Memo to school board: Do not repeat dysfunctional history.
The last thing the School District of Beloit needs right now is a feuding board of education.
So citizens should look with some trepidation at signs of a developing split that surfaced during a board meeting last week. The trigger was a discussion over that old standard, micromanaging, with a suggestion the board ought not be too ham-handed in questioning the prerogatives of the administration.
Board member Stephanie Jacobs, during a discussion about the administration’s flexibility to close and open schools during a pandemic, said the board hires a superintendent and writes policy, then the administration carries it out. She worried about the board getting out of its lane and interfering with the new interim superintendent, Dan Keyser. Board member John Wong agreed with her.
Board member Amiee Leavy pushed back, saying the board should not defer to the superintendent when policy is vague. Jacobs and Leavy got into an exchange about some of Leavy’s words then, in the online meeting format, Jacobs suddenly went off the grid. Leavy said, “Well, that was convenient.”
To which board member Maria Delgado accused Leavy of being disrespectful to Jacobs, and said she sometimes felt disrespected as well.
And so it went.
This is a relatively new board without a lot of long-term experience. The district also has a new leader in Keyser, who has been at the helm just a few weeks. The district has a history of dysfunctional boards and failed administrators. The community can’t afford to have history repeat itself.
Not in a district that brings up the academic rear each year when state report cards are released. Not in a district with a net loss of hundreds of students each year to public school open enrollment. Not in a district where state vouchers to private schools are maximized by parents annually. Not in a district in which a new public charter school, the Lincoln Academy, likely will be providing more competition soon. Not in a district almost certain to face deep financial challenges in state aid levels due to the pandemic.
On the micromanagement front, we would make this observation. A majority of the members of this board—Jacobs, Leavy, Megan Miller and Kyle Larsen—are either active or former professional educators. That could lend itself to a “we know better” climate for the board to slip out of its lane and sour the relationship with administration. The board as a whole should guard against it.
That’s not to say we favor a board that rubber stamps whatever an administration wants to do. Asking questions is usually a good thing.
But it always should be done with respect, collegiality and professionalism. Especially in a district with the history of dysfunction that has marked leadership for too long in Beloit.