WHAT SHOULD a school board do? As the
District approaches the Nov. 3 school board election, there seems to be no consensus on what voters should expect from candidates for the five vacant seats. Should the board simply choose a superintendent and then stand back and let that superintendent take over? Should a board play a more active role in day-to-day school operations? This lack of consensus on what a board should do may account in part for the widespread dissatisfaction with recent boards in the District. The candidates have not been quite sure what was expected of them, and the voters were not sure what they wanted--except better schools.
In fact, a school board should set broad policy and pick a good superintendent to put that policy into effect. These are the basics: determining the particular services that the schools are expected to perform for the community and ensuring that a competent person is installed to provide those services. The heart of the policy question concerns what is to be taught in the schools--curriculum. Board policy must also make clear how children are to be taught and set standards as well for the performance of both the children and the teachers and administrators. To that end the selection of the superintendent is the key. The superintendent must be good at holding principals as well as teachers to the board's high standards.
A school board has one other major responsibility: the budget. Schools cannot educate without the right teachers, books and schoolrooms to do the job. The board must set priorities for spending. And it has to make the tough decisions on when to close a school or sell a school building. Dealing with the mayor and the city council on budget and other issues is another essential part of the board's duties. City officials outside the board must be informed of the school system's needs.
One thing a school board should not do is become the conduit for parents' complaints about a teacher or principal who displeases them. When parents go to one school board member and ask him to put his hands on school operations, it is an invitation for all 11 board members to dabble in the workings of the school system. This doesn't mean the board should not keep itself informed, by various channels, of what is happening in the schools. But if the board-- the whole board--determines that the schools are being run poorly, the answer is not to run the schools themselves, but rather to make a change in the superintendent.
The great distraction from deciding what the school board should do, of course, has been the shortage of quality candidates and the voters' inattention to the school board race. Frank Shaffer- Corona's election is the classic case: running as an unknown who made his living playing backgammon in a bar, he prevailed over unimpressive competition in an election in which only a few thousand people voted. But in the coming race there are about 30 candidates, some of whom are of decidedly high caliber. With the community's heightened concern about the quality of the schools and with the endorsements and slates planned in this election, there is a fair chance that the good candidates will win. We plan to give plenty of space to the issues and candidates in this critical election, to help you judge how the essential duties of a responsible school board can at last be carried out in this city.