Monday, March 12, 2007

Teachers Serving On School Boards: A Good Idea?

Once upon a time, South Carolina permitted classroom teachers to serve on school boards in some cases.

Then the law was changed in order to avoid an obvious conflict of interest and all teachers were forced to resign.

Now they're thinking of
bringing them back:
Local lawmakers have proposed an amendment to state law that would allow employees of conversion charter schools that were chartered before 2006 to also serve on the school's governing board.

The state has only two conversion charter schools, both in Charleston County: James Island Charter High and Orange Grove Elementary. Both of those schools' boards were set up to include teacher members. That structure has worked well for the schools, said Rep. Wallace Scarborough, R-Charleston, one of the sponsors of the bill.

"Why change something that's working?" he said.

The bill got second reading, or key approval, last week; and it could get a final vote before moving to the Senate as early as Tuesday. But it might be postponed because the House plans to take up the state budget this week.

Lawmakers changed state law last year to prohibit charter school boards from having members who were paid employees of those schools.

Bob Bohnstengel, principal of James Island Charter High, said that two teachers used to serve on his school's board, and they recused themselves from any issue that could be considered a conflict of interest. When the law changed, the teachers became ex-officio members of the board who offered opinions but didn't vote.

"We did that kicking and screaming," he said.

Bohnstengel approached lawmakers about changing the law because the faculty, school community and county school board approved the school's charter that called for faculty members to serve on the school's board.

The charter school is governed by a triangle of parents, teachers and community members, and "it's beautiful," he said. "It's one that works for us."

Like James Island Charter High, Orange Grove had two teachers serving on its board who became ex-officio members without voting rights after the law changed. All of its board members sign agreements that they will remove themselves from discussions or votes on issues that could be considered a conflict of interest.

Sharon Dillon, one of the ex-officio board members and a teacher and coach, said she supported the amendment because teachers provide a perspective that no one else on the board has. Much of what the board discusses affects students and classrooms, which also affects teachers, she said.

She would support teachers serving on the county school board, as long as they remove themselves from issues where there could be a conflict of interest, she said.

Scott Price, attorney for the state School Boards Association, said it's bad policy to pass a state law that would apply only to two schools, and that it raises the bigger question about whether school employees statewide should be allowed to serve on their school district's board. State law forbids public school employees from working for the district while serving on its governing board.

Scarborough said he didn't try to make the amendment statewide because that would be a bigger battle to fight, and his district had an immediate need for the change.
Here in California, teachers may serve on boards of districts other than those which employ them.
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