Men and women elected to a board of education provide a valuable
and critical service to the school district and community at-large. The board is
entrusted with a mandate, a roadmap if you will, for the development and
implementation of educational programs benefi- cial to all students in the
district. The board of education is the platform that sets the tone and
environment on which all community institutions depend for fundamental
leadership to the emerging generation of new leaders. It touches the business
community, our senior citizens and many aspects of community life. Our youth
rely on these educational leaders for guidance and direction.
Board members who choose to send their children to another
district, a private school or home school demonstrate little confidence in the
very public school system in which they have been elected to serve. Any
candidate who seeks the position of board of education trustee, under the
auspices of "doing the public will," ought to follow the principle of what’s
good for the public served is also good for the self. A board member who does
not use the local school district abandons this creed. While this practice is
legal, the action demonstrates poor leadership and destroys the public trust.
Such actions are similar to the CEO of General Motors driving a Toyota or
Detroit Tigers’ Manager Jim Leyland rooting for the Chicago White Sox.
Citizens elected to the board of education should be the first
in line to champion for their own district. Whatever the reason for sending
their children to another district — smaller class size, low test scores or
another reason—the board member should work to improve those issues rather than
abandon the district, and the students, they were elected to protect and serve.
By abandoning the public good in favor of their own individual interests, those
persons, who practice in one of the most important and respectable professions
in our communities, abuse and mislead both their students and communities. Board
members with school-age children who do not attend the local district also take
more than $7,000 from that district, which further jeopardizes the delicate
financial situation of Michigan public schools.
These are conflicting loyalties that collide with the philosophy
of current mainstream education leaders. A board member may not be justified in
pursuing such an action for a personal reason or for an ideology. When a board
member is compelled to change the district they represent after a loss of
confidence and/or faith in the district they represent, an honorable way to
accomplish this task is to resign from that board and take up residency in the
district of choice. These views divide the community, the board and take the
focus away from student achievement. They cut into the heart of the current
principles of self-governance, local control and self-determination so
characteristic of the American education system.
No public servants share this distinction more than the men and
women elected to a board of education. Early in their careers, board members
with eager and enthusiastic voices cheer the opportunity to serve the students
in their respective school districts. They promise and agree, unequivocally, to
support the education framework, advocate for resources vital to stability,
secure a positive and safe learning environment and represent the collective
goals of the community, taxpay ers and parents of the children they serve. In
exchange, they are given the highest badge of honor persons of this distinction
can ever earn
— public trust.
The requirements of a school board
trustee are simple. Any ordinary citizen can be elected to a
board position in any community provided they are a resident of the district and
18 years old. However, any resident elected to a local board of education has a
primary obligation, to the office itself and to the oath of office they pledge,
to serve the education interests of the people in their district.
I believe that every school district can become better. As a
long time resident of Clio, I have observed over the years, the strength,
weaknesses, challenges and opportunities for Clio Schools. I am in my 17th year
on the Clio Board of Education. All of my children were born in Clio and all
graduated from Clio schools. The quality of education each received translated
into college degrees and professional careers. I can’t say I was or am
personally responsible for the better-than-average quality of Clio Schools, but
I can say that I consistently advocate and promote ever increasing academic
standards, while some trustees in remote districts resist, citing state or
federal interference as an excuse to do nothing. As a result, I have earned the
public trust for a persistent belief in Clio Schools, for advocacy of funds and
continuous program improvements in raising student achievement. For this, I feel
that I have been amply rewarded if not by the 5,000 students whose hands I have
shaken over the years as they cross the graduation platform, then certainly for
the public trust bestowed on me by my supporters and my critics.
Consider the alleged case of a school’s dilemma in which some
educators — like a maverick board member — have so little faith in their own
institution that they, in small circles, proudly hail that they are sending
their children to schools surrounding their district. Nothing can be more
distasteful and psychologically damaging to students who discover themselves in
the helpless situation of being abandoned by the leaders of their school
district. Educators and parents who practice this option may do so and call it
choice under their rights as parents or their rights under the law. They would
be right. There is however, a greater reality.
The abandonment of one’s own district eats away at the very
foundation the board member was elected to uphold. If a board member abandons
their commitment to the students in the district they promised to support with
public dollars, the practice becomes sacrilegious. Several teachers and board
members have attempted to make the case that it’s OK to publicly proclaim choice
over the public good when his or her child is a subject of concern. (I would
argue that all students are subjects of concern!) Even so, it’s a tough sell and
not likely to be supported by the majority of education supporters or critics.
If the practice were challenged in court it would likely be found contrary to
the legislative intent on which boards of education were founded.
Those who are elected to the board of education have been
entrusted with the futures of children and ultimately their success. Such trust
requires unwavering confidence and support that goes beyond the self. A member
of the board of education has a sacred obligation to be an advocate for its
children, in action as well as in spirit. Our children deserve no less!
Henry Hatter is a trustee on the Clio Board of Education.