In Your Opinion: A Case For BOE Diversity And Term Limits

Franklin-school-board-officeBy John Felix, Somerset

A 2011 survey of school board officers conducted by the NJSBA concluded that most (>80%) school boards in NJ adopt a model of “Committee System” in which board members “break up into committees to do their work (such as the finance committee, curriculum committee, etc.) and the committee reports back to the full board.” The Franklin BOE is part of that majority. On the issue of improving the effectiveness of the school board, the same survey concluded that “increased diversity of the individual board members and term limits for board members” is an effective strategy for accomplishing Boards’ effectiveness.

In light of these findings, I suggest that the Franklin Township BOE should leverage the community’s diverse and active citizenry, as well as seriously consider the issue of term limits in order to accomplish a meaningful participatory and representative governing body. According to data from the 2010 United States Census, Franklin Township’s population of 62,300 comprises of 45% White, 27% African American, 20% Asian and 8% “other” ethnic groups. During the 4 years since the survey, and 16 years prior, the Franklin Township BOE has had the continuous service of a single board member who constantly reminds us that 15 of her 20 years of service was in the leadership role of Board president and/or vice president. This sustained longevity seems contrary to the aspirations and expectations of our diverse community with its multiplicity of world cultures.

As suggested earlier, it is my fervent opinion that the Board should seriously consider initiating a debate about the merits of term limits, albeit voluntary. The unremittingly changing landscape of educational reforms demands novel approaches to the teaching profession, and the subsequent management of our schools by its principals and district administrators. As overseers of our district schools, BOE officers must view their important roles as service to the community, and not as a career nor as an opportunity to exert or develop political influence. The incessant presence of long term (multiple 3-year terms) Board members represent a level of stagnation and possible entitlement, and the concomitant undue influence of these Board members. During the past recent school years, we’ve witnessed the unwarranted and manufactured turmoil between school administrators and Board leadership which lead to the dismissal of key central office personnel and school building principals. It can be argued that in our school district, the affirmed traditional role of the BOE in implementing educational reforms has been systemically replaced with bureaucratic intransigence, micromanagement of school system operations and divisiveness among Board members and the public; the latter of which is attributed to pandering of Board members to special interest groups.

The Franklin Township BOE, like other school Boards, plays a vital role in ensuring that our public school students receive a quality education. Inherent in its responsibility is the creation and maintenance of a climate which promotes educational excellence for all students and educators. The Board is also ultimately obligated to provide a style of leadership that engenders a unified educational vision and mission for our schools; however, the current leadership team has abdicated these responsibilities, and as a result the students of our public schools are not adequately been served. Coincidentally, the common thread of this mismanagement is the ever-presence of a veteran Board member, whose protracted tenure in leadership positions appears to be a hindrance rather than a benefit.

I respectfully urge the Board vice president to recognize that her services to our community as an appreciated service, not as a career. The district can and will survive, if not prosper, without her continued presence on the Board.

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