School district rating drops, board approaches dysfunction

I can’t help but wonder if Palm Beach County School Board members rationalize their past actions as somehow worth the disasters they’ve spawned. Do they understand that in education, especially, we make our own fate?

The scores are in, and the school district has received a B rating from the state. This follows seven straight years of A ratings for this district. We have lost the coveted A on the district’s report card.

The evidence is that a direct relationship exists between the actions of this School Board over the last two years and the drop in district ratings. There has been a failure of this board to understand its role, combined with a lack of administrative leadership because of board interference, a deadly combination that has affected scores in our district.

The disappointments started a couple of years ago when followers of School Board politics began to realize that the new board was rushing headlong toward micro-management, a practice that removes board members from their true role of setting policy while allowing the superintendent to manage the district’s affairs. Ignoring grave warnings from the business community, the board then fired the best superintendent the school district has seen in at least the last 25 years. This was followed by a deeply flawed search for a new superintendent, marked by board decisions that violated the very process all its members agreed to at the outset.

This series of events, and other dysfunctional behavior, has led to the decision by the state to lower this system to a B from an A. The School Board has manufactured excuses for its collective failures. No surprise there. But its lack of concern over the failures of its own actions coincides with its lack of concern for championing vigorous testing of our schoolchildren.

The School Board has too many malfunctioning members, people who are pushing the board as a group into dysfunctional behavior. The personal agendas of several board members make me shudder to imagine the educational philosophies that slink around in the jungled minds of some board members.

But here’s the real problem: Too many board members have no clue how to run anything as massive and complicated as the school district. But boy, they sure think they do. With the exception of Monroe Benaim, no one on the board has any business operating skills, yet they cannot conceive that they may lack the qualifications to handle a $2.5 billion budget that requires high-level business policy-making skills.

The second fatal flaw of this board is its inclination to micromanage. Too many board members go to schools and literally direct principals on what they should do and how they should handle school issues. Board members go to central administrators to make personal requests, such as personnel changes. Some board members have individually asked former interim superintendents to take actions without full board authority. Board members pay too much attention to small groups of meddlesome parents and overactive Palm Beach Post editorial writers who encourage micromanaging.

Board members forget their Florida School Board Association training on the fact that School Board members do not run anything — the administration runs the district. Board members are supposed to determine “what,” while the administration determines “how.” This board constantly involves itself in “how.”

The lesson here is that politically active people and single-agenda activists are the worst kind of people to put on school boards. Too many of them have convinced themselves they’re doing God’s work, and so they slip into zealotry. Too many rationalize any action they take as being a necessary means to an end.

We’ve gone from the dysfunctional school boards of the 1980s, to the Tom Lynch and early Art Johnson golden years, which led to seven straight A ratings. Now we’re back to a board that approaches dysfunction. My fondest educational wish is for this School Board to shake off the disastrous influence of the alliance of activists on the board and in the audience, and take us forward to a new golden era.


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John R. Smith


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