However, I would argue that there is more than a little fatalism evidenced in our local election cycle. Do folks really believe that they can make a difference? School communities feel pretty powerless in the face of never-ending bad news from Sacramento. Despite our continued success story as a school district, board members have had four years of increasingly difficult decisions to make. Even in good times, the job is challenging! And 40 years of court decisions and legislative policies have resulted in fewer and fewer truly local decisions. It seems the only time legislators trust local leaders is when there are cuts to make -- when there's money, it always comes with strings attached!
So since school districts are, in fact, state agencies carrying out the state function of providing public education, why do we need locally elected boards anyway? Actually, there are a number of so-called education reformers who think elected school boards should be abolished.
No less than Arne Duncan, U.S. Secretary of Education, has said "he favors mayoral control, appointed school boards or some type of top-down authority ... elected school boards in urban districts lead to a perpetual churn of superintendents, leadership and policies." (The Times-Picayune, 2009)
Reed Hastings, Netflix CEO and formerly State Board of Education president, feels that elected school boards are too subject to political pressure, and to maintain student achievement growth we need longer-termed leaders. "It is the system that says you have to make a difference in your short term," Hastings said of school board members, "that is the fundamental problem." (The Advocate, 2011) A charter school advocate, Hastings thinks a better model is an appointed nonprofit board, where sitting members select new ones.
But where in appointed self-perpetuating boards is the voice of the public? According to the National School Boards Association, we've had community members overseeing the public education of our youth since 1721 -- with elected members since 1826! I believe that in a republic such as ours, it is not efficiency that is most valued, but the ability of the local community to have a voice in its own governance and the education of its children.
For Pleasanton, a highly educated wealthy community, our task is to deepen our "bench." We must encourage others to get involved and mentor future board members, whether parent volunteers or business leaders. We must, by our actions, show that their participation does make a difference. And we must continue our efforts to promote our excellent school district and help our community understand the challenges and opportunities we face together. Our students depend on it.