A school board that knows what it’s there for and stays focused on student achievement can go a long way in ensuring students in our school community are prepared for a future of their choosing.
This bill steps up the requirements for school board members to serve by setting requirements in a few areas: minimum education attainment (high school diploma), minimum training requirements (with training provided by the Alabama Association of School Boards or AASB), conduct requirements via a Code of Conduct and sanctions for neglect of duty or willful misconduct (does that include micromanagement?).
The Senate version is sponsored by Education Committee Chair Brewbaker. The House version has a number of sponsors, including Representatives Beech, Patterson, Chesteen, Black, England, Scott and Fincher.
[Interestingly, a bill that would mandate appointment, rather than election, of superintendents is on its way through the House as well. HB326 has made it through the Education Policy committee with a favorable recommendation. If the bill passes the House and the Senate, the people of Alabama would have to approve it through a statewide vote. If it becomes law, it will be more important than ever for school boards to be competent to appoint superintendents.]
The pure language of the bill gives the following summary:
- This bill would require all prospective members of a local board of education to publicly affirm certain principles of educational governance.
- This bill would specify the responsibilities of members of local boards of education and would provide for the implementation of training and continuing education in boardsmanship for all members of local boards of education.
- This bill would provide for certain sanctions to be imposed upon board members upon a finding that the action or inaction of the board member constitutes neglect of duty or willful misconduct.
- This bill would require the State Board of Education to adopt a model code of conduct for board members and would require local boards of education to also adopt a model code of conduct.
- This bill would also provide further for the qualifications of members of city and county boards of education.
Certainly each of us has witnessed or at least heard of school board members who either don’t bother to learn about the industry they signed on to serve (education), attempt to use their position to either hire or fire friends or enemies, and/or generally misuse the office of school board member. [Clayton County Schools in Georgia lost their accreditation in 2008 due to board members’ misconduct/micromanaging, becoming the first district in the country to lose their accreditation since 1969. They regained full accreditation in May 2011.]
Equally, we can name citizens who serve on a school board because they understand the need for dedicated, exceptional leadership on a school board to improve student achievement by guiding (not doing!) the work of the district’s superintendent and his employees. Members who understand their role of governance and what is expected of them as school board members.
This bill appears to support much of what research tells us is necessary to be a great school board member by requiring training for school board members. While that training isn’t specified, training can be used to help members learn not only the proper role of a school board member but also about the various areas board members need to understand (using data and school finance to name two) to make good decisions.
The AASB currently offers training through their school board academy, but it is not required. Further, they offer this article on their web site to encourage school board members to get trained.
What isn’t specified also, though, is how school board members in remote and/or rural areas would access that training, not to mention how much it might cost for school districts to fund that training. Typically local school monies are used to fund school board members’ training. How does a district with little available funding send its school board members to the academy?
School districts pay dues to the AASB on a yearly basis. According to the AASB’s bylaws, active member school districts pay no more than “.0005 times a local school board’s total state allocation, less that portion of said allocation for transportation, as reported by the State Department of Education”. There are limits, including a no more than “$15,000 in one year”. There is no indication of what these membership fees pay for, and there are advertisements for conferences and training at additional cost, even for member districts.
The AASB brochure for the Summer 2011 Conference indicated costs of upwards of $300 per school board member to attend each of the programs offered. If a board is comprised of five members, the total cost of $1,500 plus room and board (at the $233 a night advertised in the brochure) for all could easily exceed $10,000. For a 3-day conference.
However, balance that with a conference they are offering entitled “Family Feud: Micromanagement Edition” this past January, and you see the cost is only that for their meal).
As far as dues are concerned, a quick look through some online check registers showed that Hoover City Schools paid $11,500 last August, according to their check register. They also paid $250 to the AASB’s Legal Assistance Fund last June. Mountain Brook City Schools paid $9,263 in July of 2010 (July 2011’s check registers are not online). By comparison, Pickens County Schools paid $7,500 in September 2011 for dues.
Let me be clear: No judgments are being made about the cost or the quality of the training that the AASB offers. But, considering the importance of training for Alabama’s K-12 school board members, the cost of providing that training should be considered as well. I see no indication of costs to local school systems indicated in the proposed legislation.
At the time this is being written, the House version has passed the House. The Senate version has received a favorable recommendation from committee.
If you have an opinion you’d like to share about this Act, contact your local legislators.
[NOTE: For those of you who elect your school board members, here’s a great article on How to Choose a School Board Member.]