April 14, 2010
School boards tap members’ experience
Doctors, teachers, managers help guide boards through issues
Dr. LouAnne Ten Kate’s election to the city Board of Education last May brought an unexpected bonus in the eyes of school officials: a health care expert in their midst.
A physician at Cayuga Medical Center, she has helped fellow board members and Superintendent of Schools Larry Spring understand issues such as child obesity and last fall’s H1N1 flu pandemic, Spring said.
“Someone like LouAnne can cut through the jargon of insurance and tell us what’s good for employers and employees,” Spring said. “Beyond that, she has had a lot to tell us about child obesity and H1N1 flu. She brings a level of familiarity and access to medical journals, so she can inform us.”
With board of education elections coming May 18, candidates are preparing petitions for the Monday deadline to submit forms in most districts, with the exception of Cortland, which is April 28.
Beyond their interest as parents in how schools are performing, board of education members can bring experience and career-related insight to a school district’s management.
They can guide a superintendent of schools in understanding his or her district’s community and history. They can apply expertise to situations focused on social issues, health and union issues, and education itself.
“I did hope my background would allow me to contribute to the board,” Ten Kate said. “In both education and medicine, there are similar issues related to the delivery of human services.”
For issues surrounding education itself, some local boards have educators among their members.
At McGraw board meetings, Vice President Barb Closson confidently asks principals about teacher workload, building management and state test scores.
Closson is a second-grade teacher at Smith Elementary School in the Cortland school district. Teachers cannot be members of the board where they work but can serve where they live.
Cortland’s board has former teachers Lisa Hoeschele and Mary Lou Bordwell, and former teacher aide Alane VanDonsel.
“Lisa and Mary Lou in particular can speak to the history and culture of the schools,” Spring said. Bordwell graduated from Cortland High School in 1971 and taught physical education there from 1975 until 2008. Hoeschele taught French at the school before moving into a career in fundraising.
“Change is difficult, and a superintendent can gauge how difficult with people like that as a resource,” Spring said.
Homer’s board president, Scott Ochs, is a department chair and president of the faculty association at Tompkins Cortland Community College. Dryden board member Bill Harding, a technology teacher at Newfield, campaigned on his knowledge of schools when he was elected last May.
Lee Peters, retired Onondaga-Cortland-Madison BOCES superintendent, said board members tend to have a constituency who helped elect them or a special interest but must try to represent everyone.
“An accountant, for example, can drive you nuts, questioning every financial decision,” Peters said. “But if they settle down and help the board understand financial issues, that’s better.”
Debra Kressler, Cincinnatus board president, understands the district’s inner workings in a different way because she is its former district clerk and once worked in its business office, said Superintendent of Schools Steve Hubbard.
For negotiations and grievances with teacher’ unions and civil service unions, some board members carry labor experience that can prove useful. Bill Young, Cortland’s vice president, is also vice president of United Auto Workers chapter at Pall Trinity Micro.
“Bill can see other ways to do things, ways to use contracts or labor law as tools for communication,” Spring said. “He’ll say you don’t have to be angry about something in a contract, just use it as a point of communication.”
Hubbard said Cincinnatus board members Peg Peri and Chuck Winters, a Pall Trinity supervisor and a welding company supervisor respectfully, bring their management expertise to union matters.
Board members’ knowledge helps in other ways.
Cortland board member Joe Lyman has called upon his career as a social worker and family therapist to warn school officials about risky behaviors among young people. He did that last spring, telling the board about “pharming,” where middle school or high school students ingest fistfuls of prescription drugs and other pills from a bowl.
Hubbard said Cincinnatus board member Peter Bush aids him in understanding the community, as pastor of Taylor Wesleyan Church.
“He has this calm demeanor and this insight into people,” Hubbard said.
Dave Bordwell, McGraw’s board president, works in management for a paper company and applies a methodical approach to budgets and business matters.
“I don’t think people really understand what it takes to be a good board member,” Hubbard said. “It is a thankless job, a volunteer job in a stressful financial time.”
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