What makes a good school board?

With the impending election, as an ex-school board trustee, I thought that sharing some observations from my experience may help our community make a more informed decision on school board candidates. Here are some things for the community to consider.

The Role of the board

Just like commercial entities, the role of the board is to support, guide and at times challenge the CEO, or in the case of a school board, the superintendent. The board does not get involved in operational activities or the running of the district but provides oversight and governance to ensure policies are being followed and that good fiscal management is taking place.

The board can only hire or fire one person, the superintendent. One very important point many people may not be aware of, being on a public entity governing board, like a school board or city council, all members are subject to what is known as the Brown Act. This law prohibits a majority of board members from discussing any item of school board business not listed on a scheduled meeting agenda, thereby, making it difficult for board members to communicate on important topics they have views on.

Diversity is important

I was privileged in my six years on Scotts Valley Unifies School District board to serve with esteemed colleagues on the school board. Our board had an engineer who was very detailed, a senior citizen with a long history of knowledge which came in useful, a retired educator and school administrator, who helped other board members with interpretations of the many laws governing the school district, a project manager with experience overseeing government capital infrastructure projects, and finally myself bringing more of a corporate and technology viewpoint. For our next school board, I would encourage voters to look at the experience of candidates and understand what each brings and ensure similar diversity.

Consistency is key

It is extremely important that a board knows what was tried in the past and use those lessons for future success. Therefore a level of consistency is extremely important to ensure we build upon success. The current relationship between site staff, district office, superintendent and board is very good. Challenges remain but when all of these groups are aligned, great progress occurs. If any one of these relationships is strained, it will impede progress.

Board Members are frustrated

Many times I would hear parents or staff express frustrations on many topics including, teacher to student class ratios, compensation comparisons, problems with facilities, problematic leaders or teachers and how come we get less funding than other districts, etc. Almost in every case anyone in the community would mention items like these, I would be in full agreement.

As I mentioned earlier, one board member cannot solve these alone. It requires a majority. Therefore board members should be level-headed, good listeners and communicators who can understand all points of view and be strategic to help the superintendent.

Finally, as point for clarity and eliminating a myth for many voters, Board members at SVUSD do not get paid! There is no compensation, health care benefits, stipends or financial incentive of any kind. The reward is purely helping our community and our students.

John Abel (SVUSD Board Trustee 2010-2016)

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