"The truth is that the want of common education with us is not from our poverty, but from the want of an orderly system. More money is now paid for the education of a part than would be paid for that of the whole if systematically arranged." — Thomas Jefferson
Getting involved with your local board of education doesn't have to mean running your own campaign for a seat or taking detailed notes at every single meeting. The first simple step--one that every registered voter should take very seriously — is voting in the election of school board members.
School board members make up the largest body of elected officials in the United States. We entrust them to set the policies of our most treasured institutions: our public elementary, middle and high schools. Every district has a board of education, and boards generally meet every month in meetings that are open to the public.
These gatherings range from tame rubber-stamping sessions to intense, provocative discussions with the community where controversial issues are debated and landmark decisions are made.
School boards are nonpartisan. In most districts, members serve four-year terms, and terms are staggered so seats don't become open all at once. In general, to run for school board, you have to be at least 18 years old, a citizen of the state, a resident of the district, a registered voter and eligible under the state constitution to be elected to public office. You do not have to have a background in education, business, or politics.
In most cases, a school district employee can't be a board member in that district. This means no teacher, principal, librarian, custodian or anyone else that works in a school in the district can serve on the school board, unless they resign from the employed position.
School districts are complex corporations; they’re often the largest employers in a community and the decisions they make reach far, affecting jobs, resources and most importantly, the education of all children. They are also responsible for managing millions, and some cases billions, of taxpayers dollars.
Somewhere in between the agendas, public comment sessions and resolutions, school boards make a number of important decisions. School boards establish a vision for the community's schools. They have to set up and maintain an effective, efficient organizational structure for the district that lets the superintendent and administrators manage the schools, teachers teach and students learn.
They are responsible for hiring and evaluating a superintendent, evaluating and adopting policies that affect all schools in the district, serving as a judicial and appeals body when conflicts go unresolved, monitoring and adjusting district finances, and managing the collective bargaining process in the district. It is this latter function that has become a pint of national controversy due to the influence of the militancy of the various teachers unions.
A school board has a symbolic role as well. The behavior it shows off in the meeting room, the rapport among school board members and the relationships that members have with teachers and administrators in the district all add up to the climate of public education in a community. Whether healthy or dysfunctional, a school board has a heavy influence on the spirit that characterizes a community's impression of its school system.
A report has come out of Hamilton County, Tennessee and is reported in the Timesfreepress.com:
“The leader of Hamilton County's teachers union wants only those who have worked in the education field to serve on state and local school boards.
That's among several ideas pitched by Sandy Hughes, president of the Hamilton County Education Association, for the upcoming state legislative session. She's also hoping the Tennessee General Assembly will put the brakes on some of last year's education reform measures.
When it comes to the qualifications to serve on school boards, Hughes said she's most concerned about state school board members -- who are appointed -- because they set so much of the state's educational rules and regulations. But local school boards -- whose members are picked by voters -- could toughen their qualifications, too, she said.
"I really believe both local and state school board members should have some experience in education besides having just gone to school sometime in the past because education is so complex."
She proposes that to qualify for a school board post a candidate must have been a teacher, administrator or school employee.
The idea wasn't immediately popular.
Though he's heard similar proposals before, Sen. Bo Watson, R-Hixson, said he doesn't think the idea will get much support in the statehouse.
"The school board is a local entity and should be made up of citizens of diverse backgrounds," he said. "It should not be limited to only those in education."
Hamilton County Board of Education member Rhonda Thurman said the voters get to decide what kind of background they want from school board members.
"You elect who the people want," she said. "If they're educators, fine. If they're not, fine."
Thurman, who's a hair stylist, said the board's diverse makeup is an asset in decision making.
Joe Galloway, a retired teacher and administrator with 35 years of experience, said he finds institutional knowledge to be helpful in doing board business.
"I would tend to think that it would be valuable to be in education to be on the school board," Galloway said, "but I don't know that it should be a requirement."
This is nothing but a push by the teachers union to stack the board with advocates for the union. The Timesfreepress continues:
“On the state level, the Tennessee Education Association, the state's largest teachers union, has drafted a list containing dozens of legislative proposals. It asks for higher teacher salaries, programs to eliminate school violence, daily teacher planning time, enhancing teacher retirement benefits and full funding of the state's higher education formula, among other items. HCEA is a local affiliate of the TEA.
Locally, Hughes said she'd like to see the legislature be more careful in opening the door for charter and virtual schools, both of which recently were expanded under Tennessee law. She also hopes to see the legislature repeal the Collaborative Conferencing Act, which stripped unions of negotiating powers.”
What Ms. Hughes is proposing is classic "regulatory capture" That is the process whereby the people that need to be regulated because they are a monopoly or have unusual power-both of which apply here — choose their regulators. Imagine if state public utility commissions were staffed by lawyers looking for high paying jobs with utilities. Imagine if congress regulated the very businesses that can write million dollar checks to their campaigns. This is tantamount to the fox guarding the hen house. This is the kind of idea that only an arrogant monopoly could love.
We have seen riots in Wisconsin over this very issue of collective bargaining for school teachers, something I am dead set against. We have teachers unions that collect dues from their members and then use those dues to finance political campaigns (in most cases Democrats) who will then pass legislation favorable to the teachers unions. All of this is done with money that emanates from the home owning taxpayers.
I never vote for anyone with an education or political background in a school board election. They are too close to the teachers and academia to suit me. I look for people with business backgrounds. If there are not enough of them I then move to someone with a technical background such as an engineer. Also a parent would get my vote as long as they were not part of the academic cabal. I would vote for the person owning the local dry cleaning shop than someone with a PhD in education or school administration. I want people who have a vested interest in how the money is spent rather than those who’s interest is in getting more money and benefits.
There is another aspect to our public K-12 education system that is rarely, if ever mentioned. That aspect is buy-in or stake holding. The stakeholders in our K-12 education system are the property owning residents of the district. A large portion of their property takes goes to the local school district whether they have children in the system or not. Property owners who elect to send their children to a private or parochial school are bullied by the taxing authority to pay the same amount towards the school district even though they do not partake in the system. They cannot even use the public school buses to transport their children to school. This is done in the name of “public good.”
On the other hand people with children in the districts K-12 schools who do not own property pay nothing. Take as an example a couple that owns a home in the district with children going to a private school, or a couple with no children in the school district. They will pay thousands of dollars each year to support something they do not use. On the other hand you have a renter or section-8 dweller with two, three, or more children in the K-12 system. They pay nothing for the use of the school system. And you wonder why their involvement in their children’s education is minimal.
I can understand the traditional support of the government school system by the property taxes, even though I do not agree with it in totality. If you have children in the system the user tax imposed for the school system is legitimate.. If they do not a downward adjustment should be made in their property taxes. On the other hand people who do not pay property taxes with children in the public school system should pay for the use of the schools based on the number of children they have in the system. This would do two things. First it would create equality in the tax base, and second it would make those people stakeholders in the system and hopefully increase their involvement in their child’s education.
I realize the progressives and unions would fight this to the death as their main concern is to look for the deepest pockets to finance their government school monopoly and feather their nests.
Perhaps as we witness the continued depredation of the government school system and the increasing power and control of the teachers union we may someday begin to rethink how we pay for this failing system of government schools.