Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Board Responsibilities

I've been thinking about the new Board lately and I'm becoming worried.

The Board has, essentially, four duties.

Policymaking Body. The Board is supposed to be the policymaking body for the District. While I have no doubt that they can write policy, they cannot (or will not) enforce policy. I've said it before, if the policies are not enforced, then they are pointless, irrelevent, and meaningless. If the policies are pointless, irrelevent and meaningless, then so is the policymaking body. If the Board does not enforce policy, then they have abdicated their responsibility to function as a policymaking body. My observation is that this Board doesn't show much interest in enforcing Policies.

Manage the Superintendent. The Board is supposed to manage the Superintendent. This is closely aligned with enforcing policy as well, since one of the things that the Board is supposed to oversee is the Superintendent's policy compliance. This Board has, in a number of ways, signalled their interest in "partnering" with the Superintendent, entering into a peer relationship with her. Doing so, they abdicate their proper role as her boss. This is not a peer relationship but a hierarchical one in which the Board is the boss and the superintendent is the employee. Although the Superintendent is supposed to work for the Board, I see this Board trying to work for the Superintendent.

Advocate for the Community. The Board Directors are the only people in Seattle Public Schools who are accountable to the public. They, therefore, have the responsibility to represent the public's interest. Yet the only responsibility to the public listed in this Board's Affirmation of Responsibility is to forward their concerns and complaints to the appropriate district staff person. They don't think they owe the public anything more than that?

Legally required ministerial tasks. Finally, state law requires the Board to perform a variety of functions, primarily administrative trivia, such as approving warrants, hires, appropriations numbers, grant applications, and such things. This Board does fulfill that role at least as well as any other Board.

In the end, it appears to me that the current Board is intent upon abdicating their three most important duties and relegating themselves to rubberstamp status. That would be a dreadful shame. It would be far better for the students, the public, and the District if the Board would step up and do their job. It would serve everyone well if the Board actively enforced Policy, if the Board demanded compliance and performance from the Superintendent, and if the Board embraced their role as advocate for the community they serve.

1 comment:

dan dempsey said...


The problem that seems so pervasive is a lack of checks and balances. So often these depend on each institution fulfilling its responsibilities.

We are going through the sub-prime melt down because bond rateing agencies like Moody's did not fulfill their responsibilities. So banks kept writing bad loans to compete with other banks writing bad loans.

School boards as a general rule just follow the leader - not fulfilling their responsibility.

The supt. wishes the board to be collegial and cooperative. Many think the union should also be collegial and cooperative.

Just a super plan -- no accountability anywhere. Union not accountable to members, school board not accountable to community, and Supt. accountable to no one.

Look at the WASL mess and math texts - OSPI appears responsible to no one. This problem is pervasive and not unique to our school board.

I still have hope for an improved board; but you are correct it is beginning to look like the same old politics.