On paper, Arlington school board members are part-timers, earning $5,000 a year for a job that eventually teaches down into every classroom, helping to shape the education of thousands of children.
When Ann C. Broder joined the school board eight years ago, she said, she found herself working almost 78 hours a week during the first three years. Then, with a little experience, she whittled it down to about 33 hours a week. t
Those were long days and even longer nights, filled with meetings with other school board members, the administrative staff, advisory committees and parents -- and the telephone ringing at all hours.
Last Thursday night that all came to and end as School Board Chairman O. U. Johansen presented Broder with the board's equivalent of a gold watch -- a school bell on an inscribed plaque -- for her eight years of service, including two one-year chairmanships.
"We shall miss the opportunity to have her share her wit and wisdom with us," Johansen said, as other board members joined in the accolades.
"I have no responsibilities," Broder said during an interview at her home on Friday. She laughed, poured a glass of iced tea and pondered her two occasionally tumultuous four-year terms on the school board, terms marked by battles over school closings, declining enrollment, an increasing minority population and budget scraps with the County Board.
Broder, a Democrat, may be gone fromt he school board, a casualty of the Republican gains on the County Board that appoints the school board, but she does not plan to vanish from the scene altogether.
She plans to compaign for County Board member Ellen Bozman, who is seeking reelection this fall as an independent with the endorsement of county Democrats and the Arlingtonians for a Better County (Abc). Broder described herself as "a loyal member" of ABC, a county political coalition.
Despite her long involvement in county affairs, Broder said she has no plans to seek elective office herself. "The school board is not an ideal springboard for a political career," she said. "I personally think I'd find (an appointment to) the planning commission rather interesting. But, like the school board now, I don't think these are any openings for people of my ilk -- a loyal ABC-Democrat . . . [and] a liberal -- one of the few people left at this point to admit that."
The County Board's GOP majority has named Republican Simone (Sim) J. Pace to succeed Broder on July 1 as part of a more conservative "back-to-basics" trend in education nationally that sprang from declining standardized test scores and experimental teaching techniques in the past decade.
But, Broder quickly pointed out, Arlington test scores steadily rose during her years on the board as members set goals to improve reading, mathematics and writing skills while also beefing up the humanities and human relations programs.
Also during her tenure, seven years of which were of school boards with Democratic majorities, Arlington launched an increasingly popular system of "alternative" schools and pioneered in programs for non-Engligh-speaking and special education students. All four sons of Ann and husband David Broder, a political writer for The Washaington Post, went through Arlington schools and graduated from one of those alternative schools -- Woodlawn.
"During my years, we have been putting more and more structure into the academic side," Ann Broder said, still not accustomed to using the past tense. "And this has been accompanied by administrative reforms in which we've developed a process in which students, parents and citizens can participate (in educational issues)."
But, a failure of some to become active in such matters bothers Broder, a staunch advocate of public education: "What distresses me is this sudden rash of publicity we're getting in the Washington area from parents who are becoming apologists for private education, who talk about parent burnout, who are tired of spending so much time because their schools are going to be closed or who don't like the teacher.
Noting that the schools reflect a pluralistic society, she added, "Public schools are the 'people schools' and are a very important cornerstone of our democratic system. And like every aspect of a democratic system, they won't work if people don't participate."
Unfortunately, Broder said, a growing number of elderly and childless citizens have no direct involvement in the schools today. As a result, they find it hard to understand why school costs keep escalating while enrollment plummets.
"If you get a political figure who comes along and tries to exploit this feeling -- [that] the taxpayers are being ripped off by the schools -- it becomes a very explosive political issue which works against the school system and the community as a whole," Broder said.
The reference was to the current GOP majority on the County Board which has made school spending a political issue. Partly for this reason, Broder said she believes school boards should be elected. As such, she said, they would have visible constituent support that might help when it comes time to ask for school funds.
Another argument for an elected school board, Broder said, is that "the issues involved and the complexities of the problems facing American education can only be understood if you have the kind of public debate engendered in the electoral process."
The complex and diverse issues that contemporary school boards must wrestle with, particularly at budget time, recall one of Broder's favorite anecdotes. At the end of a long board meeting, a man sitting quietly in the back of the room stood to ask: "Are you in the transporation business? Or are you in the food business? I've sat here all night and you haven't mentioned education once."