Friday, July 13, 2012

Board of Education Membership

There was an informative blog posting in the Watertown Times on July 6th by Bob Gorman.

Over the years, it was clear that when special interest groups employed by a school district elected their spouses and relatives to Boards of Education, that little good (for the public) came of it. This issue has been discussed time and time again at statewide conferences. Attorneys tell Board members that it is legal (i.e. not a conflict of interest) for spouses and close family of union members to serve on the Boards of Education where their family is employed.  Common sense tells us that this is not wise and not in the interest of good governance of school districts.  Why, then, is this legal in NYS? In a word...politics. NYS legislators could make it illegal but they have not done so. Is a spouse or close relative on a BOE going to negotiate in the best interest of the public or in the best interest of his/her family? Human nature being what it is, we all know the answer to that question.

What has been more difficult to explain is why it is not wise to have teachers who work in neighboring school districts serve on the Board of Education in the district where they live. The public should know that the contracts settled in one school district have a significant impact on contracts settled in other nearby districts. When negotiations are going on, one of the first things discussed is the contract settlements in neighboring districts. When impasse occurs during contract negotiations, the arbitrators - brought in to settle the dispute - immediately look to the contracts agreed to in neighboring school districts. Thus, a teacher board member knows that what occurs contractually in the district where he/she serves on a BOE can and will impact the district in which he/she works. While such members might purport to work in the interest of the public, self-interest is there whether such individuals acknowledge it or not.

Mr. Gorman writes..."We  have so many school districts that we can't find enough members of the public to serve on school boards. We solve the problem by electing the spouses of teachers and guidance counselors who, not surprisingly, wave through salary increases for teachers and guidance counselors. And when we can't find enough spouses we then elect teachers and guidance counselors from from neighboring school districts. In big letters they proclaim that there is no conflict of interest. But in the fine print there is this: when the union these teachers and guidance counselor belong to is seeking a new contact, the union will enter negotiations  using as a benchmark the contract its members helped approve in the neighboring school district."   

Will politicians change the law and make it impermissible for spouses (or immediate family members) of union members to serve on Boards of Education in that district? Will the public decide to vote in significant numbers in school board elections?  These are unknowns. What is known is that unions will continue to place spouses and relatives (and teachers from neighboring school districts) on Boards of Education as long as the public doesn't know what's going on.

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