During my tenure on the Sedalia School District 200 Board of Education, I learned so much about the way people perceive this position. I had my own naïve opinions as well before I attended board training.
In short, the duties of a member of the Board of Education are to hire a superintendent, closely evaluate the performance of the superintendent, create policies and serve as a bridge between the community and school administration.
The board approves or denies teacher and administrator annual contracts and evaluates the performance of the superintendent. We were tasked with hiring two superintendents during my tenure, which is a tedious process to say the least. It is a heavy responsibility, one that is never taken lightly.
The board approves or denies spending, teacher salaries, tax increases and decreases as well as other financial issues. Board members discuss the future of the district in some way at every meeting, whether it is technology, new classes, cutting classes, new buildings and maintenance of existing buildings, new programs that allow students to venture into higher learning or into technical training and how they will pay for it.
I was blessed to be able to work with a diverse group of board members and three very intelligent superintendents who were able to help guide those of us with little experience in the business of education. I had plenty of business experience before taking my position on the board, but the business of education is a very different beast, as it is mostly managed by state and federal mandates. It was often frustrating because we knew what would be best for our students, but the government takes a “one size fits all” approach to education, which I will discuss another time.
I would like to address some of the things the board does not do.
The Board of Education does not “own” the district. They are overseers. They do not walk into a school building and micromanage the administrator and teachers. They do not become involved in student grades or their relationships with teachers and peers unless the chain of command has been followed and no reasonable solution has been achieved.
This brings me to the chain of command.
When a student or parent has a complaint that begins in the classroom, the first person a parent should consult is the teacher to try to resolve the issue. If there is no resolution to the problem, the parent should then reach out to the building principal. If no resolution is found there, the next step is to contact Central Office to speak with an assistant superintendent. If no resolution is met, they should request a conference with the superintendent. If there is still no resolution, the parent may then request a meeting with the Board of Education. In six years of serving, not once did I witness a problem that was not resolved before reaching the board.
There were a couple of instances when legal issues with students or teachers arose, but those were beyond the scope of the board and went directly into the legal process. We were made aware of those situations but were held to silence through the Sunshine Law.
During my tenure, I received many phone calls from upset parents about “Johnny’s” grades or a teacher who didn’t like “Johnny.” When I asked if the parent had followed the chain of command, I was usually told “no.” They simply wanted me to “fix it” for them. Please let me explain that it is not the job of a board member to overstep the superintendent in “fixing” these problems. The chain of command must be followed, even if you are a friend of a board member.
Being elected to the Board of Education is an honor and privilege. It is a way to serve our community with our own special skill set that adds value to the way in which our students learn and grow. Deciding to take on this responsibility should not come with a personal agenda, but a desire to care for our community as a whole.
I would encourage anyone with special skill sets who has a heart for education, students and the future of our community to run for a position on the board at some point. It is an exceptional life experience that offers an opportunity to learn and grow in a way that is much different than a college classroom setting. Your eyes will open to intricacies of public education in ways you never expected. Your heart will change for people in a positive way and you will become more understanding of the difficulties teachers and administrators face on a daily basis.
For more information about the responsibilities of a member of the Board of Education, please go to www.mosba.org.