HSD 1J Candidate Forum Provides Reality Check

schoolboardphoto1Folks who run for a school board position usually have a burning passion to improve local education and/or an agenda to change something in the District that unsettles them.

Then you find yourself, after surviving an election, on the Board, and — Surprise! — you have no power to change things by yourself. The Board acts as a group, and if you want group buy-in on your “agenda,” it had better be a good one, and you’ll need a lot of patience and persuasive ability, because the Board has a multitude of competing challenges.

A prudent new Board member gets humble, settles in and learns as much as they can about maintaining a good Superintendent-Board relationship, and a respectful relationship with fellow Board members. Somehow, over time, your concerns will be heard by your peers, and the Board will act…as a Board.

Five candidates were able to make the 12 Noon meeting yesterday at the Administration Center. Board Members Beth Graser and Hugh O’Donnell hosted the forum, and were assisted by Board Member John Peterson and Board Chair Carolyn Ortman.

High on the list of candidate questions was: How much time does the Board require of a member? The answer varies, and it provided a jumping off place for the rest of the discussion about the Board life of a member. Best guess: average of 12-15 hours/week depending on what’s happening. More time if Board member is serving on a committee or task force. (Update 2013: the April 23rd regular meeting went on for 7 hours! )

To begin with, there are two meetings a month that average 3-4 hours each. The regular meeting on the fourth Tuesday of the month, and the work session on the second Tuesday of the month. Preparation for each meeting involves 1-4 (or sometimes more) hours of reading meeting packets, which are available to the public on District web site (Update 2013: http://www.hsd.k12.or.us/Portals/0/District/Board/Boardpacket/2012-2013/Board%20Packet%2004-23-13-rev.pdf .) The Board Chair meets twice a month with the Superintendent to set the agenda — with input from other Board members — for the forthcoming meeting. Add 2-4 hours a month to the Chair’s duties.

Board members also have special duties like membership on either classified employee or certified employee bargaining teams (or both). During bargaining, it may seem that your life is not your own! Bargaining can go on for months.

Board members also serve on the Budget Committee with citizen appointees, and may also serve on District teams that address curriculum and instruction issues, e.g., the Middle School Study Team, and the Secondary Assessment and Grading Research Team. (Update 2013: see Board member page on HSD 1J website for current committee assignments. https://docs.google.com/viewer?url=http://www.hsd.k12.or.us/Portals/0/District/board/Board+of+Directors+information+page.pdf&chrome=true .)

In 2011, Board members will have an opportunity to participate in the marathon known as strategic planning, a very time-consuming but rewarding odyssey that sets the path for the District for the next five years.

The duties of the Board include making policy within the bounds of state and federal law, adopting textbooks, approving new courses of study and abandoning obsolete ones, but most importantly, the Board hires and supervises the top District employee, the Superintendent of Schools, who is the CEO of HSD 1J. There is nothing the Board does that has more impact than that. Yes, hiring the Superintendent is “Job One” for the Board. The Superintendent’s “Job One” is student achievement.

New Board members will be trained by Oregon School Boards Association in ethics, Sunshine Law, conflicts of interest, and other subjects that will keep the new Board member from being sentenced to public service for trying to do public service. (You’ve gotta know the rules — no back rooms full of cigar smoke, if you get my drift.)

Where the rubber meets the road is in the Board-Superintendent relationship. No Board member is able to or is expected to know everything about everything in the District. The difference between a passive rubber-stamp Board that nods “yes” at all the Supe’s recommendations,  and an active, decisive, questioning, and effective Board is a bond of trust with the Superintendent. A strong bond of trust, based on transparency, honesty, integrity, and collaborative decision-making, makes for a strong school board and an effective superintendent.

Board Chair Carolyn Ortman, who first came aboard in 1997, is a past President of the Oregon School Boards Association, and current member of the Executive Board of the National School Boards Association. Carolyn has led our Board to be one of only two Boards state-wide that are recognized at the top level for participation in school board professional development activities. We are a mutually respectful and highly trained body devoted to the achievement of every student in our District.

Again, student achievement is our mission and the mission of the District.

This is not an exhaustive Board task inventory — we didn’t even talk about strategic planning teams, school visits, or graduations — but it does give a little insight into Board life. I think we did a fair job of giving the candidates a head-up.

(Left to right in the photo: Carolyn Ortman, Beth Graser, Patti McLeod, Rebecca Lantz, Superintendent Jeremy Lyon, Lisa Poehlitz, Hugh O’Donnell, John Peterson.)

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3 responses to “HSD 1J Candidate Forum Provides Reality Check

  1. And let’s not forget the time it took for you to write this very informative posting. Thanks.

  2. Reblogged this on The Thoughtful Teacher and commented:

    Here’s a post I wrote back in March of 2009 to give readers a little insight into what school board members do. The “reality check” refers to what forum attendees learn about the misconception of a) running for the Board and winning a seat, and b) single-handedly imposing their will on the district. It just doesn’t happen that way. I’ve included some updates in italics.

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