Thursday, January 4, 2007

Call the board to order with new priorities

Rochelle Riley wrote a great article on Wednesday:

Detroit Free Press: Call the board to order with new priorities (01/03/07)

I thought it was right on the money!

Sadly, I don't think the problem is limited to Detroit Public Schools, and is evident in many of the suburban districts I've watched.

School boards seem to be populated with followers, who wait for the district administrators to lead the way.

Board are "trained" by the Michigan Association of School Boards to understand the board's role is "policy", not day-to-day management. While that is certainly a good guiding principal, what they fail to discuss is reasonable oversight. In practice, a board member that attempts to address or discuss meaningful objectives or concepts is accused of "micromanaging."

Even if you have board members with the capacity to lead, it's easy to get buried with the complexity and volume of data. The board itself has no staff that can provide any research, or write policy drafts, so it is limited to reviewing whatever details the district administration decides to share, and ends up debating policies written by the administration.

Sure, there might be some discussion, but it's usually not very substantive. Most matters brought before a board were only submitted to board members a few days prior, and a board member frequently does not have adequate resources to be able to effectively analyze or challenge the plan.

That in and of itself is not necessarily a problem if the district has a good, strong, candid administration that keeps the board well informed, solicits input, and seeks direction.

But not all superintendents are like that, and boards seem unable to differentiate.

It's frightening to think how education - arguably the future of our state - is dependent on such a weak governing institution. It's even worse when you consider the enormous sums of money controlled by these groups. Most school budgets exceed that of the cities in which they reside!

==> Mike.

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