One of the questions that I am frequently asked is what are the duties of a school board member, or trustee. A trustee is defined in the American Heritage Dictionary as “a member of a board elected or appointed to direct the funds and policy of an institution.” The Michigan Code subsection 168.1 et. Seq. defines the legal responsibilities and duties of school board trustees. However, one need look no further than the board’s own policy manual, Policy 1032, entitled Functions of the Board, where these duties are summarized. These include:
- Policy Making
- Educational Planning and Appraisal
- Staffing and Appraisal
- Financial Resources
- School Facilities
- Communication with the Public
Stating that in plain English, the board makes policies for the district, sets long and short term goals for the district, approves the budget, and hires and evaluates the superintendent. The board’s responsibilities are more broad in scope, or the “why” the district does things. In contrast, the superintendent’s duties are more narrow in scope, or the “how” the district does things. The board has only one employee----the superintendent.
In terms of the budget, the Michigan Association of School Boards has summarized the duties of the superintendent as compared to those of the board. The superintendent, in conjunction with building and central office administration, compiles a budget, which is then given to the board for their comment and/or revision. The board then reviews this budget, making sure that it is in support of the district’s long and short term goals, and then adopts it. The superintendent is then charged with administering the budget.
Another issue that arises frequently are those surrounding staffing. In Policy 1032 (salineschools.com, Board Policy Manual), it states that “[t]he Board is responsible for employing a superintendent of schools and the staff necessary for carrying out the instructional program, for establishing salaries and salary schedules and other terms and conditions of employment, and for establishing personnel policies District-Wide in application.” Also on the Saline Schools Website is the Saline Education Association’s contract, which covers teaching staff. Article XII, page 18, governs vacancies, promotions and transfers, and Article XIII, page 20, governs reductions in personnel. When reviewing all of these policies and provisions, you will find that the teachers’ contract is one based on seniority, not merit. In addition, given all of the above, the decision as to where to place teachers, based on seniority, lies with the superintendent, who is charged with the “how” the district does things. For more information on “last in, first out” policies, you can look at House Bill 4625-28, or studentsfirst.org, an organization founded by Michelle Rhee, the former chancellor for public schools in Washington, D.C. This group is leading the fight to have teacher quality be the determining factor in layoff decisions, instead of seniority.
Being a school board trustee in this economy is hectic, to say the least. Kathy Hayes, Director of the Michigan Association of School Boards, and a former school board member herself, says that the biggest challenge facing board members in 2011-12, is “how to continue to provide quality education for students when funds are being depleted.” I have had the pleasure of traveling the state, and getting to know many board members, and I think that we would all agree with that statement. We constantly strive to keep in the forefront of our minds for every decision, is this what’s best for kids. Sometimes, in those decisions, wonderful programs that benefit kids are cut, and teachers whose performance is nothing short of exemplary are laid off or moved to other positions in the district that would not be their first choice. The problem is one of scarce resources, and how to align the district’s goals and priorities with the funds it has.
As a parent in this district, I hate this time of the year when it resembles a merry-go-round, as to where my kids’ (and let’s be honest, my) favorite teachers will land. It’s not fair to our teachers, our kids, or our superintendent. There is only so much money to go around, and sometimes we don’t agree with the district’s decisions. However, all these decisions are made with the interests of providing a quality Saline education to each and every student, the economic parameters we are all faced with, and the contractual obligations that the school must enforce and uphold. I think a new system, nationwide, that recognizes and honors the job our teachers do, and the role that public education must play in the renewal and revitalization of our country is in order.