Oct 16, 2011 Herm Card Uncategorized
In the last 10 years, I have been asked several times to run for the Syracuse City School District Board of Education. I always took it as a compliment, and I’ve always thought it would be a great opportunity to bring my knowledge and experience in education to bear for an important purpose.
Yet in every instance, without hesitation, I’ve replied “Thank you for asking, but no.”
Over the some 35 years that I’ve paid attention to such things, I’ve learned that the prerequisites for being a member of the board of education — any board of education, not just Syracuse’s — do not require any experience working in education.
The New York State School Board Association says the “qualifications for effective service” are many, and that board members should be effective communicators, consensus builders, community participants, decision makers, information processors, and leaders, and effective board members “possess most or all” of those traits (though it might be tough for voters to determine if the candidates actually do).
There are very few legal requirements. Generally, school board candidates must be at least 18 years old, qualified voters in the school district and able to read and write. They must be residents of their districts continuously for one year (as little as 30 days or as long as three years in some city school districts) before the election.
In Syracuse, an additional de facto requirement is that individuals need to ally themselves with a political party to have much of a chance of winning — an allegiance that requires adherence to the party line regardless of the outcome in terms of education. Since the Board of Education is frequently the first rung on the political ladder, party allegiance (read: compliance) is essential for anyone wishing to take the next step.
You’ve read it here before that elected officials are not necessarily selected for individual ability – the weight of numbers is the key, and if that weight favors one candidate over another, qualifications go out the window. It is far easier, and convenient, to simply vote party line than to actually investigate the qualifications of an individual. Notice for example, how only three of the seven current Commissioners of Education have actually posted biographical information on the Sryacuse district’s website.
The effect of politics becomes increasingly apparent as government doctrine drives education and politicians use the topic as a talking point and election promise. Hardly a candidate for any elected office fails to promise to lower taxes, create jobs and improve education.
Since the latter is effectively the job description of boards of education, what need is there for campaign promises – therefore what need for political affiliation? The answer lies in the fact that so few candidates are experienced educators that there must be another factor involved to help separate them at election time — thus, the political agenda.
I have no recommendation or endorsement of candidates to offer — but before you simply go with a party line, you might check this out if you are concerned about making good choices on Election Day: Parents for Public Schools, a volunteer, community-based organization that promotes community awareness of educational issues and supports public education through creating community/education partnerships, will hold a forum for board of education candidates. The forum will allow the public the opportunity to meet the candidates and ask important questions regarding the Syracuse City School District.
The PPS forum will be held from 7:15 to 8 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 18, in the Henninger High School auditorium, 600 Robinson St. There will be a reception to the meet the candidates from 6:30 to 7. As of Oct.5, this is the only such public forum scheduled.
Herm Card is a former teacher with more than 32 years of classroom experience and 20 years as a professional development consultant. His column runs bi-weekly in The Eagle. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.