Who’s in charge here, anyway?
I solicited advice regarding the next topic to address here and one request was to address the issue of governance. Specifically, the reader asked that I help interpret the state statutes that define who runs the school, who sets policy and who handles the day-to-day school business. Statute reading and interpretation is not my favorite activity, but since I know all of three people who read my blog and 33% of them request a topic, I figure I should follow the reader's advice.
Click on the title of the post to go directly to the statutes regarding K-12 education in Wisconsin. Many of the statutes are dictated by the Wisconsin Constitution, and this is specified within the body of the individual statute. Chapter 115 defines the role of the state superintendent of schools, who’s basically in charge of making sure schools educate the youth of Wisconsin within the confines of the set standards and statute. Chapter 118 is the bulk of the statute dealing with the nuts and bolts of the education of Wisconsin youth. It begins with a great paragraph, pasted below, which defines the roles and responsibilities for many entities:
118.01 Educational goals and expectations.
118.01(1) (1) Purpose. Public education is a fundamental responsibility of the state. The constitution vests in the state superintendent the supervision of public instruction and directs the legislature to provide for the establishment of district schools. The effective operation of the public schools is dependent upon a common understanding of what public schools should be and do. Establishing such goals and expectations is a necessary and proper complement to the state's financial contribution to education. Each school board should provide curriculum, course requirements and instruction consistent with the goals and expectations established under subsection 2. Parents and guardians of pupils enrolled in the school district share with the state and school board the responsibility for pupils meeting the goals and expectations under subsection 2.
Subsection 2 referred to in the paragraph above has 31 (!) specific Educational Goals listed. Some have been added since I graduated from High School because many of the adults in my age range that I deal with on a daily basis clearly have not met some of these educational goals, especially instruction designed to aid in students making sound decisions…
That being said, this is an unusually coherent excerpt from the statutes which defines responsibility for youth education as belonging to everyone from the state itself to the state superintendent of schools to the local civic entity to the School Board to the PARENT to the CHILD. There seems to have been an evolution over the years from this basic premise of encouraging self-sufficiency in our youth to spoon feeding them with the pablum of the masses.
All throughout chapter 118, the locally responsible entity cited as responsible for youth education is the School Board. Not the teachers, not the principals, not the superintendent. The School Board. As you read through each subsection of the chapter (if you’re a glutton for punishment), each invariably begins with, "the School Board shall establish" and "It is the responsibility of the School Board." One section even states that the school board MAY employ the services of a superintendent of schools for the purposes of running the school district. It’s not even a requirement. The School Board runs the school by law and the School Board sets policy by law. The administration and staff are responsible for running the day-to-day business of education, under the direction of the School Board.
Now let’s reminisce about a time when the Evansville School Board had abdicated their responsibility to the administrator. The actual timing may have been prior to that referred to below, but I was not aware of it until this time. The year was 2006 and Mike Larson was President of the Board and John Willoughby was Clerk (I can’t recall who the other officers were). I believe Dennis Hatfield and Michael Pierick were relative newcomers to the board, Tina Rossmiller, Dennis Knudson and Art Phillips rounded out the 7 board members. This was the year that I decided I would stop qvetching about the School District and become involved. Most people have their "last straw moments" and mine was when the administration tried to ditch the half-day kindergarten option to increase revenue so they could fund a 4K start-up. Many day-to-day frustrations with the school district preceded this "aha" moment which galvanized me into a warrior advocate for the underdogs in our district. Half-day kindergarten, gifted and talented programming and AP classes at the high school were all under scrutiny by the administration as not having enough return on their investment and all had my support. At the reorganization meeting in April of 2006, two to three months after the onset of the Kindergarten Wars, the winds of change blew through the School Board. Michael Pierick ousted Mike Larson from his long held position of Board President. The board was determined to wrest the control back to where it belonged and re-establish their lawful role as the head of the district in which the administrator reports to them and not vice versa. It was a memorable moment for Evansville that has been followed by many other such incidents of good direction by Michael Pierick. He is a diligent Board President and informed about the statutes himself. He does not rely on partial interpretations by the administrators. He comes to his own conclusions and urges other Board Members to do the same by his fine example. He has consistently recommended that the Board put procedures in place that help them direct the administration, as the legislature intended. It remains one of my favorite memories of the Evansville School Board and I wasn’t even on the Board yet.
So the short answer to "Who’s in charge here, anyway?" is "The ECSD Board of Education is in charge." They review the Superintendent’s performance (imagine having 7 bosses, YECH) and set, modify and validate policy. The administrators are responsible for the day-to-day operations, and the teachers instruct the students, all under the direction and at the behest of the School Board.
I hope that helps!