I finally got around to viewing the video of the Town Hall meeting in late May with panelists discussing the School Board. I was alternately amused, amazed and annoyed. I'm going to note a couple of interesting comments and then bring it around to why it's valid to revisit it.
-Dean Wasley of UW clearly likes the idea of appointed boards. She likes that over in Bellevue things are steady and sound. She's right on that point and it's worth looking into how the relationship between Superintendent Riley and his Board works and what makes it work. I wonder if any of the SB candidates have looked into this. But then she went on to explain that if a Board member is stepping down, the member steps down BEFORE the election to allow the Board to select the someone to fill out their term (and thus giving that new person a huge "in" come election time). That's handy if you are a Board that only wants a certain type of person on your Board. Cathy Allen, a political consultant, quipped, "Sounds like Russia." I agree.
Dean Wasley also claimed that the Board has "tons" of training and I'd have to ask Brita if that was tons offered or tons that each member took upon his/herself to get. I know that Brita attended numerous Board Director meetings (state and national) to get a broad view of what is happening elsewhere but I don't that it happened for every director.
-Lynne Varner of the Times had some funny/odd things to say. She's against appointed boards but said if the Board were to go to the Legislature next year whinning about money, the legislature would probably be more likely to vote in appointed boards. Huh? Every single district in this state faces the same financial future that Seattle's does. It is a function of lack of state funding (which is being somewhat corrected by the next budget). Getting mad at any board for talking about the financial crunch and then saying they need to be appointed makes little sense.
Ms. Varner waved off the idea that the Board needs staff. She said that any Board member can ask a head of a department or the Superintendent for information. School Board policy 60.1 (partial):
"A. The Board and its members communicate with the administration of the school district through the Superintendent or the Superintendent’s designated representative and not through subordinate administrators.
B. Board members shall not request from the Superintendent the preparation of a report or compilation of material not readily available and involving significant staff time unless the Board by motion duly made and adopted shall have approved the preparation of the report of the compilation of material."
So, informally, maybe, the Board members could ask department heads but that's not Board policy. It also allows the Superintendent/CAO/COO/CFO to take as long as they want to answer questions. She also forgets that it isn't just district information/stats that are important. There is other research out there from a local/regional/state and national perspective that Board members can't necessarily do on their own .
The smartest answers on the panel came from Cathy Allen, a political consultant. She sure knows this district and the players. She got gasps from the audience when she said she believed that the new superintendent will be gone in two years or less because she is likely to be pushed out by new Board members who will say they didn't pick/hire her. I agree that Dr. Goodloe-Johnson is unlikely to last more than 2 years but I don't agree with Ms. Allen's reasoning.
So I bring this back up because of discussion mostly between Dean Wasley and Lynne Varner. They seem to be under the impression that the School Board director job is an about 10-hour a week job. No kidding. Dean Wasley said that the Board of Regents works perfectly well in a shorter time period. She should know better than anyone but K-12 is not the same thing as post-secondary. The Board of Regents is appointed and largely serves at the request of the President of UW. The Superintendent serves as a hire of the School Board.
They both rolled their eyes and suggested that Board members who spend more than 10 hours a week on the job should "get a life" or " get friends". Dean Wasley even said if only the district could offer free football tickets to Husky games like UW does to the Board of Regents, you could get better people. (I thought she was kidding the first time but she said it twice.)
Okay, so let's do a rough, back-of-the-envelope estimate (and Brita help us out):
3 hours a week in committee meetings (the Board members serve on at least 2 committees each)
2 hours a week meeting constituents, answering e-mail and phone calls
2 hours a week visiting schools
2 hours a week in other meetings either within the district or outside (city meetings, etc)
1 hour a week doing reading for the job
That's 10 hours. I believe I lowballed every single one of those categories and probably didn't include some that should be there. I know people who believe SB members are on the job full-time (and have no hesitation coming up to them in the grocery store and launching into a problem). I honestly believe that any candidate running right now who said, "I would be willing to give 10 hours a week to this job" could not be elected. I went and looked at the websites of various candidates and 1 says he will work fulltime at the position and several other allude to being able to give large amounts of time to the job.
There's a difference between micromanaging the district (not part of the Board job) and doing due diligence. So I ask you, for a job that pays around $4800 a year, with multiple constituencies around an urban district with about a half-billion dollar budget, how much time should a Board member be putting in?