School District Governance: Is There a Third/Different Way?

One Good Response Deserves Another!

My response to a response about the response I posted to a NYC schools mayoral control article. First of all thank you_____________, for your thoughts. My response-delay was because I wanted to give your comments the careful reflection they deserved. For a large segment of my life in the superintendency I have found that elected school boards (with very few exceptions of individual members), were hostile to my efforts to effectively educate children; particularly poor children, children of color, and children who were politically dispensable. And so I admit that my views are greatly influenced by those experiences; and the experiences nationally of many of my dedicated educational colleagues and friends. But to be honest and fair, I also know White colleagues-friends (and very few Black), who lead, or have led school districts where the elected school board was/is actually a positive asset to the school system.

“Totally concur with you Michael. Totally agree. I’ve seen the useless behaviors of the “political” board member, whether elected or appointed. The old model of that kind of political board member did not serve children or educators well”

Unfortunately, elected school board members are in every sense and practice: “elected officials” and “politicians”; with all of the negative baggage associated with that profession (i.e. the need to get elected and reelected; which automatically places the politically disconnected or disenfranchised at a disadvantage!) I really would like to see a more thoughtful system that takes us away from either the elected school board or mayoral control models.

A Different Possibility…

I would like to see school districts have oversight provided by people (like yourself) who have a wide spectrum of expertise in the diverse areas of: organizational/institutional leadership, strategic planning, post K-12 college-career experience, teaching-curriculum and instruction, school building-district leadership, school finance and budgeting, marketing and advertising, economics-finance, business administration, school law, health, social-psychological services, Special education, Gifted and Talented programs, underserved communities-societal inequalities and disparities, STEM and other business-corporate executive experience, the performing-creative arts, fundraising knowledge, and yes even people with knowledge of inter-governmental affairs. Most important these people should have important work, positions and accomplishments to manage in their own lives; and do not see serving as a trustee of a school district as a “stepping stone” to higher political office; or as a way to give their lives a manufactured sense of meaning and prestige, (they would have achieved financial security, honor, meaning and prestige in their present situations; and are able to survive a rigorous “conflict of interest” review process).

The Brooklyn Public Library Trusteeship, a Model…

In short school district trusteeship would be based on giving service, rather than being served. A model for me would be my experience serving as a (full disclosure, a mayoral appointee) Trustee of the Brooklyn Public Library (BPL). Everyone serving as a BPL Trustee had major commitments and responsibilities in our non-BPL lives. Why was this important? Well, It meant that we did not have the time, not to mention not having the professional expertise, or interest to run one of the largest library systems in the world. We hired and supervised only one employee… the BPL director. And “micromanaging” his or her work was both impossible, unrealistic and definitely not desirable; after all, we had our own major companies, organizations, schools, institutions and projects to manage.

Finally, I would like to see people serve as trustees who want to offer their expertise and knowledge; and who do not see themselves (or their family and friends), served by the school district. The lives and well-being of children is too important to play games, political or otherwise, with the futures of human beings. I could say more on the topic but that is my brief and short take on this question.

The primary problem as I see it that too many communities of color are only offered limited option-choices, within the context of other people’s decisions; people whose children don’t suffer from the failed, dysfunctional downside of public schooling. I also attach my comments concerning the present state of the NYC “school control” debate; and why communities of color should expand the conversation; rather than choosing to jump on one end, or the other of a political (not educational) seesaw. Or is it an educational merry-go-round?

Original Response:

I know that one sentence from the NYC Chancellor’s opinion piece on Mayoral control is absolutely true; but a warning…