Spending on education is up, student achievement is at best static, and the chief blocking mechanism to needed reform is the teachers unions. So what role do locally elected school boards play? What share of the responsibility is theirs?
According to school reform expert Myron Lieberman,
“The erosion of school board authority is one of the most important consequences of teacher unionization. This has not consisted solely of a transfer of power from school boards to teacher unions; it has also entailed a transfer of power from school boards to school administrators.”
Lieberman writes, a “school board should not be negotiating curriculum (with any outside entity) – that is their legal responsibility (alone). They should not be sharing that legal responsibility with a union, a private organization.”
Peter Brimelow summed it up nicely in his book, “The Worm in the Apple:”
“Local school boards were established to see that curricular, administrative, and fiscal activities are conducted by officials who are elected by-and therefore accountable to- the community. But what if these officials owe their election to special interest groups, particularly groups with a stake in the status quo? Turnout and interest in school board elections are notoriously low.
Victories are often decided by a handful of votes. Even a relatively small amount of money can be critical in school board elections. And the Teacher Trust is not shy about tossing money at candidates.”
Brimelow added, “Union participation in school board campaigns is enormous-and often more than even teachers realize.”
There’s little doubt that the average school board is out-gunned when it comes to accounting and negotiating expertise, public relations, as well as the other myriad things that the school system and the teachers unions are awash in. But school boards still maintain the bully pulpit and they are ultimately where the governmental power resides.
A problem comes into play when the unions successfully get their own people elected to the school board. Instead of an elected membership answering to and doing the bidding of the taxpaying public, they are in the pocket of the unions. Peter Brimelow wrote that often “school boards openly acknowledge their dependence on the unions to lobby for increased budgets.”
School boards are elected to represent the interests of the taxpayers and the students but rarely do. While people who sit on the schools boards might be nice people, the reality is that most of them have been elected with the help of the unions. If they weren’t actively opposed by the union, they probably weren’t seen by them as a threat. People who support genuine education reform typically only get elected to a school board if they are able to overcome the money and troops of the teacher unions.
The solution is for citizen activists who are independent of the power of the unions to run for and win school board seats. Getting elected is only the first step. The reality is that there is a great deal of responsibility that goes with being a school board member in the modern era. Not only is there a great deal of information that needs to be learned and a lot of data that must be continually monitored, board members now must also counter the power of the special interest of the unions.
Obviously the public needs to watchdog the actions of school boards just as they would Congress or their state legislature. As one observer put it, in any discussion of the “teachers’ union scam” there has to be the passive or active participation of school boards in aiding and abetting that scam. As a result, there’s little independent information making its way to the public about the academics or finances of the school districts, and more often than not, only a one-sided case is presented through the mainstream media.