Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Rep. Shurtleff's School Board plan

I got a bit more information about Rep. Steve Shurtleff's proposal for reformatting School Board elections. While the bill has not been drafted yet, Shurtleff proposes changing the election process from the current nine at-large candidates running for 3-year terms every three years, to three candidates running from three separate districts, one per year. The districts would be the same as the state Rep. candidates. Each year, one person would be elected from each of the three districts for three years.
I don't have a firm position on whether I support this or not but I will say that I think it is good to discuss and analyze the pros and cons.
The largest criticism of the proposal - that each board member would only worry about the schools in their district - is relatively insignificant due to the fact that we have a city-wide middle and high school and the districts would overlap elementary school districts. If you look at District 12, students go to Walker, Kimball, Conant and Rumford. Does anyone really think that somehow the school board members from District 12 aren't going to care just as much about those schools as Eastman or Beaver Meadow?


Trish said...

Hi Tony,
I did not get the impression that Steve feels that the school board representatives would not care about schools that are not in their district. Just that decisions that they make would be with the best interests of the schools in their district.

Consider that the city's ward counselors care about the entire city, but that decisions that they make are always in the best interest of their own ward.

I support Steve's plan.

Trish D

Tony said...

Hi Trish,

Actually, I was writing about complaints lodged against his plan - not anything that he is worried about. So far, the only talking point against his plan is that District School Board members would only be concerned with the schools in their district. I don't believe that. As well, as you have noted, Ward councilors DO sometimes care about the rest of the city.

Thanks for reading and commenting.

Anonymous said...

This bill is definitely a step in the right direction. But why not have more representation by having ward, instead of district, board members. In Manchester, school board members are apportioned like our city councilors: one for each ward and 4 at-large. Why not follow this model, which would result in better representation and additional members to share the heavy workload.

Anonymous said...

Well Eastman is a a separate entity all together it seems to be the role model for how to help all of the special needs for the city and spend as much as we can doing it.

Anonymous said...

I don't understand the comment about Eastman. Is there something about the special needs Pre-K there that is very expensive and would be more cost effective in another school? I have always been under the impression, and I am an Eastman dad three times over and I have another one who will start there in Fall, that they are very creative and thrifty and manage to make up for in compassion etc for the fact that it is hard for special needs kids, espcially in wheel chairs, to fully use the facility.

Anonymous said...

Isnt it time someone introduced a bill rescinding the school board's

Tony said...

Hi Anon17, thanks for reading and commenting, as well as Ben and Trish.

I haven't seen or heard about a bill like this at the State House but I will keep my eyes open.

I'm a bit schizophrenic about this issue. On the one hand, I totally understand why people are upset that the school board has control of its budget and the ability to set its own tax rate. They don't make the best decisions - letting go teachers and higher new administrators - and the elementary school consolidation plan is clearly the wrong direction. In addition, few if any other communities in the state have the power to do this.

However, if changed, the budgeting process for the schools would revert to the city council, like other communities in the state. And, after watching our city council for so many years, I can't support this change. They are all nice individuals but as a collective, they make some pretty bad decisions.

Unless I was to see some real changes in the way they do business or some new members who will collectively do what is best for the city, I can't support a move to remove the budget autonomy from the school board and give it to the council.

As it stands now, we can elect and unelect people to the school board and we have done that as voters. In January, there will be four new members on the board. Over the last two years, six of the nine new members will have changed. Turnover is good because it brings new blood in and those people clearly care about the schools. I don't know if monkeying around with this is the best idea.

I will throw this out there: Maybe if the autonomy was eliminated, we would see more competitive city council elections because people concerned about schools not being funded properly would challenge some of the current councilors. I don't know if that is a reason to change it or not though.

Anonymous said...

Tony, Tony
If you take away the schoolboard's
autonomy budgeting does not go to the city council. If you rescind the 1961 law budgeting goes to a public hearing and the people vote on it. correct me if I'm wrong.

Tony said...

Hey Anon7:00, you may be right on that. But seriously: Do you really think that the Legislature would rescind the school's autonomy only to have it voted on at a town meeting? I seriously doubt that would happen. That would be changed too because the Legislature would probably say, Well every other town has selectmen, alderman, or councilors set the price for the school system, so we'll have the council do that too!