School Board – Elected or Appointed?

January 19, 2011 at 1:56 am 22 comments

I’m once again in the middle of a work tornado, lasting another week or so.  So I’m trying to think of a good discussion topic.

I know there’s discussion going around about whether the school board should be elected or appointed.  I haven’t had time to read opinions anywhere so I’m curious to see what people think.  I gather that the current way of thinking is to push for an elected board?  I actually have mixed thoughts about that based on my experience in a private school where my son went to PreK and my experience on the LSC of my neighborhood school.

I actually see some serious benefits of appointing a board, assuming it is done by someone who’s judgment I trust (and there is my idealism, rearing it’s naive head again.)

At the PreK my son attended, there was a big enrollment debacle (which I will write about one day, now that I’ve had 3 years for my anger to diffuse.)  During that time, many of us learned that the school board (who had made a crappy decision about something) was not a voted-in board, but rather each member was selected by the school principal.  Which made for a weird set up, since how many hand-selected members are going to actively oppose the person who picked them.  It became too much of a monarchy/dictatorship in that the principal had her yes-men under control.  Or maybe she just picked people who thought just like her.  But there was no way for parents to ever decide to “take over the school” by electing in a new board.   The parents, who paid to keep the place running, had no power, in a sense.  All we could do was show up at the board meetings, express our opinions, and face the eye-rolling.  Did I say my anger had diffused?  I feel it swelling up.

However…. the principal pointed out that running a school takes a range of skills.  The board generally needed people skilled in accounting, law, finance, and P.R.  (well, I think they needed the PR piece, they clearly didn’t.)  She told us that an elected board would end up being a popularity contest.  OK, maybe not Marcia Brady popularity, but she raised a valid point.

And seeing what needs to happen to make an effective LSC run and surely the Chicago school board run, I see where it makes sense to balance out the skills of the board members.  Have you ever read the minutes of a board meeting?  There is a lot of boring crap in there that requires some special skills to understand.  It’s not all about deciding what % of Selective Enrollment high school kids get in based on straight test scores.  Much much more than that.

And do we want to know that parents could come over and “take over” CPS?  Sure, it makes sense if it’s you, me, and the Raise Your Hand people.  But it could be any large group with an agenda.  Charter school lovers.  Track E lovers.  Teachers union members.   In theory an appointed board would prevent this from happening.

I’d like to think that everyone in the city would carefully consider the candidates and vote for those with the best intentions for all students.  Just like the people running for Water Reclamation district hope that I will consider their candidacy with great effort.  Will it really happen that way?  I don’t know.

Maybe split the # who are appointed or elected.  And balance the appointed by Tier.  Heh.


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22 Comments Add your own

  • 1. RL Julia  |  January 19, 2011 at 2:28 pm

    I don’t know about the public election of a school board- I think it would devolve into some sort of racial/gender/etc… popularity contest pretty quickly. I’ve been on my LSC for forever and practically every term I’ve run for election, I have ended up meeting with the principal to discuss potential parents to ask to run – its hard to find people who are willing, available, resprentative of the school population and who either are willing ask a lot of questions or who have a background in something that will allow them to easily come up to speed on the many things they are required to vote on, approve, discuss and generally be responsible for (or both). Its tough work just finding those people within a school – within the entirety of CPS and given the complexity of the system – it’d be even harder to hold a popular election and get good people in there.

    Just as an aside, CPS recently decided that every LSC needed to add an additional non-instructional staff member to the LSC. Anyone know the back story on this?

  • 2. Mayfair Dad  |  January 19, 2011 at 3:05 pm

    I am in favor of an elected school board and plan to run for it if the opportunity arises itself. I’m not concerned there will be too few candidates but the complete opposite, and then the money and politics come into play. The CTU will be investing in candidates who share their pro-union views, and then the pro-charter school heavyweights will throw money at their candidate, and so on. Miguel del Valle supports an elected school board, but only if certain campaign reform measures are taken first. This makes sense.

  • 3. copy editor  |  January 19, 2011 at 3:52 pm

    This is really hard. It’s a similar debate about whether the president of CPS should be a teacher or simply an administrator. Well, when you consider how large the organization is and how much time and effort goes into matters like facilities and transportation, I don’t think a professional manager is such a bad thing. The CEO of Boeing isn’t a pilot, you know?

    I lean toward appointed. I’m really concerned about CPS becoming a political battleground in a way that interferes with getting things done and educating the kids who need the most help.

  • 4. MarketingMom  |  January 19, 2011 at 5:24 pm

    I strongly believe the school board members should be elected, similar to what is done on a local level. However, you would need to establish some qualifications to keep everyone and their mother from appearing on the ballot. Those interested in running should have served on a LSC level, perhaps they should be required to obtain a certain amount of signatures, perhaps each CPS area/district gets a certain amount of seats and they are chosen locally. There are different ways this can be done to protect the integrity of the process.

  • 5. stillanonymous  |  January 20, 2011 at 12:19 pm

    I agree with MarketingMom. Maybe that’s because I, too, am in marketing. Ha.

    In any case, I have had personal experience with appointed boards, namely, the Chicago Park District. It was a joke. Those board members make QUITE a bit of money and, in my experience with them, had absolutely NO interest in what they were there to do. One of the board members slept through every single meeting I attended. I am not kidding. Several of the members (including Chico) just hop from appointment to appointment.

    If this were NOT Chicago, where corruption abounds, I’d have less of an issue with appointments, as one might assume those would be based on merit and experience. As yet another example, we pleaded for the Park District to fill a vacant position with a person with a forestry background. They filled it with an optometrist with political ties. An optometrist.

    On the flipside, I also see the dangers of a political election where clout and political ties ALSO come into play.

    So, I like the suggestions above that there be QUALIFICATIONS that are REQUIRED. I’d go as far as to require an education degree for some board positions, a minimum level of years TEACHING in CPS.

    I think having minimum requirements for positions combined with an election would be my optimal desire. Check out the current board’s bios. Bankers. Consultants. Lawyers. A physician. Where are the educators? Doesn’t that bother anyone?

    P.S. Mayfair Dad, I’d vote for you simply for your level of interest in CPS — whether or not we always agree on the issues.

  • 6. adad  |  January 20, 2011 at 12:48 pm

    Here is an interesting commentary on the Chicago “system” and clout and how it holds back development in the city. As we have seen with Principal picks, etc. the clout factor in this city is huge and unfortunately just seems to be shrugged off as “the way things are.” Would an elected board even get us away from this? Or would only those with clout have any chance of being elected?

    Read it if you want…it’s a bit lengthy.

  • 7. adad  |  January 20, 2011 at 12:52 pm

    Oh, and Mayfair Dad, I would definately vote for you.

  • 8. stillanonymous  |  January 20, 2011 at 5:13 pm

    adad — thanks for that link. It was a very interesting article/post, and the comments were even more interesting.

  • 9. Mayfair Dad  |  January 20, 2011 at 5:22 pm

    Thanks for your support. I have recently discovered the urbanophile blog and find the articles fascinating — just like the conversation on this board.

    Perhaps a successful model for an elected School Board should be the Local School Council. Earmark a certain number of elected seats for each stakeholder group (parents, teachers, community) plus the mayor and governor can each appoint one seat. Hopefully these appointed seats would be filled by highly regarded education policy wonks or titans of industry and not a political hack bouncing job to job. Set some qualifications for the elected seats but not too restrictive because Democracy should be about inclusion not exclusion. Put a cap on campaign fundraising and spending to mitigate the influence of the power brokers. See what happens. Democracy is messy but its better than what we have right now.

  • 10. adad  |  January 21, 2011 at 9:59 am

    @#7 I meant definitely, not definately. Apparently my parochial education didn’t pay off…

  • 11. CJLane  |  January 21, 2011 at 11:59 am

    Whatever comes of it, the “regional” based seats is a **horrible** idea. The last thing Chicago needs is to create *more* factional boards.

    If we want an elected board and if we want to have a better chance of a factional rep getting elected, they we should do it with cumulative voting, like some corporate boards.

    But I’m anti-elected board, because, notwithstanding the challenges of the current system, CPS would NOT benefit from further politicization. Elected CEO, tho, might make sense, as well, perhaps, as a board with a split membership–some appointed by the mayor, some by teachers or principals or LSCs or whatever, some by general election.

  • 12. cps Mom  |  January 21, 2011 at 1:20 pm

    @ 6 – after reading through this thoughtful discussion of “clout” I’m considering just how automatically we all accept “the system”. Within our discussions we’ve talked about permitted exceptions to discretionary rules, the calculation of grades and special interest groups in the SE process itself, the way schools are funded and expanded, the creation of new schools with different rules and now the board itself. As the article suggests, if we refuse to develop hard and fast forward thinking rules that include answers to all the needs of the widely diverse population of Chicago we will never progress to where we should or could be in our global society. We accept clout and even carve out a space for it in our planning.

  • 13. Jennifer  |  January 21, 2011 at 1:35 pm

    If there to be qualifications I think one of them should be that you are a current CPS parent. I don’t think anyone should be making decisions about our kids that they wouldn’t make for their own.

  • 14. cps Mom  |  January 21, 2011 at 2:11 pm

    Oh and to add to #12 – I would like to see an elected board and would also vote for Mayfair Dad

    I also like the “cps parent” criteria – that’s a good thought.

  • 15. Hawthorne mom  |  January 21, 2011 at 5:23 pm

    I also like the “current CPS parent” qualification. I also like the idea of at least ONE principal or teacher or teacher’s assistant on the board.

  • 16. Mom  |  January 21, 2011 at 8:53 pm

    Re: “current parent” requirement for serving on the board — among other problems with it, guess your usefulness in life is over once your kids graduate high school. Might as well round ’em all up and ship ’em off to the old folks home.

  • 17. HSObsessed  |  January 21, 2011 at 10:01 pm

    I’m definitely not in favor of taking the system back to having public elections for school board members. I was trying to find out details about how exactly school board members are appointed currently, because it’s definitely not just that the mayor selects whoever he wants. I found this from Catalyst, summarizing the process in 1995, when the reforms were put into place. Not sure if it’s still this way, but it does seem to strike a good balance between getting input from many stakeholders, while not allowing the seats to be purely elected by the public, which comes with its own problems:

    The existing 11-member Board of Education is abolished. A School Board Nominating Commission is created; it includes 23 parent and community representatives from LSCs across the city and five members appointed by the mayor. It screens candidates and gives the mayor a slate of three candidates for each vacant position on an expanded 15-member board. The mayor has 30 days to act; his choices must be approved by the City Council. If the mayor rejects all three slated candidates for a particular slot, the commission must come up with three more.

  • 18. ChicagoGawker  |  January 24, 2011 at 12:33 pm

    I signed the Lane Tech petition and then read the following article on how you can screw your kids chances for a competitive university by sending them to the most competitive HS you can find:

    Most top universities pick kids from the top 10% of their class. How hard is to be in the top 10% at the SEs? Thoughts from current parents of SE kids???

  • 19. Gayfair Dad  |  January 26, 2011 at 12:12 am

    Mayfair Dad has my vote.

  • […] board by an overwhelming majority. And this debate is not just an Alabama thing: Cities such as Chicago and Jacksonville are discussing the same […]

  • 21. Concern Parent  |  September 14, 2011 at 8:44 pm

    Whether the school board should be elected or appointed. Just ask yourself this question: How many hand-selected board members will actively oppose the person who picked them???? ….let the best win the elected seat, but not based on color, but on merit!

  • 22. spam  |  July 16, 2014 at 5:19 am

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