School board training must not be indoctrination

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

A proposal by State Sen. Burke Harr is well-intentioned, but like most such proposals, it is fraught with unintended consequences.

Harr, who has used the interim session to study how public school boards could be more effective, plans to introduce legislation requiring mandatory professional development training for board members. While he contends the measure is not being introduced in response to Omaha Public Schools controversies "but I think those events highlight the importance of having well-informed school board members with a clear understanding of their responsibilities."

He notes that 19 other states already require some type of professional development training, and compares it to continuing education required for professionals like attorneys and physicians.

The law would require school board members to receive training in their powers and duties, public records laws, education standards, financial and fiduciary duties of school board members, financial planning and training, education law, labor law and ethics training.

They would also be required to learn specific things about their districts, including staffing levels, demographics, dropout rates, graduation rates, truancy levels and assessment scores.

Harr's goals are worthy. Schools take the largest chunk of local property taxes and it's important that money is used in the most effective and efficient manner.

In our experience, most school board members are conscientious and dedicated to doing their jobs well, and welcome the chance learn everything they can about it.

We have to wonder, however, how many potential candidates will be discouraged from running by the additional time commitment the new law would require.

And, while knowledge is a good thing, it's too easy for board members to be intimidated -- by regulations, bureaucracy and traditions -- into conforming with the status quo, rather than working toward needed reforms.

Whether or not Harr's proposal makes it into law, any training required of new school board members should not be confused with indoctrination.

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