instance, 48 percent of a property owner's tax bill goes toward funding the Park City School District's $42 million budget. By comparison, only 23 percent is earmarked for municipal expenses. That means, whether residents have children or not, they still have an important stake in who is running their local school district.

School board members are also charged with making important policy and personnel decisions, from hiring principals and superintendents to cutting and adding academic programs.

The school districts throughout Summit County have been fortunate to have leaders of high integrity and close connections to their communities and as a result their students have excelled. But in order to maintain those high standards, new citizens must be willing to come forward.

Prospective candidates must file between Friday, March 14, and Thursday, March 20. The filing fee is $50 and candidates must reside in the district they want to represent. For a map of school board precincts go to: http://le.utah.gov/GIS/findDistrict.jsp or contact the Summit County clerk's office, summitcounty.org/clerk