Monday, February 11, 2013
SO YOU WANT TO BE ON A SCHOOL BOARD. WHY?
…Holding Fast to the Personal Agenda
Here are some common reasons for pursuing a position on a local school board:
1. The superintendent needs to be fired.
2. I want to ensure that my kid gets the best education possible.
3. The schools need fixing.
4. I want to cut waste, fraud and abuse.
5. This will be my ticket into the political arena where I can run for county supervisor, the assembly and, maybe, statewide office.
6. I want to take care of the students and the folks we pay to take care of the students.
There is a correct answer. Yet, too many candidates for Trustee positions either don’t know the correct answer or, once they assume office, forget why they’re there.
Here’s a closer look at the varied rationale for seeking a seat on the Board of Trustees:
1. The superintendent needs firing. A Board Member friend I know opines, “The most important – in fact the ONLY important – thing a Board does is the hiring and firing of superintendents. "But,” he adds immediately, “Trustees must do their homework about both the disconnect between the current administration and the needs of the students and the establish with as much surety as possible that the new supe can meet the needs better than the old guy did.” It is painstaking and time consuming. He adds, perhaps cynically, perhaps realistically: “At best it’s a crap shoot.”
So you’ve got the perfect superintendent. Now what are you going to do?
2 I want to ensure that my child is offered the best education possible. From that follows: I will get my child into the classes of the teachers with the best reputations; I will have an avenue to be in the classroom monitoring that teacher’s work with my child; I will have access to the school site’s leadership so that my complains/concerns can move to the front of the line.
A former Trustee and bicycling buddy tells me: “Once you become a member of the Board, you give up being a parent.” Sage advice. Ethical Board membership means Trustees do not throw their weight around on the school site or in the classroom.
In practice, absent a quorum of members at a calendared Board meeting, a Trustee is elevated to the position of citizen with all of the privileges and limitations that any other citizen has. Able and competent administrators will protect teachers from irrational demands of expectations of favorable treatment from parents who happen to be trustees just as they would protect staff from the unreasonable expectations of any parent. Courageous educational leaders lose their jobs all the time because of this. But it is the right stand to take.
3 The schools need fixing. Yes, they probably do. Unless “fixing” is simply replacing one unfavorable practice with one less favorable – not research based, not data driven, not practiced in buildings with similar demographics but better results, then the correct way to effect change is to engage in a collaborative process involving stakeholders with multiple points of view because of the varied experiences they bring to the table. A Trustee really can have but one point of view and one set of experiences to guide him or her: his or her own. In order to create measureable growth in a sustainable manner, a Trustee demanding a specific change or a particular program will only serve as a speed bump in the fast lane toward progress. Better that the leadership takes input from the entire public and the educators engineer the change. Trustees can scrutinize a recommendation and evaluate the information, data or process by which the recommendation is achieved – they can even participate as an individual member of the public on a specific committee – but the effective Board member will not demand some different outcome simply because he or she can.
4. Waste, fraud and abuse: if we repeat it often enough, it becomes a false truth that can drive policy. Are there instances of these three mismanagement stooges? Certainly. Are they the prevalent way of doing business? Probably not. If they are, the Board should taken action. If the Board does not, the voters should by firing the Board.
The truth of the matter is that school districts are highly legislated, adjudicated and regulated institutions. Budget requirements are clearly defined. Audits are frequent and rigorous. Personnel actions are governed by labor law and education code provision, not Board action. Curriculum material decisions are seriously limited – for better or for worse – by a state screening process. There is little opportunity for local malfeasance. And when malfeasance rears its unprofessional head, savvy boards take care of bid’ness by holding Superintendents accountable.
“But you read about malpractice all the time in the paper!” Remember the adage “If it bleeds, it leads.” Along those lines: Schools following the rules do not make news. In the scope of the decisions made in 1,000 different California school districts and many times that may California school sites, the percentage of bad-apple decisions is remarkably low. Run for a Board on a platform of eliminating waste fraud and abuse and you’ll likely find yourself twiddling your thumbs quite a bit. Or ill-advisedly meddling in items one, two or three, above.
5. This is the ticket to my political future. Because you what? Twiddled your thumbs on a school board for four or eight or twelve years? Sorry, if you’re not dedicated to the following, please find another avenue…
6. I want to (1) take care of the students and (2) take care of the people we employ to take care of the students.
Ding. Ding. Ding. Ding. Ding. Ding.
Through a maze of procedural, budgetary, experiential and, yes, political considerations, this is what educational leaders do and this is what School Board members need to ensure happens.
Church of the Open Road Press