Should School Board Members be Trained? The Debate

Should School Board Members be Trained? The Debate
School board members are given tremendous responsibilities, but what about training? Learn about the debate surrounding whether school board members should be trained for their positions.
School board members are responsible for a variety of responsibilities during their terms of governance. They must set budgets, establish school policies, make long-range plans, and assess data to determine school performance. This governing board further decides how schools will operate and recommends strategies that will increase student achievement. 
Due to these obligations, it stands to reason that elected board members should receive some type of training to assist them in conducting complex school business. However, school board member training is not without its share of controversy.
In this video, Cal Heminway, Board Chairman of Granby School District in Connecticut, talks about what makes a good school board member.
The Importance of School Board Training
In Michigan, voters seem united in their desire to see school board members properly trained for their roles. A recent survey published by the Michigan Association of School Boards demonstrated voter discontent.  As many as 30% of the 600 Michigan voters polled gave their current school board members an average grade of "C" in terms of their recent performance. In addition, the survey found the following:
  • Two-thirds of the respondents believe that school board training should be mandatory.
  • The vast majority support training within one hour of the local school district.
  • About half oppose training on a national level, preferring local training.
  • Almost two-thirds said they would be more likely to vote for a potential member who has had training.
  • Three-fourths said they had more confidence in the decision-making ability of the board if members had received appropriate training for the job.
  • Half believed the top priority for school board members was improving student performance.
  • 80% thought that training was necessary to allow school board members to administer their responsibilities according to the law.
  From the results evidenced in this survey, it is clear that the majority of Michigan voters would prefer that school board members receive training, either prior or directly after their election. For further information about the benefits of specific training and cost effectiveness for
Michigan constituents, view this video from MASB.
Because school board training currently is not a consistent or required process throughout the state, many local school districts are left in a quandary over the best ways to address the issue of training board members and how the training will be funded.
Training Lax in Georgia
Even in states with mandatory school board member training, issues arise. According to a recent report in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Georgia school board members are required to receive annual training. New members must participate in 12 hours of training, while current members receive six hours of refresher training every year to stay abreast of current trends and policies in education.
Unfortunately, state records indicate that as many as 100 board members have not complied with completion of the required training in any given academic year, which poses a significant problem. Additionally, the large majority of school board member training comes through the Georgia School Boards Association (GSBA), with money directly allocated for training. However, many funds specifically earmarked for school board training have gradually been rolled into regular school funding, leaving school board training without the necessary funds to continue.
With many new board members expected during this election season, state lawmakers are taking a closer look at their requirements, as well as the best ways to enforce them. Georgia lawmakers are currently working on legislation that will require any potential school board candidates throughout the state to commit to the training requirements before being listed as a candidate for election. Additional issues affecting lawmakers concern the type of training school board members should receive and how funds will be allocated in each district. By giving direct attention to these issues, Georgia lawmakers hope to make a difference in the election and training of their school boards, which will directly impact the success of their schools and student performance.
By JimmeyTimmey at en.wikipedia [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0], from Wikimedia Commons
Conflict over School Board Training in Texas
Texas also provides training to school board members elected in the Lone Star state, but not all board members are satisfied with the training they receive. According to a report published in the Dallas Morning News, training is mandatory for all school board members, but the content included in the training program is not state-mandated, leaving content too open to interpretation by district leadership. Many school board members are therefore concerned that the training they have received has kept them from voicing their views and concerns over current school policies. They are also worried that the training has encouraged them to side with the district superintendent in all issues, rather than provide the accountability that all school districts desperately need.
Ron Price, a former Dallas ISD trustee, expressed his discontent to the Dallas Morning News, "It's a great program to train boards how to be a rubber stamp. But it's not a good program for board members to represent your constituents. Many school board members across the country call it a brainwashing session."  Because the training appears to encourage school boards to make unanimous decisions and support their superintendent, some school board members have refused to participate due to their frustration.
Final Thoughts  
While school board training appears to be supported by the majority of voters, there is a need to determine the type of training school board members should receive to ensure consistency among school districts.  Specific training in regards to establishing budgets, interpreting assessment data, and identifying appropriate allocation of resources are all essential elements to include in training. School board members have a daunting responsibility to their constituents, and thus, it is essential that they are adequately prepared to meet those obligations through education. Training is essential to building confidence in both school board members and within the general public. Without consistent guidelines in place upon which the majority of stakeholders can agree, it appears the debate over school board training is not over yet.
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