Letter: Don’t strip school boards of power

In a piece written by Paul Hill and Ashley Jochim about the new Detroit school board (“Pointers for new Detroit school board,” Feb. 10) and more broadly about school boards in general, they articulated a view that would advocate for limiting the authority of locally elected boards. They seemed to infer that locally elected boards make poor decisions when pressure comes to bear from their constituents, so therefore, we should figure out a different way to do things.

With more than 550 locally elected school boards in this state making thousands of decisions a year it is inevitable that some decisions may not appear to be in the best interest of the students and the communities served. But that doesn’t mean we should abolish elected boards, or even limit their powers so crucial decisions are made outside of the democratic process.

Michigan’s public believes elected school boards work. In a recent EPIC-MRA statewide poll of likely voters who expressed an opinion about the behavior of local school board members, two-thirds indicated their local school board acted in the best interest of students or, in the least, balanced the interest of the students against their own self-interest.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce also found locally elected boards work. In a 2012 report looking at urban school districts, including Detroit, the chamber found that alternative governance arrangements are not necessarily better than locally elected boards. The chamber’s findings are consistent with what the Michigan Association of School Boards has found in working with school boards for more than 60 years: effective school district governance hinges upon the board understanding its role and then taking action in a manner that is logical, consistent and in the best interest of students.

MASB is committed to fostering effective school district governance as well as school board accountability. As part of that commitment, we’ll begin a process this spring to develop model governance standards for school boards of Michigan. Addressing both ethical and behavioral criterion, these standards will serve as a benchmark for effective school board governance, a mirror through which board members may self-reflect, and a primer for citizens considering seeking a school board seat.

We all need to take a vested interest in our local school districts. Your board members represent you. Taking away their power takes away your voice.

Don Wotruba, executive director

Michigan Association of School Boards