Tuesday, April 17, 2007


Use your smarts when voting for school board

FIRST EDITIONSunday, April 15, 2007
By Kelly Flynn


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If caring about kids were the only criteria, then pretty much anyone could serve on a school board. After all, there aren't many people who don't care about kids. It's wired into our DNA to look out for the well-being of the little ones.

So when you vote for a school board member on May 8 (and you will vote, won't you?), don't make your decision based on who makes the most ardent speech about caring for kids. Take that as a given and look at what they know, and what they can do.

Because they need to bring some skills to the table. I'm fed up with school board members - and yes, administrators, too - who hide their lack of skill behind a lot of big talk about their dedication to kids. Big talk doesn't balance the budget. Big talk doesn't solve personnel issues. Big talk doesn't make sound decisions about building improvement. Big talk is just a cover for a lack of ability.

Caring about kids does not equal a well-rounded curriculum, fair and effective discipline, or good communication with parents.

So, what skills should school board members have? Well, for starters, they need to be smart. Intelligence cannot be underestimated in the quest for an effective school board member. Smart people can think on their feet and see the big picture. Good old-fashioned common sense is vital, too. You also want a creative thinker with strong problem-solving skills. Most importantly, though, a school board member must be able to work well with others. A candidate who uses the post as a bully-pulpit is a waste of your money.

Granted, school board members don't need to be experts on everything. That's what administrators and principals are for. With talented people in place a board can rely on their expertise. But they have to be knowledgeable enough to hire the right people, and put them in the right positions.

Leadership. It's the difference between a district that runs like a well-oiled machine, and one that blunders along putting out fires. And I'll bet you can name exactly which districts are which.

After 20 years in public education I know this: The minute someone tells you that they "want what's best for kids," you need to listen very carefully to the next thing out of their mouths. Because those five words are almost always used to deflect attention away from something else.

Be wary of the person who repeatedly reassures you of their motives. People who really care about kids rarely say so. They don't need to blather endlessly about their commitment to children. They're too busy living it.

Don't be snowed by a nice personality, or passionate, evangelical testimonials about caring for kids.

It's just not enough.

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