You may have missed the parade and the marching bands. Probably because there werent any. There just isnt a lot of fanfare for School Board Appreciation Week, which was celebrated last week in Georgia.
For that matter, there isnt much thanks in being a school board member, either. Someone once said the worst trouble you can get in is messing with peoples kids or their money, and school board members by nature have to do both.
Why would anyone want to do it? It isnt just short on accolades; the job doesnt pay a lot of money, either - just a couple hundred bucks a month, which doesnt even come close to compensating members for their time. And imagine the headaches of dealing with the parents of 18,000 kids, many of whom believe their child is the only one in the world who matters and is never, ever wrong.
All of this aggravation and low compensation carries with it the reward of overseeing policy in a segment of the public school system, which itself is a perpetual whipping-boy of the cultural elite.
Some liberals think the public school system is an institution built to perpetuate inequities among the less fortunate; some conservatives believe public schools are robot factories for socialist one-worlders. And for either extreme, school board members can be the vanguard of oppression or tools of cultural engineering.
But you know what I think of when I think about school board members?
I think about Mickey Blackburn, abruptly rearranging a busy schedule last week just so she could serve as a judge at an elementary school spelling bee.
I think of Wayne Bridges, an active member of the countys Chamber of Commerce, making sure our school system maintains a close relationship with the business community.
I think of Lee Muns, who also volunteers as leader of Augustas character initiative, a man who is passionate about improving an education system that should be the best in the world.
I think of Regina Buccafusco, my favorite geek (she and her husband Jerry were there, like me, standing in line at Evans 12 at midnight for a Star Wars premiere), who thought up the idea of setting up small grants for schools and teachers to come up with innovative ideas.
I think of Roxanne Whitaker, a fellow member of the Harlem High School Class of 79, who is a fierce advocate of keeping the highways safe so kids can get to school, and who worked tirelessly as a school volunteer long before she ever entered elective office.
Oh, sure, all five of them, collectively, can be boneheads - as when they wasted time in a protracted discussion last week about whether to allow parent notes to suffice for flu-related student absences because of doctors complaints about not having time to write official notes. Since when is it the trustees job to ease the workload of highly paid doctors?
And individually the trustees have their faults (as we all do, of course); Blackburn, the most experienced member, isnt assertive enough, and neither is Chairman Bridges, who hasnt learned how to rein in the boards far-too-long meetings. Muns doesnt know how to pick his battles, a skill he could learn from Buccafusco who had the same problem when she was new. And Whitaker, the boards most level-headed member, sometimes takes too long to speak up.
In spite of all the glitches and disagreements, the trustees do a pretty good job - mostly, staying out of the way and letting a great system run like its supposed to. One week of the year is set aside specifically to thank them, but they really do deserve our appreciation year-round.
(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail comments to firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 863-6165, extension 106.)
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