Who Else Can Hold the District Accountable?
Who is responsible for holding the district accountable
for its progress, its actions, its decisions?
First and foremost, of course, is the Board (or so it would seem). But really, they can only hold one person accountable and that's the Superintendent. They can't fire anyone but her and I guess they could reprimand someone but she could accuse them of overstepping. What's interesting is that the Board's greatest place of oversight is BEFORE anything gets enacted. But what tends to happen is that the Board directs the Superintendent in a policy direction, she then coordinates that effort and it gets presented to the Board. They then do what is usually a rushed and/or cursory look at it and pass it.
Then, when problems arise, the Board is pretty much out of luck because, after all, they okayed what the Superintendent and the staff created. (I suspect they could reverse something but I haven't seen that done.)
Holding the Board accountable are the voters. It can definitely happen that the majority of the Board steps down/gets ousted but that usually happens because of a large event/scandal. It is, of course, harder to vote out an incumbent. No one can overestimate the power of incumbency but directors do leave a trail behind them. I think this next election will be one where any incumbent is going to have to do a lot of explaining. And I say this because I hope people understand that next election cycle (November 2011) for the School Board seats, well, it might get loud.
Then we have the outliers. The editorial Board at the Seattle Times and the Alliance for Education are two who come to mind. Now, if you had a Board that didn't do what these two wanted, you'd know about it.
But the Times has decided that the ed reform sweeping the nation is the one and only one direction to go. It's embarrassing how one-sided their writing has become. I would say it is a shame but I think we have long since exorcised shame from our national vernacular just as real journalism seems to be a dying art.
As for the Alliance, well, again if the district wasn't going in the direction they liked, the Alliance's Board would have no problem telling the School Board or the Superintendent. But the Alliance works for the district more than the district works for the Alliance so the idea that the Alliance would hold sway over district actions is pretty much moot.
Then we have the various "education" groups; CPPS, PTSA, LEV and Stand for Children. They have zero sway over what the district does or how the Board votes. I kind of had hope for the PTSA who is really in the best position to have leverage but I don't see that happening much anymore.
Anyone else? I think so but here's where I need your thoughts. I personally think that our Seattle legislative delegation as well as the Mayor and the City Council could have a lot more sway in a big picture way (rather than on specific details). Meaning, I think these people could use their considerable bully pulpits to influence the Board a lot more than they do.
Now I wouldn't say that any of them should try to sway the Superintendent. She's in a different position than they are - she being hired and they being elected. Also, she's not going to listen to anyone who dissents from her point of view. It's just not going to happen.
BUT, I think the City Council and the Seattle legislative corps and the Mayor could have a LOT more sway with the Board. Look, I think that what Sable Verity said awhile back is very true. This city and its leaders really like an even keel, a good face. "Yes, we ARE making progress." "Look at this great initiative we have started." They want to keep dissent from showing its face whenever possible even to the point of tacit denial. It hurts this district.
I think that everyone in this city, voter, mover and shaker, elected officials ALL have a role in being both a cheerleader and a critic of the district. It is important to keep watch over our district.
The City Council and the Seattle legislators and the Mayor have a big bully pulpit. Why they don't use it more often to speak about our district is something that has puzzled me. Is it because you don't step on someone else's governance toes i.e. the Board's? Is it that the City has no direct authority over the schools? Why not?
I know, I just know that behind closed doors our elected leaders fume, puzzle and just get plain exasperated. I imagine it goes something like this, "Why, if we have a great city don't we have great school district?" "Why do we keep going on like this year after year, decade after decade, without much to show in academic progress?" "When is this district going to get its act together?"
Well, elected officials, it takes a village. You treat the district like some ne'er-do-well brother who is always asking to borrow money and wants to live with mom and yet you never speak up because you think it isn't your place. It IS your place, we all in this family together.
Tell the Board that you're tired of waiting. Legislators, tell the Board that it hurts this district at the State Legislature when you see audits like this one and then the legislators from Eastern Washington say, don't ask for more money for education when your district is a mess. City Council, tell the Board that it IS ridiculous to one year close schools and the next year reopen schools. (Honestly, if the City Council okayed even half the mistakes that the Board does, NO ONE would let them off the hook.)
This was a lengthy way to get to the question: should any other elected officials in this city hold the Board and the district accountable? Aren't schools everyone's concern?