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New Job Description?

With an eye toward improving working relations among district leaders, a bill before the Texas House of Representatives would write new job descriptions for local school boards and superintendents.

House Bill 3457 calls on school boards to focus on the big-picture responsibilities of running a district: hiring superintendents, adopting academic and financial goals, and monitoring progress toward them. A schools chief, it says, should then be left to organize district resources and to carry out the day-to-day management of the system to reach those goals.

Supporters say the bill aims to avoid the kind of infighting among district officials that can result when boards are seen as micromanaging, or when superintendents are left to set policy directions for their systems without board input.

"School boards have an important role," said John H. Stevens, the executive director of the Texas Business & Education Coalition, an influential group in Texas education policymaking. "And nowhere in statute do we now put forth the critical functions that we expect of them."

The Austin-based TBEC drafted the plan with the help of the Texas Association of School Boards. Cathy Douglass, the director of governmental relations for the school boards' group, said the measure seeks to clarify, not change, the roles of local school officials. "It puts good practice into statute," she said.

But while some see the proposal as a novel idea, few think it will become law this year. For one, the Texas legislature has its hands full trying to close an estimated $10 billion shortfall by the end of the next biennium. (The state's current two-year budget is about $114 billion.) Plus, some key House members question the wisdom of detailing the duties of local education officials.

"You can't tell a school board member not to nose into the operations of a school district any more than you can tell a state representative not to nose into the operations of a state agency," said Scott Hochberg, a Democrat and member of the House education committee.

Although conceding that the bill he helped write has little chance of surviving the current legislative session, Mr. Stevens says it remains a priority.

"We have really restructured public education in Texas to have a standards-based, results-driven system," he said. "What we haven't done is address what the roles of school boards might be in that system."

—Jeff Archer

Vol. 22, Issue 31, Page 18

Published in Print: April 16, 2003, as State Journal

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