A Parent’s Voice on SBDMs

A letter from an SBDM parent representative:
Representative Carney, Senator Wilson, and Education Committee Members,
Well, we find ourselves in the unfortunate position of discussing another attempt to remove parent power from school based decision making. It is my hope that the discussion to revert the control of Kentucky’s schools back to Superintendents and school boards, that is to take place at next Monday’s meeting, instead opens a productive discussion surrounding improving and strengthening parent voices on SBDMs, through improved and strengthened legislation, not silencing them.
But as the War against SBDM rages, waged by the Boone County contingent and the Bluegrass Institute, I just shake my head.  It seems as though some believe that reverting back to centralized control is some panacea that Kentucky, a state who prior to KERA, was almost the WORST in the nation, that has risen considerably, had nothing to do with decentralized control via SBDMs.  Do we learn nothing from history?
Like the saying goes, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Unfortunately, with the exception of our improvement in educational achievement in Kentucky, due in large part to SBDM Councils, little else has changed.  If anything, the levels of poverty suffered by the Commonwealth’s children is rising.  Additionally, our schools are doing more with less, and have done so since 2008 as pre-recession funding remain in 2017.  I would argue that as economic conditions have become even more dire in rural districts since 1990, the control of Superintendents and school boards in hiring, firing, & corporate curriculum influence, would be devastating to our rural districts.
I have read the concerns raised by the Boone County contingent and while I am sensitive to the plight of the SBDM parent whose child suffered from Dyslexia, as I have fought similar advocacy battles for my own children, revoking parent power from SBDMs would actually render parents completely powerless to affect the necessary change as needed in our schools.  Without SBDM Councils, Council Committees and parent representation, parents would be left fighting a centralized monolithic power structure held by Superintendents, pleading with School Board members representing tens of thousands of parents in a district, as opposed to working with parent elected representatives in a building representing hundreds of parents, all with a vested interest in improving the learning environment in THAT building.
Perhaps we have had SBDM Councils so long, we take the gains we have made under School based decision making for granted? Returning to Superintendent controlled decision making actually obliterates anything resembling parent control or advocacy ability.  It is through my representation on SBDM Councils that I have affected change in my children’s schools through serving on various committees and changing policies. I have fought the district many times, with no accountability at the district level to my concerns, and it is a ridiculously difficult battle for parents in a district the size of ours.
Similarly, we must remember that our public school policy, must prove effective in serving the best interest of our public school children, those in the smallest independent school district as well as the largest county wide system.
Removing parent power from SBDMs, and placing them in an advisory role, is the perfect “throwing the baby out with the bathwater” analogy.  In public education policy, we should make a commitment to cleaning the “bath water” and improving the “bathing conditions”.  You don’t throw out School based decision making, you make it BETTER.  We have over 20 years of experience with this, what can we learn from these years, and how can we make improvements?
As a parent who is now serving on my second elementary school SBDM, I can attest to the following:
  • It is difficult, yet sacred & powerful work
  • The work of SBDMs will never be perfect but it is better informed decision making than a centralized monolithic structure would make from afar
  • There is not enough SBDM training provided to parents
  • If we want gap reduction, which clearly we do, why would would we trust centralized decision making over personalized decision making for gap kids that are known personally to decision makers?
  • If we cannot trust our teachers with macro decision making power at the school level, why do we trust them with the micro level decision making of teaching kids everyday?
  • Let’s be real, School Board members often want influence at the school level to hire athletic COACHES, as this is what most of their voting constituents are worried about.  Because coaches are teachers in the building the hiring falls within the SBDM, when school board members don’t get to influence in athletic coaching hires, then this displeases their “Friday Night Lights” constituency. It is unreasonable to ask school board members to be intricately involved in hiring and firing of personnel at the school level throughout a district.
  • Superintendents claim they have little power over hiring principals but this is simply not true. Superintendents send a set of candidate resumes to the Council, often manipulating the pool sent to make sure their preferred hire is chosen anyway.
Here are a few solutions to remedy some identified concerns I have personally experienced in serving on a SBDM Council:
  • Parent terms should be 2 year terms in length, with non-concurrent expiring terms among parents, so there is consistency of experienced parent representation
  • We need the number of parent representatives on each Council, to equal the combined number of administrators and teachers
  • Parents need more ONLINE SBDM training opportunities
  • PTA leadership need more online training for conducting SBDM Parent Elections
  • There should be resources given to the KASC to support public service announcement campaigns regarding what SBDM Councils are and the power that parents have on our SBDM Councils.
  • There should be limitations of placed on SBDM principal hiring protocols to prevent “ascension to power” within school buildings, preventing promotions of teachers that have served many years in a particular building, ascending to principal positions within the same building, thereby becoming bosses over former colleagues and co-workers.  Change cannot happen in entrenched school cultures.
  • The SBDM Council should have access to review the ENTIRE pool of applicants for a vacant principal position, along with a subset of candidates that the Superintendent identifies as “vote of confidence” applicants
It is a strange time and legislative environment to navigate as a public school parent and advocate in Kentucky.  We hear that parent choice and parent involvement is deemed to be so sacred, yet legislatively mandated parent involvement and decision making is at risk to be revoked, by the same political movement pushing for “choice”.  So which is it? Parents can be trusted with decision making, making choices of hiring, curriculum, and school policies for their children and other children in their schools, or they can’t?
I implore you to strengthen parent involvement and power in School Based Decision Making Councils in Kentucky, not revoke it.
Sincerely,
Fayette County Parent
If you would like to submit a letter before Monday, click here.

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