Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Don't put mayors in charge of schools

Some good points made in this Ed-Op piece. Another sad link is the role of the manufacture in developing high school course sequences.


By MIKE SULLIVAN | Houston Chronicle
May 30, 2009

We are certainly living in interesting political times, with politicians of different stripes wearing curious new hats.

For example, the president of the United States today also wears the old fedora of an auto industry executive. Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter just traded hats in jumping from the GOP to the Democratic Party. And bringing us full circle, Minnesotans appear to have given comedian Al Franken a chance to trade his jester’s hat for a seat in the U.S. Senate.

But to me, the most disturbing development of all came when the U.S. secretary of education, Arne Duncan, recently announced a new movement to place mayors in charge of struggling school districts.

Running a school district is one hat we shouldn’t ask, or permit, mayors to wear.

As a former trustee of the Humble Independent School District, let me assure you there is already plenty of politics in our educational system without putting a full-blown politician with so many other responsibilities at the top of the organizational chart.

Indeed, given the overwhelming volume of duties confronting any mayor, it raises the question: Why would a mayor want to involve himself/herself in school district issues, when the current system of electing school board trustees can adequately handle the job? Can’t we trust voters to choose the people and the policies they want to govern their local school district?

Or are we destined, as Americans and Texans, to continue this dangerous new trend of ceding more power and control of our lives to the ruling class? When did we cease to be a government “of the people, by the people, for the people”?

Ask any mayor or mayoral candidate the following four questions:

What is WADA (weighted average daily attendance) and how does it affect our school funding?

What is an IEP (individual education plan) and how does the federal government determine which student needs one and which doesn’t?

How does the Permanent School Fund influence bond construction costs?

And what’s the difference between the Texas Education Agency and the State Board of Education?

These are just four questions that every school board trustee has learned the answers to through mandated annual state training.

School board trustees and superintendents receive specialized training and are committed to serving their districts. They do not need municipal government politics creeping into their business.

Of course, the idea of a mayor controlling a school board or school district is not new. It has been tried around the country, and the results have been, at best, mixed.

No mayor of Houston, current or future, should meddle in school district affairs. The business of running school districts must be left to those elected by the public for that specific purpose, and to the superintendent that those elected trustees chose.

Oh, one more thing. Houston’s mayor earns $176,762; council members make $51,758; school board trustees make nothing. School board trustees are clearly not serving for the salary and benefits. They serve for the sake of serving — because they are committed to the education system, the students and parents, and the teachers.

That’s the one hat they want to wear; that’s the hat they deserve to wear; that’s the hat we should let them wear without more political meddling.

Sullivan is a former trustee of the Humble Independent School District and the current District E council member for the city of Houston.

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