Rethinking School Board Membership
Ijust read your editorial (See "Holding School Boards More Accountable," DISTRICT ADMINISTRATION, March 2002, p. 7) referencing the shameful events that took place in Unified School District in Kansas City, Kansas.
As a current Kansas school district superintendent, I am ashamed to read the accounting of "atypical" school board behavior in the state of Kansas. With this type of press, falling on the heels of the past Kansas State Board of Education's ruling on evolution vs. creationism, I fear that the rest of the world will be convinced that Kansans are crazy.
I have been an active school administrator in Kansas for 13 years and a superintendent for the last six. Some of the things that I have seen happen within boards of education are too shameful to acknowledge. The results of these shameful board actions often are not in the "best interest of the children."
I support Editorial Director Wayne D'Orio's suggestion of an oversight body to hold school boards accountable for their actions. My experience has shown that one of the biggest contributors to these maleficent boards of education is a lack of any distinguishable qualifications to be elected to a school board. In Kansas the only eligibility requirement to run for school board is to "be a registered voter living within the district."
I would add to the oversight body, some qualifying criteria for potential school board members. Perhaps they should have some professional training in education, background in business/industry, strong fiscal management skills, leadership
training and experience, etc. Or be required to complete such in-service training, on the job, in order to keep their seat on the board.
Ron Kelley, Superintendent USD No. 278 and No. 279, Mankato and Jewell, Kan.
Getting the Public Involved
Ienjoyed the cover story "Public School Pillars," (January 2002, p. 28).
My experience parallels the story's contention that parents and other community members not only like to be informed and involved-they expect it. In 1994, after a long period of bond rejection by voters, the school board here initiated its first strategic planning session that included community members. This led to additional involvement of the community in long-range planning.
Inspired by the enthusiasm of the citizens group, the administration and the school board joined the citizens committee in sharing the message with the entire community of about 15,000 people. Their efforts paid off.
In November, more than 65 percent of residents voted in favor of the project and granted Jamestown authority to adopt a city sales and use tax to pay for the general obligation bond issue of the school district. The following day, school board President Ken Astrup stated in the local newspaper that the reason he expected the bond issue to pass was that the community committee worked hard to get the information out to the public.
As former superintendent of Jamestown Public Schools, I agree with Astrup. However, the initiative, in my opinion, began in 1994 when the board acknowledged the need to include the community in its planning process. The lesson learned is that it is never too late to initiate a community public relations campaign. It took Jamestown 35 years to pass a bond issue or more correctly, it took 6 years from the time the board began to involve the community in its planning process.
David W. Haney, Assistant Professor North Dakota State University Fargo, ND
Include the Board in District Decisions
Iread with interest your discussion of using political consultants in bond votes (See "District Politics" DISTRICT ADMINISTRATION, March 2002, p. 43). What I found interesting and disturbing was the apparent attitude of superintendents that they determine the need for bond issues and not the local boards of education. In North Carolina, school systems are dependent on local county commissions for their funding, which includes bond issues. In the past eight years, the people of New Hanover County have approved $165 million in school bonds. This is for a district of 21,500 students and a county population of 165,000. The most recent bonds were in 1997. In our county, a bond issue starts with the board of education. The superintendent informs the board of needs but nothing can happen until the elected board passes a resolution to ask the county commission to issue bonds. I write because in reading about the Capistrano vote, it seemed the superintendent and his staff orchestrated the bond vote and the board of education was the instrument of the administration. I find this method to be backwards to the way it should be done. Our district needs roughly $100 million more in bond funding. It is our intention to go to the voters early next year. I believe it will pass because we are clear to our voters of our intent and uses of the money and we do not drag the campaign out for an extended period.