The importance of local school boards in the everyday life of communities cannot be over-emphasized. Ask yourself if your tax dollars are being used to build or improve your town’s infrastructure. Look around and see if your roads, bridges and underpasses are crumbling. Ride the trains, busses and railroads and see if you experience delays caused by signal lights, decaying rails and garbage filled streets.
School districts headed by school boards are forever complaining of limited budgets, yet your school taxes increase every year. In some communities especially in the northeast the county keeps 15 cents of your tax dollars, your town takes 5 cents and your school district takes 80 cents. But to hear the school board cry the money isn’t nearly enough to cover expenses.
School boards frighten the communities with threats that if an increase in the budget isn’t approved they will be forced to cut music, art and sports activities. Board members work the parents into a frenzy, claiming students will receive limited educational opportunities and this will ruin their children’s lives for all eternity. Parents work full time jobs to pay local taxes and do not really have the time to investigate exactly where the school taxes are being funneled.
Five years ago, a small Long Island, NY school district gave its superintendent a yearly contract that included a salary of $550,000 a year. This superintendent who lived in another state was given a private chauffeur to drive her back and forth from home. There was talk among some board members that this superintendent should possibly be given the use of a helicopter to use on occasion to commute.
Two years ago for that matter, the superintendent from the Jericho School District in Long Island pulled in a salary and benefits worth more than $438,000.
Teachers’ salaries vary greatly from one part of the United States to another and the disparity is starkest in the northeast where the cost of teachers’ salaries leave little or no money for maintaining school facilities in decent condition.
School board elections have never been more contentious, but this is not due to high voter turnout or participation. See this year’s elections to the school board of Polk County in Florida, for example.
I created my novel “WHO SHOT THE SCHOOL BOARD?”, in order to provide my readers with a close insight into where their tax dollars go, by way of the individual and interlocking stories of seven fictitious school board members who have taken an oath to do their best to ensure our children receive the best education possible. To a person, they keep this promise only after they ensure that their friends and relatives are handily taken care of.
Having been involved in schools for many years as teacher, school administrator, school board member and attorney, I saw that the decisions made by school boards are almost always made solely with money in mind. If through some coincidence it also helps the children, so be it.
For example, bilingual education classes have all but disappeared in many schools. To save money these programs were included into the regular education classes. Gradual incorporation of children who speak a foreign language into English classes is a good thing, but I have seen kids with two days in this country thrown into classes where they sit there and understand nothing for years. This immersion sometimes works for very young children, but it doesn’t work for high school students who come into a new school frightened and isolated. This destructive behavior on the part of school decision makers is based on budget constraints. They cannot say this to parents, so they think up absurd explanations which are surprisingly accepted without question from parents.
Not so in the two districts I mentioned on Long Island’s north shore where money, education and attention to the local school produces an atmosphere where ridiculous explanations are challenged and exposed.
Inclusion of special education students in regular education classes is another money saving ploy. The local school district superintendent goes before his boss the school board and says, “We are running out of money for special education services.” The board responds with, “Simple! Cut special education services.” The superintendent says, “But how? The Special Ed parents will go crazy.” The board members look at each other, disgusted they have hired such a dullard as an educational leader.
Finally, the board members look at the superintendent and in unison say, “Throw the special ed kids in with the regular ed kids.” Now, it’s the superintendent turn to stare disgustedly at the board. “You do know that the regular ed kids will beat the shit out of the special ed kids and that in the high school the regular ed boys will purposely bump into the maturing special ed girls for kicks?” The board responds, “So?” The superintendent says nothing.
The chairman of the board says, “In a school district money must to be available to help our relatives, friends and supporters. You never know when an emergency will arise and some new scheme needs funding such as opportunities to get a cut from a new textbook or food vendor.”
I contend that virtually every school board is structurally destined to fall short of the public’s expectations. The degree to which a local governmental entity is accountable correlates directly to the degree to which the people in that community watch their elected officials.
I know of two school districts on the north shore of Long Island that succeed like few others. The districts are made up of wealthy and educated people who keep an eagle’s eye on what happens in their schools. Sure, the money in those communities allows for many school extras and the level of education of the residents adds to the children’s preparedness to learn, but it’s the attention these parents pay to knowing what’s happening in their kids’ schools that makes these school districts the best in the country.
In districts with functional schools and school boards, the residents don’t take anyone’s word for what’s going on. They see for themselves what the skinny is. They listen to their neighbors’ opinions but do not rely solely on what they hear and what the PTA says. These people get off the couch, turn off the television, and go to their kids’ schools, seeing for themselves what’s happening.
WHO SHOT THE SCHOOL BOARD? was a delight to write and you will have a blast reading it, but my great hope is that once you have finished it, you’ll put it down and learn more about what your local school board is doing. Who sits on the board? What issues are before the board? How are the schools they oversee performing, and what can YOU do to have a positive impact on the way in which your community is raising the people who inherit and lead your community in the coming decades?