School board has its head in the sand

Behave less like ostriches and more like public servants
It seems like the school board has its head in the sand
It seems like the school board has its head in the sand

Friday’s editorial bird metaphor — for a con-flict of interest on the Johnstown City Council — was a duck.

Today’s editorial bird metaphor — for the Schenectady city school board’s decision not to accept detailed reports on individual district schools — is an ostrich.

In a baffling decision to keep their heads in the sand regarding detailed information on such important matters as attendance, math and reading scores and student behavior, school board members on Thursday rejected an offer from Superintendent Larry Spring to provide them with school-by-school data.

Does it seem odd to you that a school board — whose job it is to set policies and establish budgets that affect individual school buildings — would decline an offer to have as much information as possible about the schools it oversees?

And the more they tried to explain why they didn’t want the information, the more absurd the decision sounded.

One reason someone gave for rejecting the superintendent’s offer was that board members were concerned about making comparisons between elementary schools because of their demographics. Guess it’s better to lump all the information together, they reason, so as not to single out one particular school, faculty or body of students for hurt feelings.

The superintendent also said he could envision where putting out individual information on schools could put pressure on the affected individuals that could cause them to be paralyzed — we assume with fear of criticism.

And of course, all those reports to the school board are public information, which means the taxpayers might read them and question school board members about the results.

It’s difficult to make sound decisions without enough information. If there are discrepancies between individual schools, wouldn’t knowing that be helpful to board members in identifying problems specifi c to particular schools and in coming up with potential solutions.

That could help them direct fi nancial and staff resources toward addressing the problems.

On the positive side, if a board member learns from these reports that one school is excelling far beyond another, is that not an opportunity to determine what the school is doing right and perhaps apply it to help the other schools?

Without school-by-school information on truancy, student suspensions, test scores and other data, the school board is effectively denying itself information it could use to do its job to the best of its ability.

Certainly, you don’t want to overwhelm citizen board members with too much information to the point where they can’t sort through it all. But going through data is part of their jobs. And anyway, the more detailed reports would only coming to them only once every three months. They should be able to handle it.

Board members should reconsider the value in receiving reports about individual schools and take the superintendent up on his offer to provide them with a more detailed breakdown.

Citizens will best be served if school board members behave less like ostriches and more like the public servants they were elected to be.

Categories: Editorial, Opinion

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