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My view: Local school boards work hard for education

By JoDee Sundberg

For the Deseret News

Published: Friday, Sept. 20 2013 10:44 a.m. MDT

In a Saturday, Sept. 14 Deseret News article titled, "Utah school boards get an F grade," John Florez made accusations about local school board members and school grading. As a local board member, I would like to respond.

Jessie L. Bonner, AP

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In a Saturday, Sept. 14 Deseret News article titled, "Utah school boards get an F grade," John Florez made accusations about local school board members and school grading. As a local board member, I would like to respond.

"Noticeably absent were the voices of local school board members ..."

On Sept. 3, the day grades were announced, The Utah Public Education Coalition held a press conference in the Utah School Board Association building. The association president, a local board member, representing hundreds of local board members, hosted this meeting. Also in attendance were other local school board members.

Local board members had "not done their homework."

At this press conference, local board members made their message loud and clear: SB271S3 was unacceptable as an accountability system as it was not valid or reliable. Local board members have been active from the inception of the grading of schools in declaring that a single grade given to a school is not a valid representation of student achievement in the school.

Local boards do not want transparency and accountability.

Local boards support transparency and accountability, but the tool needs to be reliable, valid and in the best interest of children. There is no research to support these factors for school grades or for SB271S3. Local school boards are responsible of creating conditions within their school districts that will enable students to meet more rigorous knowledge and performance standards. Schools do this through their school improvement plans — which, in my opinion, is the best accountability system because it is local, involving the parents, teachers and administrators of the school.

Local board members become puppets.

By state statute, local boards are given the responsibility to oversee, manage and determine the quality of education our children receive, set policy, levy taxes and spend tax dollars. One of our most important responsibilities is to hire a qualified superintendent and business administrator. These two administrators work at the will of the board, are advisory to the board and carry out the vision and policies of the board in the daily operations of the district. This should be a collaborative effort and a compatible working relationship.

Board members are afraid to speak their mind.

State statute 53A-3-401 states, boards of education are bodies corporate. "Body corporate" is: "a body formed and authorized by law to act as a single person …"

An individual board member has no authority to work as an independent, elected official. Local board authority is in the vote of the board — the "body corporate." It is essential that each board member bring his/her expertise, passion and ideology to the board, as well as speak up during board discussions and vote when a vote is called.

Once a vote is taken and the majority opinion made known, that is the will of the board and the direction to the superintendent. As a body corporate, it is then in the best interest of the organization for board members to support the will of the board. This is how highly effective boards function.

Most locally elected school board members of this state are passionate about what we do and have the best interest of children at the core of our decision-making. We recognize that the people we serve expect us to ensure the health and welfare of their educational institution, reflecting the voice and values of their community. This means children will be well served.

Ninety-five percent of the children in Utah attend public schools. Their education takes a team effort with all stakeholders working together for the good of public education. Local board members work hard toward this end.

JoDee Sundberg is a local board member of the Alpine School District, parent and grandparent of public school children. She is a member of the Governor's Education Commission, USBA Board of Directors and NSBA Board of Directors.

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