Thursday, May 3, 2018

Not Quite That Easy

The Hudson school board holds its regular meeting on the third Monday of each month. Our meetings follow a rather structured and predictable formula. For starters, a consent agenda is used that is designed to streamline routine matters of business which include the hiring and resignation of personnel, and the adoption of noncontroversial resolutions. Paying the bills and reviewing monthly financial statements is another matter for the board to deliberate at the meeting. They also receives reports from administrators on the status of their area of supervision, and special topics that are of interest and importance to the board. This includes hearing about the progress of various updates and upgrades to our facilities. Then our predicable meeting format ends with discussion and action on items that generally do require a greater amount of discussion, debate, and deliberation. 

When you read the minutes in the newspaper after each meeting, the results and actions of those meetings is usually boiled down even further. One may even begin to wonder why the vote on issues before the board are so predictable. In fact, you may be thinking: he just boiled down the work of the school board to two short paragraphs. 

Perhaps to a casual observer this is all there is to it. However, this oversimplification of the work and commitment necessary to be an effective board member does not do justice to the responsibilities inherent in board service. For certain, it is not as easy as it looks. As a start, the material each board member is required to study and understand in preparation for a board meeting is staggering. A typical 'board packet' will run several hundred pages and include detail which requires a high level of concentration to comprehend. In addition to this, board members must have a working knowledge of complex financial metrics that are unique to Iowa public schools. Preparation for a meeting will take hours, if not days of study. Not only will it include the material in the board packet, but follow up questions and discussion are almost always necessary to fully understand and appreciate the multiple perspectives of varying issues. In fact, before a final vote is ever taken, an agenda item is likely to have been debated, discussed, and sent back for revision over the course of multiple meetings. It may also surprise you to know that some of the final votes taken by the board have been discussed and debated for over a year. And in at least one case spanning multiple boards. The school board works hard toward consensus, and while the majority of the time it is reached, accepts and appreciates that fact that sometimes dissent occurs.

The lion's share of the time issues before the board are noncontroversial. With study and an understanding of the perspectives at play, the decision to be made is oftentimes clear. But at the same time, clarity does not always make for the noncontroversial adjudication of an issue. During those rare occasions, boards have the opportunity to hear from their constituents. Sometimes that commentary is driven by a misunderstanding of the issue before the board, while at other times it may be a situation where only one perspective is being argued. Or in even some cases, there is just simple disagreement in positions. Thankfully, those are rare occurrences in our school district.

But when they do happen, it can be stressful and taxing on school board members. Now, while its true board members 'signed up for this', at the same time it is important to understand and respect the work they do on behalf of our community. School board service is perhaps one of the purest examples of how our democratic republic is supposed to work. Steeped in the tradition of local control and the idea of no taxation without representation, your local elected officials on the school board are truly volunteering their time. They do this work without any pay for the betterment of our school district. They are representing your voice in the governance of this important and most noble  of institutions. May is school board appreciation month. When you see your school board members out in public, please thank them for their service.

No comments:

Post a Comment