Questions for Candidates

The candidate filing period for the school board election ends next week (July 30th). Here’s a few things I’m thinking about right now:

In the past year or so, recommendations by the administration for major changes (school start and end times, millions in budget cuts) were announced shortly before decision-making deadlines, leaving little time for public comment or board discussion before they needed to be approved. What is the proper role of the school board (versus the administration) in making these sorts of decisions and what role, if any, does public comment play in ensuring good decisions are made on behalf of the community?

Do you support recent changes to the public comment policy at board meetings?

Do district technology policies adequately protect students? See, for example, Google data-mining of student e-mails and one-year suspension and police referral for use of password provided by teacher. Any concerns about who may have access to all the student data collected for data-driven decision-making?

When budget cuts put priorities in competition with each other (say instructional coaches versus class sizes versus 4th grade orchestra), which priorities will you champion? Or will you rely on recommendations from school administrators?

Legislative priorities and advocacy tend to focus on school funding issues. What other issues, if any (statewide assessment, data privacy?), should the school board be taking a position on and lobbying legislators about.

Are you willing to revisit past school board decisions and, if so, which ones?

What is the most important characteristic of an effective school board member?


4 thoughts on “Questions for Candidates

  1. Chris

    I’d like to know what the candidates think of the issue raised by these retired kindergarten teachers and this former board member. What role, if any, should the school board have in addressing that issue?

    Also, how is it that only *retired* kindergarten teachers are speaking out about that issue? Do current teachers feel free to speak out on school policy issues? (I think the answer is clearly No.) What can the board do to enable teachers to speak publicly on school issues without fear of negative consequences?

  2. Matt Townsley

    I appreciate you taking the time to share these questions and I agree with the themes behind many of them.

    One of the questions, “…which priorities will you champion? Or will you rely on recommendations from school administrators?” gave me pause.

    My understanding in reading various board policies and job descriptions is that the role of administration is the make recommendations to the school board (more specifically, building or district office administrators/directors make recommendations to the superintendent who then recommends to the board). I am not advocating for rubber stamp board members and realize all of us bring our biases to the table. I believe there’s trust to be built all around the board table and with that comes plenty of nuances related to decision making vs. any type of 100% rubber stamp (or 100% “no vote” mentality). I’m guessing some of your questions may be contextual based on your own experiences, however I’m wondering if another question for school board candidates might be what they see as a healthy relationship between the board and superintendent.

    1. Karen W Post author

      Thanks for commenting, Matt. I appreciate you taking the time to engage in discussion here.

      I think your question about what they see as a healthy relationship between the board and superintendent is a good one, and, perhaps, a bit less loaded sounding than my phrasing. 😉

      I don’t think I’m advocating for not relying on the administrators ever, certainly the board should hire a superintendent they trust, and who hires administrators they trust. But here are two examples of situations where I think our board might have asked more questions, pressed the superintendent to reconsider or more thoroughly demonstrate that the recommendations were in line with community priorities and values. Closest to my heart, of course, is the fourth grade orchestra cut, made with very little notice to the public, and after a fair bit of public comment against. (See also German language program and 7th grade football and other programming cuts.) I think that same year, another local school board directed their superintendent to try to find something else to cut instead of performance music.

      Another would be the recommendation to close Hoover Elementary, as the administration projects that we will need additional elementary capacity in that part of the district.

      I won’t claim to speak for Chris, but I think we’d like to see more questions asked and answered, rather than have the school board say, well, they’re the professionals, so we’ll just do what they recommend, no (or few tough) questions asked, or the administrators say, we’re the professionals so you’ll just have to take our word for it. Not that anyone literally says these words out loud. But I might say this–it isn’t enough for the administration to understand the basis for their recommendations, or even enough for the school board to understand the administrators basis for the recommendations. The community needs to understand the basis for the recommendations–particularly the controversial ones, and it might take school board members willing to take the time to ask questions and have those discussions at public meetings. My feeling is that 1) these sorts of public discussions probably generally lead to better decision-making and 2) they probably help at least some community members get on board with what might initially have been more controversial recommendations.

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