Throughout my recently-completed first year of service on the Board of Education, I have often consulted the Board Member's Code of Ethics to remind myself of the responsibilities (and boundaries) of my job. This is more than simply a list of goals to aspire to, but rather is written into state law.
I think it might be enlightening for you to read what we, as Board members, are expected and legally required to do. Some of the folks who get angry or question why the Board does this or that, might find this especially interesting. I'm not posting this as an excuse for anything...just trying to explain. I've highlighted a few passages for emphasis.
(NJ Statute 18A:12-24.1)
a. I will uphold and enforce all laws, rules and regulations of the State Board of Education, and court orders pertaining to schools. Desired changes shall be brought about only through legal and ethical procedures.
b. I will make decisions in terms of the educational welfare of children and will seek to develop and maintain public schools that meet the individual needs of all children regardless of their ability, race, creed, sex, or social standing.
c. I will confine my board action to policy making, planning, and appraisal, and I will help to frame policies and plans only after the board has consulted those who will be affected by them.
d. I will carry out my responsibility, not to administer the schools, but, together with my fellow board members, to see that they are well run.
e. I will recognize that authority rests with the board of education and will make no personal promises nor take any private action that may compromise the board.
f. I will refuse to surrender my independent judgment to special interest or partisan political groups or to use the schools for personal gain or for the gain of friends.
g. I will hold confidential all matters pertaining to the schools which, if disclosed, would needlessly injure individuals or the schools. In all other matters, I will provide accurate information and, in concert with my fellow board members, interpret to the staff the aspirations of the community for its school.
h. I will vote to appoint the best qualified personnel available after consideration of the recommendation of the chief administrative officer.
i. I will support and protect school personnel in proper performance of their duties.
j. I will refer all complaints to the chief administrative officer and will act on the complaints at public meetings only after failure of an administrative solution.
Some of the key points for me:
-- Board members serve one "customer" -- the students. At the risk of controversy, I'd like to point out it doesn't say anything about taxpayers or parents or anyone else. We always must do what we think is best for the students. In fact, in my state-mandated Board member training, I was told that when we focus on the students, we should expect that sometimes we'll be at odds with taxpayers, the public, and even parents. (This does not mean we should disregard parents & the public...but it could conflict with that "we voted for you so now you must do what we say" mentality.)
-- The sections I refer to most are #c and #d, the directive that school boards do not run the schools, but must confine our activity to "policy-making, planning and appraisal." This is probably the hardest one for me...When I see a need, my tendency is to want to roll up my sleeves and "fix it." Or tell someone how they should fix it. But according to the law, I'm supposed to deal in much broader terms with our policies and trust that those policies will give the administrators the direction they need to actually make the decisions and run the schools day to day. The other thing I have a hard time with is limiting myself to "appraisal." By definition, this is a passive activity, waiting for something to happen and then reacting and giving feedback.
Section #i refers to our responsibility to support our staff, and applies to my posts last week about limiting public comments that are critical of staff members.
Finally, section #j deals with the chain of command and explains why the Board may not accept and act on complaints from parents. Complaints must go to the superintendent, before they come to us.
I wonder if any of the points in our Code of Ethics are surprising to members of the public?
Welcome to Laurie Goodman's blog. I use this space to share news and opinions about education and schools in Ridgewood, the state of New Jersey and the nation, in addition to other issues I'm personally interested in. I invite you to share your thoughts, feelings, questions or opinions, too, by posting comments on any blog entry. Please observe basic courtesy -- keep your comments focused on issues, no personal attacks or bullying, please. Contact me directly at: firstname.lastname@example.org