Yesterday I wrote about the decision of the Huntsville City School’s Board of Education to subvert the democratic process by restricting who can and cannot run for school board seats. In short, if you’re an employee of the district, no one in your family may run for a school board seat. If they do, and if they are elected, you must resign your position with the district in order to avoid even the hint of nepotism.
In passing, with eight minutes of discussion, a policy manual that requires family members to resign, the current board members are telling the public that family members of teachers, principals, aides, custodians, and even administration are not worthy of our trust to lead our schools as board members. Because clearly a family member of a district employee would find it impossible to recuse him or herself from the rare discussions about their family.
No Family Connections Allowed?
Honestly, if this were actually an issue, then shouldn’t it also be against policy for a board member to represent a school where his or her children attend? Couldn’t a board member use his or her influence to get extra services for his or her child? After all I think most parents would tell you that while they love their spouse, there isn’t anything they wouldn’t do to protect their child. The board should pass a policy requiring children of board members to be bused to neighboring districts so as to avoid even the hint of favoritism.
Of course, such a policy would be considered ridiculous. Having a vested interest in the schools they represent improves the work of the school board. In fact, I tend to think that people without a personal connection to the district they represent should not be allowed to run for a seat in that district. If, for example, you live in the district but pointed send your children to a private school, you shouldn’t be allowed to run for that seat. (But that’s a post for another day.)
On the current board both Dr. Robinson and Mr. Blair have had children in the schools in their districts during their times of service. And yet one of the more common complaints voiced about Dr. Robinson at least is that she doesn’t do enough for the schools in her district. Grissom, in particular, has lagged behind others in the district in terms of renovations until quite recently.
In other words, having a personal connection to your schools doesn’t seem to result in favoritism for that school at all among our current board members.
The policy of requiring the family of board members to resign is a solution in need of a problem.
Nepotism and Favoritism By Any Other Name
Given that nepotism abuse that has occurred in the past, I completely understand and support having a policy that prohibits it. No one, no matter how well you know them, should have the inside track when it comes to jobs in our schools. Our kids need and deserve to have the best people working for them regardless of “who they know.”
In many ways the policy isn’t broad enough. There does seem to need to be some protects against favoritism at least. If anyone uses their position to give their friends, associates, or even service members the inside track on jobs, there’s a problem there. For example:
It shouldn’t matter if you worked in Aurora, Colorado with Dr. Wardynski, or served in the Army with him or his friends. It shouldn’t matter if you lived in Fairfax, Virginia or not. If you’re the best person for the job, you should be the person hired, regardless of your connections.
So in many ways, I believe the protections against favoritism should be stronger than they currently are.
I pointed out that the board president, Mrs. Laurie McCaulley, may benefit from this new policy as it directly impacts one of the people running against her in the coming election, Mrs. Pat King. (Mrs. King’s husband is a tenured assistant principal at Huntsville Middle School.)
If Mrs. King should happen to win the election, under the current policy her husband would be required to resign his position in October when Mrs. King would take her seat. Most people would never be in a position to take such a risk. (School board members make $15,564 per year. It isn’t intended to be a livable salary, and most school board members are either retired or have other careers.)
However, Mrs. McCaulley isn’t the only person who is likely to benefit from this new policy.
Another benefactor of this policy is anyone who wishes to keep family members of teachers and educators off the school board. Who might benefit from not being supervised by a family member of a teacher? Perhaps a superintendent who is unconcerned about forcing a teacher to move to a new school against her will, or one who conducts a national search to hire someone who “has a long history of infuriating parents“? It certainly makes it easier to score a 92 on your personalized evaluation when you don’t have to take teacher’s opinions and evaluations into account.
Dr. Wardynski certainly benefits from having board members who have no personal connection to the teachers and schools he’s destroying.
As someone without an education background, he tends to see those with education backgrounds as the single biggest impediment to his brand of “reform.” Making unsubstantiated claims like “Nothing about the kids (in our system was positive,” would be much easier if those on the board don’t know the truth for themselves. Ridiculous claims like “26 percent of the district’s leaders were strong” when he arrived are harder to make when a board member is related to one of those district leaders.
The superintendent doesn’t like questions. Having board members who will ask some because they have a personal connection to the people he is degrading is likely to lead to some questions.
Mrs. McCaulley isn’t the only one who benefits from this new policy.
But then neither is Dr. Wardynski the only one who benefits from the new policy.
Eli Broad Benefits
The Broad Foundation, Dr. Wardynski’s true boss, has a vested interest in keeping people who care about teachers off of school boards.
Public education and teachers are under attack in our city and in our nation today. In fact, this is one of the few areas where there is true bi-partianship. Both sides of the aisle are seeking to blame “failing schools” on teachers and no one else. Even teacher associations are often quiet in the face of attacks on teachers. (Or they’re supportive of the person bringing the attack.)
In short it is often left to those who are related to teachers to actually defend them.
If you’d like to read more about the Broad Foundation, please take a look at the Parents Across America guide to The Broad Foundation’s Programs and Policies.
Eli Broad also benefits from keeping family members of teachers off of school boards.
It’s All About Control
There are countless groups and people in this city and nation who are working to take control of our schools. The inclusion of this policy makes it much easier for them to do so. We may never know who included it. We may never find everyone who benefits from it, but this much we know. It’s purpose, as with nearly everything Dr. Wardynski has done in our school system, is to exert control through intimidation of the public and his teachers.
This policy is an attack on our teachers and their families, and if the Huntsville City Board of Education believes in the democratic process, they will remove it immediately.