I offer the following advice to those running for a director position this year and those deciding which candidates to support.
Being a board member mostly goes unnoticed until the system breaks. When it does, you’ll expect to make changes but find making significant changes frustrating. While the superintendent may be accountable to you, you realize you don’t operate the school; you govern it. You’ll be one of nine voices – each taking votes based on very different experiences.
Deciding what data you need and getting it will not be as rational as you expect. Staying focused on what’s best and fair for all students will be a measure of your perseverance, particularly when going against the tide.
As a board member, you’re taking on a critical role in our society. While it’s political, the board’s actions historically do not fall along with the two-party system. Instead, voting often unintentionally distributes opportunities for learning in unequal ways.
The budget is less about finance than it is about programs and priorities. Fundamental changes are rarely sustainable without a preference, staff support and a supporting budget. Since 90% of the budget is on staff costs, hard decisions will require a focus on the effects of resource reallocation. How much are you willing to compromise?
Come spring, you’ll also decide on how to generate revenue. Since most sources of income are locked with little control, you must focus on how and whom to tax. Seventy-three percent of local revenue is based on a volatile, non-liquid, life-defining asset: a taxpayer’s property.
Contracts with guaranteed increases in compensation are never in line with changes to people with fixed incomes and whose investments cannot support cash liquidity. You will be under constant pressure by staff to never “go backward,” yet that’s exactly what is expected of many taxpayers.
Therefore, proper budgeting is about first defunding and then funding for the future as an expense before it’s realized. Many accountants use the term zero-based budgeting. You’ll find the staff very resistant to this style. If you’re honest with the taxpayer, you must reject what’s easy and enforce the discipline of yearly justification. You will not have proper accountability otherwise.
Other significant costs include insurance, benefits and retirement (PSERS), cyber school tuition, building investments and special needs students. While we all want the best learning environments, you must also look at where, how and when expenses are creeping higher.
For example, looking at the percentage of costs allocated to staff no longer contributing to the system is highly political, fraught with danger and subject to scrutiny by social media, the press and the community.
We must compensate for those increases by finding ways to reduce costs by rationalizing educational programs and applying technology. We have move away from fear from clinging to past approaches then experimenting with the future.
Another example: Attention is a real problem in the classroom. It requires unique opportunities created from additional capital investments. Differentiated instruction is not enough. Obstacles go beyond superficial learning differences among students.
Many parents outsource the education of their children to the district. Therefore, teachers are expected to overcome the barriers regardless of support from home. Education is a shared investment.
As a candidate for board director, I hope you will continually sense and respond, seek the best and absorb what works into the fabric of the school district’s culture.
We have administrators, teachers and staff with powerful unions representing their interests. Our students have only you. Create a meaningful “portrait of a student” for your school district that the average parent can understand, appreciate and actively support.
Encourage teachers to take the lead on using technologies and modern teaching methods and tools. Evaluate classes in terms of substance, authenticity and the ability to get out of the box. Ask students what works and take their input seriously.
Establish an accountability committee whose role is to identify, collect and distribute data required to evaluate all school personnel against identified goals, objectives, fiscal responsibility, curriculum development and student success during and after graduation.
Parents and grandparents, you will always have the most significant impact on children. Lifelong learning is an essential part of ensuring every student reaches his or her potential. Reach out to teachers. They care about your children and want to ensure they have the brightest futures ahead of them.