Sure, I gripe about the sheer number of school board meetings I attend in the course of my duties here at Chenango County’s Hometown Daily. (Which I fully maintain is over and above what any human should be forced to endure.) But while I may moan and complain about the drudgery of attending frequent meetings in multiple districts, I don’t disdain the boards themselves.
Despite their drama and occasional dysfunction, I fully recognize the importance of the roles these school boards play in our public education system. They are as integral to our schools as the teachers, the administrators and other staff. They provide policy and fiscal oversight for the district, but they truly help chart the course for the future for not only the community, but really our society as a whole.
The job isn’t without its challenges. And it’s a thankless one, too. Since they are the ones making tough decisions, and very much in the public eye, they often take heat from different stakeholders. So, why do they do it? Because they’re dedicated to the community. They care about our schools, our students. They recognize the need for dedicated community members, willing and able to serve, and they answer the call.
But sometimes, it isn’t that easy for a district. Not enough qualified individuals step forward to run for the board. Within the last three years, at least two of our local schools had fewer candidates on the ballot than they had positions open. In other cases, people may have run for the board without a clear understanding of the roles and responsibilities of the position, or the time commitment required.
That is a scary thought when our schools are facing so many challenges. They’re getting the double whammy, really, on the budget side. On the revenue side, there are staggering losses in state and federal aid to contend with, not to mention a proposed property tax cap. Increases in expenses - such as pension contributions, health insurance premiums, energy costs and contractual wage increases - have exacerbated the fiscal woes of districts across the state.
And, at the same time, schools are being held to even higher academic standards by the State Education Department and dealing with myriad other issues.
Yes, these are trying times indeed. Jobs, programs, services, the tax burden born by district residents and, ultimately, students, hang in the balance. That makes it more important that ever to have qualified candidates to fill school board vacancies at each of Chenango’s nine school districts.
And let me tell you, there are a lot of seats open – 21 in all across the county.
New York State’s requirements for serving on a school board are pretty straight forward. A candidate must be over 18, able to read and write, qualified to vote and live in the district which they wish to represent. (Specific residency requirements vary from 30 days to 1 year depending on the district.) In general, they cannot be employed by the board on which they wish to serve; reside in the same household with a family member who is also a member of the same school board; nor can they simultaneously hold another incompatible public office. To be on the ballot, each prospective candidate must also collect signatures during a specified period in April.
Just meeting those requirements doesn’t guarantee a person is qualified for the position, however. According to the New York State School Board Association, the best and most effective school board members are those who communicate effectively, build consensus, participate in the community, aren’t afraid to make decisions, can process information, are able to work as part of a team and exhibit leadership skills.
They should also be comfortable wearing a cape, in my opinion. Because someone with all of those skills and qualities, willing to step forward and run for school board is a hero in my book.
I’ve been told by both current and former school board members that there is one moment which makes all the time and effort of their board service worthwhile. It’s the moment when they watch a graduating senior take the stage and get their diploma, knowing they had a part in the process.
So, as Harry Callahan likes to say, you have to ask yourself one question: Are you up for the challenges of such an important role?
If you’re contemplating a run for your district’s school board, I would encourage you to attend one of two forums being held this weekend.
The sessions, called “School Board Service: What community members & leaders should know,” are a program of the Chenango Foundation. They will take place from 6 to 8 p.m. on Friday at the Greene High School auditorium; and from 9 to 11 a.m. on Saturday at the DCMO BOCES Chenango Campus Dining Room.
The sessions are designed as a prep course of sorts for potential school board members, and will feature a panel discussion. The panel will consist of Linda Bakst from the New York State School Boards Association; William Tammaro, Superintendent, DCMO BOCES; and (fingers crossed) former Norwich City school board member and Leadership Chenango facilitator Judie Wright.
Each panelist has extensive knowledge of public education in New York State, and during the two hour session they will discuss the roles and responsibilities of school boards, the time commitment involved, basic information on budgets and the planning process and many other topics relevant to school board service. There will also be time for questions, and packets of information from NYSSBA for participants to take home. Not to mention refreshments. What’s a forum without refreshments, right?
This is the first time the Chenango Foundation has offered the program, which is free and open to the public. If you’re considering a run for school board, it’s an opportunity you won’t want to miss. For more information, or to register, contact Jennifer Tavares at 334-5532 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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