Michael E. Brunner may be the newest member of the Arlington School Board but he is all too familiar with the old problems.
"I have a healthy respect for Arlington schools," said the 38-year-old Brunner, who was appointed to the school board last week. "But I have also seen things I would like to change and I feel I can do more as a member of the board."
Brunner, who has lived in Arlington since 1973, was unanimously appointed to the post by the County Board and will fill the 21-month unexpired term of O. U. Johansen, who recently resigned. Brunner currently is a legislative officer in the U.S. Agriculture Department's Office of Congressional Affairs, a political appointment he has held since this spring. In Arlington, he has served on numerous school board committees and is a former president of the McKinley Elementary School PTA. In discussing his new appointment and his goals, he lists six major areas of concern.
* Academic credentials and test scores.
* Teacher morale, including a better RIF system.
* Student conduct policy and review of the open campus policy.
* Declining enrollment.
* Budget constraints and consideration of possible administrative cutbacks.
* Strengthening the role of school principals.
"I know a lot of parents in the system and I am attuned to what is going on," says Brunner, the father of twin boys who are sixth graders at McKinley. "I may bring a different perspective than some other board members."
Brunner, who had been a member of the School Administration Reorganization Committee and the Commission to Study Secondary Schools, is a Certified Public Accountant who says he "feels comfortable with budgeting."
"We are going to have to make some hard choices," he said, "and I look to be unpopular as a member of the school board. We will be called upon to decide not between good and bad programs but between two good programs. Overall, I tend to favor strengthening and maintaining the best possible classroom delivery of services. I would not want to skimp on dollars there. If we have to cut back, I would want to look at administrative items."
Regarding his political bent, Brunner replies, "I don't like labels." He says, however, he "feels comfortable" with the current Republican majorities on both the County Board and the school board and concedes he probably would side with fiscal conservatives on budget matters, particularly in times when "we just don't have the dollars."
Another lable Brunner dislikes is "back to basics." "It connotes something I don't like -- a certain simplicity.... For me the reading, writing and math are important but you also have to have the other areas."
After interviewing with County Board members when applying for the school seat, Brunner said he believes they all are interested in the schools. "We have to find ways to work together with the County Board," he says, referring specifically to budget matters. "We have to communicate earlier. If we do it ahead of time, we would avoid confrontation."
County Board Chairman Stephen H. Detwiler called Brunner "a highly qualified appointment who will bring to the board a working understanding of the school system." Detwiler termed the unanimous vote on Brunner's appointment "an indication of the strong community support he will have as a school board member."
Brunner, a native of Ohio, received a bachelor's degree and a master's in business administration from Bowling Green State University in Ohio. He later earned a master's degree in public administration from George Washington University. He taught accounting at several universities before serving as an Army officer from 1968-1970, including a year's tour in Thailand.
After leaving the Army, Brunner worked for two years at the Education Commission of the States in Denver, an organization sponsored by 48 state governments designed to help states with mutual education problems. In this area, Brunner has worked for two Republican congressmen and a trade association. His wife Elizabeth works part time as a school psychologist in Arlington.
As president of the McKinley PTA in 1979-80, Brunner got firsthand experience working with the school board in the "big battle over closing elementary schools," and led McKinley's successful campaign to remain open by what he calls "logic, persuasion and laying out the facts."
Brunner's experiences have convinced him that the principal's role in the school needs to be strengthened. "This is the person who runs the school and I think they need the sufficient autonomy and authority to operate the schools," he says. "Principals have more and more paperwork -- they are snowed under with it. They have to get out more and meet the kids and work with the teachers and work with programs."
Brunner also believes a strong staff and strong community support are crucial to successful schools.
"We have to get good people and support them," he says. "If a community doesn't have good schools, it doesn't have a great community. If we don't keep that going, we lose our lifeblood. I want to be part of that process. Good schools attract good people.
"I think we have a good system now and I would like to work to make it better."
He proudly mentions that his son Jeff is learning the trumpet at school and points out that his other son, Alan, is determinedly practicing his flute in the next room.
"See," he says. "They are getting good things in the public schools."