School Board Requests

By Doug Eadie

The following fictional case is based on a recent real-life experience, which has been very typical over my quarter century of work with school boards.

The tension in the conference room at district headquarters was palpable. During Superintendent Joyce Hansen’s seven-year tenure, the school board-executive working relationship had been generally productive and positive. However, that era of good feeling was rapidly disappearing.

Specifically, this special meeting of Hansen’s administrative team had been called to deal with a serious issue that threatened to disrupt the board-executive partnership if left unaddressed: inappropriate communication between certain board members and district executives.

Marilyn Rice and Harry Shapiro were, generally speaking, model board members. They were passionately committed to the district’s educational mission, putting student achievement at the very top of the governing agenda. They faithfully attended committee and board meetings, and did their share in representing the board at district events and community forums. And they were always well prepared for board meetings. Many superintendents would love to have two such dedicated and productive board members, but instead Hansen felt like wringing their necks.

Elected to the board a couple of years ago, Rice and Shapiro were pretty well behaved for the first 18 months of their term. However, over the past six months, they’d both begun to pepper administrators with requests for information. These requests --  which sounded to the staff like demands --  were anything but routine, and responses often required an hour or more of staff time.

For example, only last week, Shapiro had asked the associate superintendent for finance and administration for a detailed report on administrative out-of-town travel over the past year. And the week before that, Rice had, without warning, showed up at the office of the pupil services director to request a report on participation in middle school after-care programs over the last five years.

The administrators felt caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place. They sincerely wanted to be responsive to board members, but an inordinate amount of time was being spent satisfying their demands. Everyone was rightly worried that other board members would start making these requests, further complicating their lives at headquarters.

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