Who Should Be Allowed On The School Board

South Carolina is looking at passing a law allowing teachers to be members of the school boards for charter schools where they teach. In some states teachers can be on the boards of schools in other school districts but in general teachers are not allowed to serve on the school boards of districts in which they work.

Those sorts of rules seem obvious because of conflicts of interests but you have to wonder who doesn't have a conflict of interest on a school board? Parents do. People without children in the district do. Who's left?

I've served on a school board (for a private Catholic school) and have seen some of this in action. Parents often look at how policies are going to impact their own children and pocketbooks. I remember one parent who opposed a measure because it would cost him tuition money in the short term but the plan would not be completed in time for his children to take full advantage of it. I've known others (especially involved in public schools were I served on a district budget committee) who looked at everything in a way to minimize their tax bill regardless of educational value. And of course many of us have read/heard about people who get elected to school boards to push a specific religious or philosophic agenda.

As a teacher I sometimes worried about how to handle problems with children of school board members. At a private school with no tenure one could get into trouble if one had a weak administration and a strong school board member who was a parent. But what about none parents with less of a vested interest in the quality of education? Might they not decide that they would be better off finding ways to fire older higher prices teachers even if they have a lot of good experience and replace them with young less expensive teachers? One can always find excuses to fire people. This are of course some reasons that public schools have tenure in the first place.

Do as many people as we'd hope really join school boards because of altruistic motives? Surely many do. I like to think that is why I served on a school board. The question becomes how do you weed out the biased people?

Many school boards of private schools and colleges have boards made up mostly of alumni. These are people with a long term vested interest in the school and a desire to see it continue into the future. Even when these people have children in the school they (in theory at least) have the school's interests at heart and a goal of a long future for the school. You can't limit public school boards to alumni though as it would never pass Constitutional muster. In some communities (especially those with poor schools) you would be seriously limiting the quality and size of the pool of board members.

At some point you have to trust people and judge them on their actions. Perhaps term limits are one potential help although voters who pay attention couldn't hurt. But if we are going to keep teachers off of boards where they work how about keeping parents off as well?

[Link found at the Education Wonks]

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