By Howard Hills
School board meetings should be about policies and practices balancing our fiscal realities and educational aspirations. We all appreciate it when the school board also takes time at its meetings to recognize teachers, students, families and the community for making public schools work. After all, that is what taxpayers pay for and that is what we expect.
When taxpayers and the community so generously support all that is positive in our schools, it is a sure sign of trouble when the management style of the school district becomes unduly political, intolerant of opposition, and divisive. Naturally, from time to time there will be difficult personnel and policy issues, but the drama of political intrigue should be the exception not the rule.
Yet, for more than a decade the relative good order in our public schools repeatedly has been disrupted by miscalculations of the school board and senior staff on policy and personnel issues. This has produced more drama than we need.
School board meetings should not be so exciting. The school board is not a place for ideological warfare or pursuit of political ambitions. It is about trusteeship of the schools, stewardship, not political empowerment.
School board members are trustees who have oversight to ensure the professionals hired to educate do so in a way that is efficient, economical and enriches the lives of students and our community. Most of all, the school board should promulgate public school policies reflecting the common values of the community, in a civic rather than political sense.
It’s time for some adult supervision in public school governance to prevent cronyism, bureaucratic bullying and fiscal profligacy. The manipulative dispensing of salaries and benefits paid for with our tax dollars now has taken a toll on good people, with more painful fall out likely to come. This culture of misdirected officiousness in school administration must stop.
Similarly, public school employees acting in their official capacity must remain neutral on contested political issues. That principle was violated brazenly when current school board members enlisted senior public school staff, including the superintendent, to lobby the City Council on a proposed ordinance that was the subject of debate in the City Council and school board election campaign.
As Americans and people who care about our town, we all know public employees must serve the entire community. That’s why the school board needs to stop playing political brinkmanship with our schools and staff whose salaries are paid by all taxpayers.
Let’s make public school oversight less exciting for a while, so we can have some peace in our school community, and some trust in our trustees.
Howard Hills is the former president of the LBHS Alumni Association.