Scranton Times-Tribune Editorial: Bill Points to Rethinking School Boards

Contempt for school boards is an American tradition.

“In the first place God made idiots. This was for practice. Then He made School Boards,” Mark Twain wrote in 1897.

Being a school director today is the definition of a thankless task. It’s an unpaid position. The job is infinitely more complex than in Twain’s era, and modern ideologues politicize every aspect of school governance to further their own agendas. Even though no Pennsylvania school teaches “critical race theory,” for example, some school directors have received death threats from people who take CRT instruction as an established fact.

To compensate directors for their travails and to marginally improve school governance, Democratic state Rep. Joe Webster of Montgomery County has proposed three bills.

One bill would increase mandatory training for new board members from just five to 14 hours, which illustrates just how little boards are required to know about school administration while overseeing it. Another would waive tuition at state universities for directors who take any course relevant to their elected roles. The third would allow compensation for directors.

Pennsylvania is one of just three states that preclude such compensation by law. Several states provide monthly stipends, and a few allow significant salaries.

Webster’s bills are fine as far as they go. But they point to the need for a far more extensive rethinking of school governance.

School governance requires expertise in education, a vast and complex field unto itself, but also in financial management, labor relations, regulatory compliance, and in these times, tragically, security.

Even without considering political and personal differences, it is naïve to believe that nine people chosen from the community can produce a body with the ability to oversee diverse, complex enterprises that educate thousands of children and spend hundreds of millions of dollars.

The state needs to examine what makes nine the magic number for school boards. And it needs minimum standards for directors and mandatory, continuous training. Fair compensation naturally would be an aspect of meeting those standards.

Most Americans agree that education is the most important government prerogative, making it all the more curious that we don’t operate it that way.

Published in the Scranton Times-Tribune, October 9, 2022