Blatant misuse of funds by Palm Beach County School District?

“Appalling.” “Unnecessary.” “A waste of taxpayers’ money.” These are but a few expressions that coulddescribe the recent expenditure of $25,000 by the Palm Beach County School District to create a new, revised mission statement. If this were not so unprofessionally absurd, and a blatant misuse of scarce funds, it would be funny. Think sitcom.

According to The Palm Beach Post, the school district hired the Collins Center for Public Policy think tank to guide the School Board through a day-long workshop. In preparation for the big event, the Collins Center consultant conducted “phone interviews with School Board members, district officials and members of the Palm Beach County Business Development Board on what they see as the strengths and weaknesses of the district.” Were the district officials interviewed only from the school district’s central office complex? Why were parents, teachers, line administrators and students left out of this expensive loop?

Excuse me, but wouldn’t the average taxpayer think the district’s headquarters on Forest Hill Boulevard — affectionately known as the “Taj Majal” — could supply the brain power needed to craft a simple, one-sentence mission statement? How about utilizing the talent and expertise of teachers, principals and involved parents? They know more about the school district’s strengths and weaknesses than any other group. Their thoughts could have been collected via a well-designed and sophisticated survey form. The results, analyzed by computer, would provide the needed information.

Several board members, according to The Post article, stressed the importance of “getting a new vision statement … in place before interviewing for a new superintendent.” School Board member Jenny Prior Brown said, “This will help us figure out where we want to go as a district and what we want in the next superintendent.”

Indulge me as I suggest to Ms. Brown where to go. First, go to the district’s Human Resources Department and verify that the district is hiring the best of the best teachers and principals and ridding the system of the mediocre and the incompetent. Second, as quickly as possible, make sure the district is developing a rigorous and sophisticated teacher and principal evaluation component that does not rely on standardized tests. This will help you with suggestion number one. Third, develop a “Parent Report Card” that requires parents to participate and become involved in their children’s education. Incorporate these into your next strategic plan.

As far as the next superintendent is concerned, are you waiting for “Superman” or “Superwoman”? Given the issues and challenges of leading such a bureaucratic behemoth as Palm Beach County’s school district, I suggest prayers. Or try decentralizing. The district cannot be fixed entirely, but improvement will surface when you accomplish suggestions one, two and three.

While consensus is not easy due to the unique qualifications, constituencies and experiences of each School Board member, mission statements, vision statements and strategic plans with goals, objectives and benchmarks that gauge improvement must be created in-house. The vision statement is not as important as strategic and long-term planning, its execution and a concomitant evaluation component.
Consider this mission statement:

The Palm Beach County School District will spend tax dollars wisely while creating safe and healthy learning environments for all students.

Note: That represents $1,136.36 per word. However, I offer it at no charge.

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