kitchen table math, the sequel: Trench Warfare on the Board of Ed

Monday, January 17, 2011

Trench Warfare on the Board of Ed

Peter Meyer at Education Next:
I couldn’t believe it.

John, the new board of education president, had just proposed that we move “Old Business” to the beginning of our meetings.

I had spent roughly a year-and-a-half arguing that it made no sense to put Old Business at the end of each school board meeting, which usually arrived about 10pm, the third hour of these star chambers of modern public education. By then, most people, including the lone reporter, had gone home.  That, of course, was the point: Old Business was dirty laundry, things not done. Why flaunt it?

I had gotten nowhere with my arguments because my colleagues on the school board thought I was the devil.  I was the infamous “rogue” board member, the person that school board associations give seminars about. Not a team player. The local paper wrote an editorial about me that prompted a friend, after church, to remark, “I’ve seen kinder things said about murderers.”


Needless to say, my new colleagues were not looking forward to the prospect of sharing executive sessions with me. And, after being sworn in, they went out of their way to keep me in the dark. If the superintendent recommended hiring a new teacher and I asked to see the candidate’s resume, a motion was quickly made that school board did not want to see said resume. It passed, 6 to 1. When a special board meeting was called to approve $25 million in construction contracts, I asked to see the contracts. “I make a motion that the board does not look at the contracts,” said one of my colleagues. “I second that, said another.” Another defeat, 6 to 1.

One of my favorites was Board Policy #2510. It was titled NEW BOARD MEMBER-ELECT ORIENTATION and it said, in part, that “Each Board member-elect shall, as soon as possible, … be given selected materials of the previous year covering the function of the Board and the school district, including (a) policy manual, (b) copies of key reports prepared during the previous year by school Board committees and/or the administration, (c) the School Law handbook prepared by the New York State School Boards Association, (d) access to minutes of Board meetings of the previous year, (e) latest financial report of the district, and (f) copies of pertinent materials developed by the New York State School Boards Association….”

My orientation consisted of the board president and superintendent sitting me down and saying, “You’re not getting anything.” And so it went.

I once read the board’s orientation policy, out loud, at a public meeting, to the regional superintendent, a lawyer. “Aren’t school boards supposed to follow their own policies?” I asked. “The board can do whatever it wants,” he said. I was shocked, because board policies are, in fact, laws and have to be followed–or changed.

He might have said, “whatever it can get away with.” But his comment reminded me of a fundamental truth about public school systems: the buck stops with the people.
administration spends $50K without board vote
"it's just about statistically impossible that a bid would come in at exactly $50K"
fields exchange at BOE meeting
school boards behaving badly
board member FOILs district docs
trench warfare on the board of ed

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