By Brad Hughes
KSBA Director of Member Support/Communications Services
Based on what I’ve heard over many months, it appears that Kentucky school board members fall into three categories when it comes to the newly mandated training in ethics, finances and superintendent evaluations:
Group 1 (the few, the mostly silent): Fine. It never hurts to build new strengths on old skills.
Group 2 (larger, more vocal): We weren’t elected by Terry Holliday, so who is he to tell us what to do?
Group 3 (the majority, both quiet and loud): Really? Another Frankfort mandate? OK, let’s get it over with.
Even if you don’t see yourself in one of the above descriptions, no one can deny that the new board member training has been met with less than universal enthusiasm. At the same time, let’s equally acknowledge that no one can refute the hit taken on the collective image of school boards by the state auditor’s findings from reviews in a small handful of districts. As one board member put it, “We’re all being tarred because of the actions of a few.”
True enough. But to argue the point at this stage is equivalent to the proverbial crying over spilled milk.
But school board members have an opportunity to reap some benefits above and beyond new knowledge they acquire from meeting the state mandate – and all it takes is a little publicity.
Talking about Training
For years, institutions like KSBA and the National School Boards Association have encouraged members to go home after attending conferences and tell the locals how they spent their time (not to mention their constituents’ money). Some boards opt to use the sample news releases that this and other organizations provide, detailing some of the general subject areas covered in the training. It’s not an approach limited to education. Earlier this year, dozens of Kentucky weekly newspapers carried releases about staff of the local governments who had been in continuing education training.
So why not draw some positive attention to yourselves, even if you are simply complying with the state’s new rules?
For example, take a photo or two of board members in a workshop, at a local, regional or KSBA function. Write a brief news release about the content of the training, including some quotes by the board chairman on how these local leaders will use what they learned to better serve the community. Send both to all local media outlets.
If the training leads the board to alter how it develops its budget, reviews the superintendent’s job performance or adopts some standards of ethical practice, set that up as an agenda item for a future meeting. Follow up with a news release if reporters don’t cover the meeting and write about it.
And for the truly brave, invite your reporters to a work session where this training is taking place. KSBA is receiving requests almost weekly to have members of our Training Cadre come to the district – as Interim Executive Director David Baird and Board Team Development Director Kerri Schelling have promised. Let the reporter see the substance of the training and hear your discussions. What is there to lose? It’s not like KSBA representatives are going to make you look bad. To the contrary, an article about local leaders learning how to better manage finances, become more ethical in decision making or conduct more useful evaluations of the district’s top administrator should only shine the positive spotlight on those leaders as they are learning.
The Last Word
Over the past year, I’ve heard the arguments: this shouldn’t have been a mandate from Frankfort; this is all about politics or paybacks; this isn’t a requirement of state board members or legislators.
What I haven’t heard is anyone honestly arguing that leaders exposed to new ideas, reintroduced to old ones, or made to ponder possible choices won’t benefit from a few hours of thoughtful consideration of issues they did not choose.
And I’m pretty sure there’s no downside to shedding a little more light on how school board members are learning how to be effective leaders – regardless of who picks the topic of the training.
And that’s a message worth getting out.