Town Meeting Article - School Committee Governance
I would to make a pitch for the petitioned article that Marg Levenson and I put on the agenda of Montague Town Meeting. The article/motion provides that a committee be appointed to investigate the regional agreement between Montague and Gill to consider changing the composition and method of selecting the GMRSD school committee. The Gill town meeting will be considering a similar article.
1. School Committee Governance Problems Are Not New
There is almost universal dissatisfaction with the GMRSD school committee. Most of this has focused on the “unprofessional” behavior of school committee members, the lack of meeting“norms” etc. Yet the committee has been controversial and unpopular since the late 1990s, well before most of the current members were elected. We should consider that there might be a structural problem. A nine member elected committee tends to attract strong supporters of the traditional culture of the district or, on the other hand, strong critics of this culture. This historically has created a very polarized group. Maybe a smaller and/or appointed committee would be more collegial, more able to reach consensus, particularly if member towns helped the district develop a common vision for the future.
2. The state Governance Project needs local input.
The school district is a key part of the state-level “Governance Project. However this effort has focused almost exclusively on rules, regulations and “norms” with the goal of increasing student “achievement.” This approach seems to ignore historic problems specific to the GMRSD (and perhaps other districts), as well as potential structural issues. The project also seems to be heavily weighted in favor of the policy biases of school committees, school administrators and state level education officials. There is less input from local government, which in my opinion has a rather different policy orientation. A discussion of GMRSD governenance involving the member towns could contribute to this state project.
3. The school district is a creation of the member towns.
The governance portions of the regional agreement have not been revisited since the agreement was approved in the early 1980s. That’s thirty years. Given the current problems of the committee, is it not time to revisit the governance portions of the agreement? And is it not time for the member communities to step up to the plate and take some ownership of the situation? After all the school district is in fact a creation of the member towns and is our largest single expenditure.
Altering the size, composition and method of selecting the school committee will not guarantee change. But it is potentially an important piece of the puzzle and should at least be considered.