Letters to the Editor
To the Editor:
I was challenged by U.S. Secretary of Education Lamar S. Alexander's remarks ("Alexander Offers More Details on 'Arts Partnership,' '' March 25, 1992) in which he states that he "can't imagine any school that has only those five subjects'' (English, history, geography, mathematics, and science). He goes on to say that certainly the arts are not left out.
To the contrary, over the past three years any former unified arts program at my school in Massachusetts has been curtailed to the point where the students now have exposure only to literature, English, math, science, and history. While the school and community struggle with cutbacks, Secretary Alexander needs to realize that the federal government is as much responsible for the situation as is the local community.
Lyle Middle School is situated on Otis Air National Guard Base, which is a billeting area to all five branches of the service. P.L. 874 monies funneled to the local district to support schools have decreased over the past three years by over $700,000. The federal support on a per-pupil cost basis is under $2,000.
When my peers inquire how things are going and I tell them that I have 350 students in grades 7 and 8--with a 43 percent transient rate and a 21 percent free- and reduced-lunch count--and a program with no art, no music, no shop, no home economics, no computer, no foreign language, no band, no orchestra, no chorus, no intramurals, no guidance, one custodian, one secretary, physical education once a week, no common team-planning time, no library, no late buses, they think I work in a Third World country.
Secretary Alexander probably does not know that President Bush's $50 billion proposed cut in the defense budget includes a 14 percent cut in P.L. 874 monies coming to this district.
As the administrator charged with making this school a place where pre-adolescents want to come and be involved, I draw on parent volunteers and core-subject teachers to carry the day. Stress is beginning to take its toll on the human resources, the physical plant, and the community.
The U.S. Secretary of Education needs to know that until we as a society reform our national priorities, educational reform has a hollow ring. My core teachers know that they are all there is, plain and simple. No money, no arts program.
Willim H. Wibel
Colonel James P. Lyle Middle School
Otis Air National Guard Base
To the Editor:
The several buffoon caricatures of local school-board members by Jack Kaufhold in his Commentary titled "An Ex-Superintendent on Why He Quit'' (March 18, 1992) deserve further consideration. Not so much, though, about the pathetic persona of each of the five absurd examples Mr. Kaufhold depicted, but rather we should look at the lessons about public-school governance he contrived to present through them.
He first would mandate four-year employment contracts for superintendents and deprive school boards of the authority to "buy out'' such contracts before the end of the term. This restriction on a board's discretion would effectively grant a superintendent instant tenure for the full term of the employment contract, regardless of how the superintendent, the board, the community, or the education needs of the community change during the entire term of the contract. It is an executive job-protection device unheard of in the private sector (which so many people now claim school districts should emulate more) and it would insulate the superintendent from responding to societal and educational change in a manner harmonious to the needs of the community.
Mr. Kaufhold's next suggestion--careful screening of school-board candidates--implies there would be a power higher than the people in filtering those who are permitted to stand for election. Certainly, there is nothing offensive to representative governance when private groups interview candidates for the school board and publicly back those they deem most fit.
But the dark implication in Mr. Kaufhold's suggestion is that this task be done by some authoritative selection entity empowered at law to judge and weed out candidates it finds in advance not fit for election. This is patently offensive to the very idea of representative governance.
Similarly, Mr. Kaufhold's next suggestion is aimed at undoing the decision of the people at the ballot box by an elitist group accountable to nobody. Generally, there are two ways to remove elected officials--recall elections (if the case against the board members is political) and judicial action (if the charges involve legal capacity to serve or criminal activities.)
Mr. Kaufhold presumably would add a third appellate approach where a board member could be ousted from office if he or she committed an "atrocity'' for (using his specific example) "instructing the teachers, (at an opening-day orientation meeting) to sing 'Row, Row, Row Your Boat' ... ''
Finally, Mr. Kaufhold would "legalize parameters of authority'' of boards under the rubric that "school boards make policy and superintendents administer policy.'' This is the same idea advanced by the report of the 20th Century Fund Task Force on School Governance published on April 5. Neither Mr. Kaufhold nor the 20th Century Fund, however, propose how this rubric can be converted into practical reality in every case by the application of some magical formula enshrined in a statute.
For decades, the National School Boards Association and the American Association of School Administrators have endeavored to find precise definitions of "policy'' and "administration,'' but have not fully succeeded. Instead, both associations have come up with broad, workable definitions conditioned by varying statutory requirements imposed on boards and other changing conditions and circumstances that define their work.
Disputes about what constitutes "policy'' and "administration'' will not dry up and blow away, regardless of how we try to define the terms in a statute. Statutory definitions simply won't work. All they will do is bedevil board members and superintendents and delight only the lawyers.
National School Boards Association
Vol. 11, Issue 31