School board members looking for alternative solutions to familiar school problems now have a resource for innovative ideas and approaches, according to Lori Yaklin, executive director of the Michigan School Board Leaders Association (MSBLA).

The goal of the new organization, Yaklin said, is to be a "funnel for new information and new ideas" to Michigan's approximately 4,000 school board members. "We want to be the alternative to the cookie-cutter approach to education," Yaklin told MER.

Tom Bowles, MSBLA's chairman and a Van Buren Public School District trustee, said that many school board members receive only their school administration's recommendations for handling tough issues such as school budgeting, union negotiating, and board leadership. MSBLA will allow school board members across the state to share information about their successes or failures in these and other areas, he said.

"We want to inform members of ideas that improve educational quality, even when those ideas go against the conventional wisdom of the establishment," Bowles said. "We believe our mixture of public and private school membership will help provide new ideas for both systems. After all, we're in this for the same reason—to improve the education of Michigan students."

The association will also scour the country for creative new solutions to age-old school issues, Yaklin said. The information will be distributed through the association's Web site and through newsletters. She said that MSBLA plans to share the information it receives from its members as well.

"I want us to be a very personal, two-way information flow," Yaklin said.

Dave Dezsi, a trustee of Southgate Public Schools near Detroit, said his district has severe budget problems and he is frustrated with the solutions offered by the available information sources.

"All the information I get is from groups who have a stake in the status quo," Dezsi said. "I never get the other side."

MSBLA will also help school boards be more accountable to voters, "pushing the decision-making to where it's responsive to the needs of the community," Yaklin said.

"The school board is not elected to serve the school; it is supposed to make sure that the school serves the children and their parents," said Yaklin.

When asked if MSBLA was duplicating the work of the Michigan Association of School Boards (MASB), Yaklin said that although MASB does fill a need, MSBLA has "found a niche in the need for school board members [to be provided with] fresh ideas."

Another difference between MASB and MSBLA, Yaklin said, is that MSBLA seeks funding primarily from private sources as opposed to receiving tax-funded dues from schools.

MSBLA can be contacted at (810) 658-7667 or via the Internet at www.msbla.org.