Proper Role of the School Board

Some candidates have suggested that school board decisions, once made, should not be revisited, and that board members should be team players who back whatever decisions have already been made.

This makes no sense at all to me, after all, what is the point of elections if no decision could ever be revisited?  If no policy could ever be revised?

I think it does raise an interesting–and important–question though: what do candidates understand the proper role of the school board to be?

Important, because it points to how the candidates are likely to respond to issues that arise during their tenure on the board.  Think PBIS and the not-less-than-fifteen minutes for elementary lunch issues, for example.

When a board member or candidate declares that something is not a board issue, what does that mean?

I think it could mean a number of things.

It could be an incomplete description of the governance method by which the board sets policy and delegates authority to the superintendent to carry out the details of the board policy, in which case, perhaps they mean (and should say so clearly!) either 1) we are satisfied with the superintendent’s exercise of the delegated authority (or a past board’s decision) so we’re not interested in taking up the issue at the board level (again) or 2) we believe that the teacher/principal/superintendent need an opportunity to address and resolve this issue before we take it up at the board level and we believe that hasn’t happened yet.

But it could also mean: we don’t want to take responsibility for this issue, we believe that we must be absolutely deferential to the superintendent (or past boards), or we don’t want to micromanage.

I think many issues are potentially school board issues: the school board bears the ultimate responsibility for both the facilities and the education program of the school district.  Any board that confines itself to facilities management is only doing part of the job.  Any board that  acts as though, having adopted policy, it has fulfilled it’s obligations is only doing part of the job.

I think it is obvious that a school district could not operate if every decision were required to be made at the board level; delegating authority to the superintendent is essential.  But having delegated that authority, the school board retains the ultimate responsibility for the education program and the facilities of the district which requires not just monitoring, but actual oversight on behalf of the community–which may sometimes mean revising the terms of the delegation of authority.

This requires a willingness to do the work to become independently informed on issues, to think critically–ask questions and insist on satisfactory answers–and to revise policy as needed; not just more or less passively accept information from and the recommendations of the administration.  

There is a difference between micromanaging and providing effective oversight, and there is a difference between providing effective oversight on behalf of the community and “not being a team-player.”  In my opinion, we need school board members that can tell the difference.

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