It is clear in the Tennessee Constitution the responsibility for control and support of public schools is delegated in the Tennessee General Assembly, while in large measure the operation is entrusted to local school boards. The school board is the community’s watchdog on public education, thus ensuring that taxpayers get the most for their tax dollars. Taxpayers must hold school board members accountable for spending and results. School boards represent the public’s voice in public education.
Local school boards reflect the needs and aspirations of the communities, as well as the interests and concerns of professional and nonprofessional employees. We believe non-partisan control is what is best for our communities. This is best ensured when educational policy is made by representatives vested in the community they live, and whose undivided attention and interests are devoted strictly to education of the children in that district. What we stress in a nutshell, public education is a federal concern, a state responsibility and a local operation.
State and federal education policies should be designed to assist local school districts in improving student achievement for all children and not be disguised as a means to label public schools as failures. Prior to any state or federal intervention based on a school or district’s failure to meet performance or accountability standards, governments should ensure that local schools and districts receive the necessary resources, support and time to improve. Tennessee, to its credit, has done a lot right in public education. However, no system is perfect.
The authority of the local school board is established in code, and this authority should not be delegated to others. Local boards of education must not relinquish their governance responsibilities in any situation, especially in management and oversight. We believe all children should have equal access to an education that maximizes his or her individual potential.
School boards are subject to the requirements of existing law are the governing and policy-making bodies for schools in their district. They should refrain from agreements that compromise their responsibility for representing general public interest in education. Local boards should know the unique and varied needs of their communities. They must also work with local governance to further the goals of the school district. Professional Educators of Tennessee are also glad to assist school board members when they reach out for assistance.
School boards must embody the community’s beliefs and values. School board members should be as diverse as the citizens they serve. We should thank the men and women who are serving our communities as school board members. They are too often unappreciated, and it is often a thankless, but needed, job. Unfortunately, there are some people who end up on school boards who do not understand their unique role, and we should look at increased training to assist them in increasing their knowledge. The Tennessee School Board Association can play a significant function in that effort.
We should also encourage high character men and women in that want to serve the community to consider seeking a position on the school board. We need passionate people committed to children and those who teach them, looking out for each community’s interest. Are you ready to serve?
J.C. Bowman is executive director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville.