By JULIE DAHLGREN
Recently, some community members have publicly criticized the Blaine County School District board of trustees in print and in public comment on various issues—from the quality of our staff and trustees, the 2009 facilities levy, curriculum adoption, construction and instruction projects, hiring processes, and salary schedules—just to name a few.
At this time, with the opening of the 2012-13 school year, I would like to take a tenet from Jamie Vollmer’s book, “Schools Cannot Do It Alone,” and suggest that the education community can lose control of the public discourse about education if negativity goes overboard. Public comment, as focused, passionate and researched as it is, often asks trustees to do things they cannot do because of the nature of their positions. To shift attention to more positive perspectives, a review of board facts will be helpful.
Trustees have no individual authority over school matters. Any power belongs to the board as a whole; only a majority of the board can make decisions or effect change. Individual members can only express an opinion or cast a vote.
Governing board members are responsible for only one employee. They hire, fire and evaluate the performance of the superintendent. It is not their job to micromanage employees of the district, nor are they representatives of the employees.
School board members do not get paid.
This board spends an incredible amount of time on the job. Not only do they have at least two monthly meetings, they also conduct student disciplinary hearings, meet and confer with staff, and spend uncounted hours studying and training so they can responsibly oversee the district budget, set salaries and benefits for employees, approve purchases, establish policies, adopt curriculum materials, and supervise school construction. All of that activity happens after they do what’s necessary to monitor the district’s progress on student learning.
Board members lose a lot of sleep. If members of the public think they have a casual attitude about making decisions that affect our students and their families, they are wrong. Trustees must consider what is best for the majority of students in our district. Often, the majority are those who can’t or won’t speak for themselves. While there is often a vocal minority, they have to be able to see the greater good—even when their own neighbors won’t speak to them over decisions they’ve made.
My daughter received her entire formal primary and secondary education in the Blaine County School District. Most all current board members have children in the system right now. Despite all the tests students take now, the real test is what happens to them after graduation. Will they succeed in college, are they prepared, can they get a job, are they happy? This summer, I enjoyed the gathering of a clan of 22- to 25-year-old graduates of Wood River High School; it makes me smile to know these kids are prepared and taking on life with freshness and confidence.
Thank you to the Blaine County School District board of trustees for being those concerned public servants trying to make the best decisions you can for the students in the district. You are doing a good job overseeing this complex and wonderful district with its diverse students and professional and competent staff. Thank you for helping create a world-class education system for a generation that faces an increasingly borderless and innovation-based world. Good luck in this new school year.
Julie Dahlgren is a Ketchum resident and a former Blaine County School District trustee.