A Guide to Good Board Behavior

By Lawrence Hardy

Say what you will about “good news” stories, the news media thrives on disaster, dysfunction, and entropy. “Students Getting a Great Education” may be a nice headline, but “Raging Bystander Leaps Atop Table Amid Bitter Board Dispute” (an actual story from a Midwestern district a few years back) is a lot more -- how to put this? -- fun to write.

Maybe that’s what a reporter from a weekly paper near Hartford, Conn., was thinking when he faced one of those “all the news is good” problems and came up with a novel way of finding that kernel of controversy that is the news media’s lifeblood.

It’s seems that the Berlin Board of Education had an unusual number of 9-0 votes on major issues, which may have seemed fine to the untrained (read “non-media”) eye. But what if there was some nefarious reason why the board was voting in seeming lockstep, a hidden power beneath its guise of comity? An exposé was clearly in the making, and the reporter went right to one of his primary sources -- Board President Gary Brochu -- to ferret it out.

Brochu laughs as he tells this story:

“Why is it you never disagree about anything?” the reporter asked.

“What makes you think we don’t disagree?” an amused Brochu answered.

In Berlin, a 3,000-student district in the suburbs south of Hartford, of course disagreements exist. What the reporter didn’t grasp was that the board members talked these disagreements out in committees long before those votes. They made sure they all had the same information (and understood that information) so that, when it came time to vote on a given issue, the way forward was usually apparent to all.

“We aspire,” says Brochu, not entirely joking, to “boring professionalism.”

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