CABL to BESE chief: reform is about being thorough
School Board Reform Update
Tuesday, April 7, 2009
For more information, contact Barry Erwin at (225) 344-2225.
We are pleased the public debate on school board reform is continuing to generate interest across Louisiana. It’s important for the public to be engaged in this issue that profoundly affects the future of our children. Last week, Keith Guice, President of the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, made a few comments on the proposed reforms, as reported in The Advocate and we feel it is important to respond to some of them.
Referring to our efforts at eliminating micromanagement of school systems by clearly defining the roles of the school board and superintendent, Mr. Guice took issue with the idea of directing board members away from personnel issues and toward policy management. Mr. Guice said in the story, “It places too much authority in one person when it comes to the dismissal of employees without anyone having an opportunity to review what is being done. Some checks and balances need to be placed in that legislation that are not there.”
First, we should point out that the legislation has not yet been filed, so arguments against phantom details are premature. But that’s a minor point. The larger issue is good management of a school district. As President of BESE, Mr. Guice is familiar with how a board is intended to work – BESE members spend their time looking at ways to improve the state’s education system and enacting policy to reach that goal. Would that be possible if its weekly meetings were taken up by personnel issues? Could you imagine if BESE had to decide on the hiring, firing, promoting or disciplining of state employees at the Department of Education? That is Superintendent Paul Pastorek’s job. And that is also the job of local superintendents with their district personnel.
Ideally, school boards would function at that higher level, examining what problems exist in their districts, identifying ways to overcome those problems, and enacting policies to do so. Personnel decisions would be left to the person hired to run the district – the superintendent. On the checks and balances argument, we agree. There may be cases where a superintendent is not performing well or where incidents are not properly dealt with.
In such cases our proposal will not preclude school board members from following up with a superintendent and getting information about why certain personnel actions were or were not taken. But it draws a line, as it should, at interfering or intervening with a superintendent to impose a board member’s personal or political will. And if the superintendent is doing a poor job or if he or she is not living up to the high standards set by the board, board members can and should hold the superintendent accountable. That’s the way it works just about everywhere else.
And on the matter of re-election, Mr. Guice also opposes the idea of term limits for board members. We are including term limits in our legislation for the same reason that the governor, the Legislature and most state boards and commissions all operate with term limits – to bring new blood and fresh ideas into the discussion and prohibit political dynasties. If 12 years isn’t enough time for school board members to accomplish the educational improvement goals they set for themselves and their districts then it’s probably time for them to move on anyway.
Mr. Guice also said he is against our proposal to address board members’ compensation, what he calls a pay cut. The truth is, it’s not a pay cut, it’s a return to what the state constitution clearly states, that board members “shall serve without pay,” but may receive a per diem and reimbursement for their expenses. We don’t think board members should serve with no compensation or have to spend their own money to serve their constituents. We simply believe that instead of artfully avoiding what the constitution says on this subject we should simply provide a reasonable per diem of $50 per meeting (up to four per month) and expense reimbursement.
Finally, we believe health care benefits are another negative incentive that could invite people to serve for the wrong reason – and that is any reason other than wanting to improve education. The state has already done away with retirement benefits for part time elected officials, we are simply saying be thorough and let’s finish the job.
And that’s the point of this entire reform package – to be thorough. In the past decade Louisiana has provided strong school accountability measures, massive new funds to districts, higher teacher pay, comprehensive testing and higher standards, stronger teacher qualifications, access to pre-K, new reading and math programs, classroom technology, and much more. More clearly defining the proper role of school boards is simply the next step. We urge school board members to join us in this continued quest for educational excellence.
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