Friday, August 24, 2007

Appointed Board Needs Study

The release of a state monitoring report Monday has sparked talk of reverting to an elected school board.

Having only been here since 1983, I didn’t know much about the appointed board. So I turned to a resource I have often used over the years, the 1982 edition of “This is Plainfield” compiled by the League of Women Voters. It is a “Know Your Town” study of the city that follows 1954, 1965 and 1972 editions. It is also the last one published.

A lot of things have changed since 1982, but looking back can be a valuable exercise and the booklet is still a good reference. I once tried to mark it up with changes in hopes that a more current version could be developed, maybe even online. It certainly would be a lot easier to produce nowadays with digital photos and such. Many of the organizations listed in the back of the booklet have disappeared and others, like the League, are smaller than in the heyday of civic organizations. The current League may not be equipped to take on the project.

Anyway, the booklet tells me that the board used to consist of seven members appointed by the mayor. They were required to be American citizens with at least two years’ residency in the city before being appointed. They could not have any direct or indirect claims against the board. Terms then, as now, were three years.

There are more rules and duties, but for now the simple question is whether an appointed board would be better than an elected board. This is a matter for fact-finding on the process and discussion on the pros and cons before folks jump on a bandwagon because the state gave the district low marks for governance.

I looked up the election results for 2005, the year that produced those whose terms will be up in April. For three three-year terms, 11 people ran. An unexpired term attracted another five candidates. I invite people to click here and go to Plainfield to see all the names. How many of them can be seen at board meetings now?

The state has the power to add three members to the present nine-member board. Here again, how will dedicated, non-political candidates be found?

The board is only one part of a complicated network of people who affect the quality of education in Plainfield. With No Child Left Behind, outside forces have a stronger role in achieving positive outcomes. The goal of the monitoring, it seems, is to identify strengths to build on and weaknesses for intervention.

Board members are supposed to receive training that assures a common understanding of their roles and the laws regarding education. At the least, any state-appointed members should have had that training before being named. As for changing the local system from an elected to an appointed board, that decision is very weighty and requires deliberation.

Meanwhile, I’m glad the question drove me back to the LWV booklet. It is a fascinating look at what was, in light of what is here now. If you are lucky enough to get your hands on a copy, take a spin through it and see what you think.

--Bernice Paglia


Post a Comment

<< Home