Few Minorities Found On Governing Boards

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Although the total percentage of female school-board members nationwide has risen over the past decade--from 25.9 percent in 1978 to 39 percent last year--minorities remain underrepresented on local school governing bodies, a new survey has found.

According to the survey, published in the January issue of The American School Boards Journal, blacks constituted 3.6 percent of all school-board members in 1987, while Hispanics accounted for only 1.5 percent. Since 1980, the study says, blacks have never held more than 4 percent of all school-board seats nationwide, and total Hispanic representation has not exceeded 2 percent.

The socioeconomic backgrounds of current board members are virtually identical to those of school-board members 10 years ago, it found.

The widespread use of at-large elections, rather than a system in which members are chosen to represent a specific geographic area, is one reason for minority underrepresentation, the study says. (See Education Week, Dec. 9, 1987.)

"When the entire electorate votes for every member," it argues, "there is less chance minority candidates will win a seat than if voters from specific areas within the district choose their own board members."

Minority board members were more frequently appointed than2p4elected, the survey found, while the vast majority of all board members--92.4 percent--were elected to their posts.

The study is the 10th annual survey of local school-board members conducted by the magazine, which is published by the National School Boards Association, and Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University.

According to the survey, the typical school-board member is male, white, college-educated, and between the ages of 41 and 50, with an annual income of between $40,000 and $49,000. Nearly half of all members, it found, report family incomes above $50,000.

For the six straight year, school-board members said that inadequate financial support for schools was their primary worry. But the proportion of the 1,557 board members surveyed who cited this problem dropped to 40 percent, down from 51.4 percent last year.

More than a third of the respondents said that curriculum development was their primary concern, the next-most-cited problem. Last year, fewer than 20 percent of the respondents said that this was their greatest concern.

State mandates and facilities problems ranked third and fourth, respectively, among the worries cited by board members responding to the survey.--ef

Vol. 07, Issue 17

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