Q&A School Project
With Alex Saitta
September 10, 2012
I was given this questionnaire by a administrator who is in college. It was part of a project she was working on.
1. If you had to use only two or three words to describe the role of a board member, what words would you choose? Represent the public or the owners of the school district.
2. If you had only two or three words to describe the role of the superintendent, what words would you choose? Manage the school district.
3. What do you feel the relationship between the board and administrators in our district should be? The first line in the state law is School Districts shall be under the management of the board of trustees (59-19-10). This authority is given to the board by the owners of the district or the public. Management by the board is impractical, so much of that management authority is delegated from the board to the superintendent. The chain of authority starts with the public, then authority is given to the school board, then it is given to the superintendent and his/her staff, then it is given to principals at the schools and to teachers in the classroom. In this flow of authority the focus of the superintendent’s is downward toward the school district, employees, and students. The board’s focus is upward toward the public or the owners. The board and superintendent work to link the two — the public above and school district below, in this hierarchy of authority.
4. What do you feel the relationship between the board and other administrators in your district should be? If you mean the relationship between the board and principals, it should be limited. Principals work for the superintendent, and most of their communication to the board should go through the uperintendent.
5. What has been the most demanding and/or difficult aspect of your role as a board member? Conveying to the superintendent, his staff and principals the board also has demands (from the public) too, so there is more to the equation than the wants/ needs of the superintendent, his/ her staff and principals. For example, the public is demanding school districts live within their means so we have to stop the tax increases and excessive borrowing. The public wants their money directed toward the classroom so it is focused on things that directly educate the student. If we don’t give the public what it wants, they’ll continue to change the system in ways most educators won’t like — charter schools, tax credits, tax deductions, less funding or limiting how much boards can raise tax rates.
6. What has been the most rewarding aspect of your role as a board member? As chairman, ending the 3 years streak of position eliminations due to budget deficits, promoting internally so long-term district employees are now getting a shot at management and addressing the low graduation rate. As a board member it was informing the public on scores of issues they would have never heard the details about.
7. As an elected official, what ways do you go about getting input from citizens regarding how they think you should vote on certain items? Some include going door to door in my campaigns, the message board on my website, talking with district staff, principals, teachers and parents.
8. What procedures does the board have for responding to citizens’ questions and complaints? Not much. It has always been that way. Public input at board meetings, responding to emails and reading news accounts. My two year term as chairman will end before I get to this one.
9. Is there a particular area of board operation upon which you tend to focus (e.g., facilities, curriculum)? Finance. I was a financial analyst for 12 years and a bond trader for 5. The first tool I reach for naturally is financial in some way. Right now that is a good fit. Most of government is on a path toward financial insolvency and we need people in government with the financial skills and experience to pull us out of this dive.
10. How does the board maintain open lines of communication and cooperation with local governmental authorities in the interests of youth and citizens of the community? We visited all the mayors of the local cities last year. Generally, school boards of the past have seen their local city’s political machine as a power base. They solidified that base by giving away district properties to their local town council or granted them things like TIF’s. None of which benefited the school district, but only their chances for re-election. The board of 2010 stopped both practices, so the relationships with the cities have cooled. Central: We denied their TIF renewal request. Clemson: The district is suing Clemson over a TIF Clemson is abusing to a tune of $10 million. Pickens: Turned down a TIF and insisted they pay for the stadium and Rebound building they wanted to lease for $1. Liberty: I will vote not to renew their TIF when it expires and didn’t give them Liberty Stadium as they requested, but instead charged them for its purchase. Easley: Turned down a TIF and will not sell them 3 properties they’d like to have for much less than they are worth or nothing. In sum, the school district needs the money more than school board members need to be re-elected.
11. How does your board recognize special interest groups which seek to change or influence the district’s programs? Too many special interest groups that come forward request we spend school district money for something they want, and often it is not directly related to educating a child (our primary goal). Given the district is having difficulty funding employee pay raises, providing classroom supplies and finding the money to maintain its buildings, this board is not seeking out special interests groups to spend district money on.
12. How do you, as a board member, gain information and understanding about the various instructional programs offered in the district? Superintendent, her staff, principals and teachers.
13. Does the board prepare long-range and short-range goals for the district in conjunction with the superintendent? In the past the superintendent created his/her own goals and evaluation. I wish I could have created my own goals and evaluation process when I was working. The process is now a collaboration of goal creation between the board and the superintendent, and the board drives the evaluation process.
14. What suggestions would you give for increasing effectiveness of the board as a whole? The committee system has gotten the board somewhat involved in creating plans, rather then just approving plans the district puts in front of it. I’d like to see the committee system to continue to grow.
15. Do you have any recommendations to administrators in our school system and how they should interact with board members? Remember at times you hvae to put down your academic prism, like I have learned to put down my financial prism once in a while. We need to be problem solvers; not academics or financial analysts. Realize the landscape is changing in two major ways. One, students don’t only face academic challenges, but often social and psychological challenges due to the breakdown of the family. The solution may not be a better trained teacher in Algebra or a new Pro-Board. It may mean a parenting meeting each week with the families of at-risk students. Two, finances will remain constrained for a decade or two. This is the new normal. Thus, we’ll have to target our limited resources toward the classroom. That will often mean saying “No, we can’t fund that $25,000 LED sign or pay for principal lunches. In the end, if the administrators don’t get the money to the classroom and improve results in the face of students who are facing more challenges, the system will be completely reformed. And most administrators will not like the reform the legislatures in this nation hand them and order them to implement.