Recently, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings spoke at the California Charter Schools Association conference to advocate for the end of locally elected school boards. Mr. Hastings said that the “fundamental problem” with school districts is that they “don’t get to control their boards.” He suggested that democratically elected school boards are the problem with public education and they should be replaced by privately held corporations.
The California School Boards Association (CSBA) would like to take the opportunity to provide Mr. Hastings with another perspective and set the record straight about the role and impact of local school boards.
Public oversight of local government is the foundation of American democracy. Nowhere is this more evident than in our public schools, where voters entrust boards of education with the education of our youth.
If Mr. Hastings thinks local school boards should be replaced, does he also believe that we should get rid of all other locally elected bodies, including city councils and county boards of supervisors? Does he not think that voters are capable of deciding who is best to represent and serve their best interests? We would beg to differ.
For more than 150 years, local school boards have been an integral feature of the California’s public education system and are widely regarded as the principal democratic body to represent citizens in local education decisions.
Local school boards have been described as the historic linchpin of American educational governance and their role is seen as crucial to sustaining participatory and representative government. In today’s pluralistic society, it’s important that individuals representing diverse viewpoints and experiences are elected to serve on school governing boards.
As Matt Haney, a board member of the San Francisco Unified School District, wrote in his recent op-ed in the San Jose Mercury News, “school boards exist because public schools belong to and are directly accountable to the communities they serve.”
To suggest that appointed boards, such as corporate boards and non-public boards that operate charter schools, are the answer would be a gross disservice to the communities local school board members are elected to represent and serve. It also goes against the democratic principles that our country was founded on.
To put this into a perspective that Mr. Hastings might appreciate, voters in a school district are a lot like shareholders in a corporation. Would Mr. Hastings suggest that publicly owned corporations have no responsibility to listen to shareholders? That is ludicrous, but that is what he is suggesting with public schools. And the secrecy in which privately appointed charter school directors are appointed really isn’t a good model. Some $61 billion in public money is spent on public schools in California annually; to suggest that voters shouldn’t have a say in who runs their local schools doesn’t sound like America at all.
California Governor Jerry Brown has recently introduced the principle of “subsidiarity,” acknowledging that decisions are best made by locally elected leaders closest to the classroom.
No one can protect and represent the diverse interests of the children in their communities better than local leaders — and nothing keeps the “public” in public schools better than publicly elected local leadership.
People hold their public servants accountable. Turnover on a school board — or any elected body for that matter — is how we let our representatives know whether we are satisfied with their service. As a former member of the California State Board of Education, Mr. Hastings should know that local school board member tenure is pretty high, as CSBA members average more than 8.5 years of service.
It’s unfortunate that instead of choosing to focus the conversation and awareness on the dire underfunding of public schools, which is truly the biggest challenge our state faces, Mr. Hastings is choosing to pit charter schools against local school boards.
We hope he understands that elected school boards are committed to advocating for and providing a high-quality education for all of our students and that we should be working together, not against one another, to achieve success. Our students deserve it.
Josephine Lucey, CSBA President and Cupertino Union School District Board Member