Students at Oak Hill Elementary School in Fairfax County. (Shamus Ian Fatzinger/Fairfax County Times)

HAD FAIRFAX County School Board member Jeanette Hough waited 10 more days to resign her at-large seat, the election for her replacement would have been on the November ballot, along with a number of other high-profile races. Not only would that have saved Fairfax taxpayers the $250,000 cost of a special election, but it likely would have meant a higher voter turnout than is being predicted for Tuesday’s balloting. Whether the timing was, as critics claim, a purposeful attempt to advantage a particular candidate does not really matter at this point. What is important is the key role in education that will be played by the person elected Tuesday — which means that Fairfax voters ought to give this race the attention it deserves.

Four candidates are on the ballot to fill the 2½ years left on Ms. Hough’s term. Ms. Hough, elected in November 2015, resigned in May, saying her husband had accepted an overseas work assignment. The school board is considered nonpartisan, but that doesn’t mean the political parties don’t get involved. Ms. Hough had been endorsed by the local Republican Party and her decision not to delay the effective date of her resignation, thus necessitating the special election, was heavily criticized by Democrats.

Tuesday’s special election comes as the 189,000-student school system grapples with fiscal challenges caused by the inability of state and county funds to keep up with its fast growth. A meals tax that would have provided extra resources to public education was roundly defeated in a referendum last year. The candidate with the best understanding of these complicated issues is Karen Keys-Gamarra. Ms. Keys-Gamarra, an attorney and child advocate whom we endorsed in 2015 when she unsuccessfully ran for the school board’s Sully District seat, doesn’t offer simplistic solutions but instead understands that competing needs must be weighed and prioritized — and that the school board must work as a partner with its county counterparts.

Ms. Keys-Gamarra’s work as a court-appointed guardian and experience as the parent of three children who went through Fairfax schools gives her a broad perspective on challenges facing students and a special interest in wanting to tackle bullying. She understands the importance of diversity in the school system and is committed to ensuring that students from different backgrounds have the same access to opportunity and the means to succeed. The other candidates are Sandra Allen, Chris Grisafe and Michael Owens.

Polls will be open from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m Tuesday and information on polling places can be found at the Virginia Department of Elections.