Field Notes: My Piece of Kafka

I was sorry not to make Education Next’s top 40 education books of the decade.  (The polls are still open; vote for three.)  That could be because I haven’t written it yet!  Details, details.

If I were to write an education book, it would be called, Don’t Know Whether to Laugh or Cry: Life on the School Board.* Of all the emotions accompanying these events — and school board meetings are more full of emotion than anything else – the feeling of not knowing whether to laugh or cry is one of the more common and consistent ones – for me.  I can’t speak for my colleagues. (In fact, I think it is illegal for a member of the board to speak for his or her colleagues. See School Law below.)

We had our Special Meeting this week, ostensibly to decide how to spend $584,579, our tiny district’s piece of the EduJobs pie.  This was a big deal here:  ten jobs, five percent of the teaching corps.  (During our budget debate the previous spring, my suggestion that we could save ten jobs if staff took a salary freeze was soundly defeated. I love the joyful collaboration moments that teacher unions foster.)

There were nearly 40 people in the audience, a few of them laid-off teachers come to see if they would be among the call-backs.  The board was given a sheet of paper that listed the ten positions the Superintendent wanted to restore, with salary and benefits. Note: No names (take that! Los Angeles Times.) It ranged from a high school Social Studies Teacher for $47,158 to Psychologist for $65,000.  (Note: This is not DC or NYC or LA: median household income around here is $31k. Teachers are among the highest paid people in the county!)

One of the minor dramas here was that the social studies teacher slated to get his job back – this was one of those little secrets board members get to keep, a job perk that is not often talked about — was sitting next to me.  Angered over losing that job in May, because of budget cuts (and loving colleagues who wouldn’t freeze their salaries), he had run for school board. He finished, like New Jersey, just out of the money. But wait, it so happened that a sitting board member – not the two who had just won seats, although one of those was an incumbent who lost her seat but won a different one  – announced she was quitting. Actually, she had announced that before the election, effective after the election. Are we following this?  (Remember my book, Don’t Know Whether to Laugh or Cry, coming out, I hope, in time for Ed Next’s 20th Anniversary.)  So, as I was saying, we, the board, had to appoint a replacement (well, we didn’t have to, but we decided we would) and the only person to apply for the opening was – you guessed it – the angry, laid-off social studies teacher.  He was sworn in about a month ago. And this, the EduJobs meeting, was only his second appearance at the table — and he had to recuse himself from voting because he was, thanks to union seniority rules,  the person who would be filling the social studies position. And then – I’ll give away the ending – after he was reinstated, he had to resign. I’m not sure if there is Guinness Book entry for shortest term on a school board, but this would probably be on a top-ten list.)

Where was I?

Oh yes, School Law. Section 2:75. “Do board members have a right to inspect personnel records?”  School Law, of course, prepared by the state’s School Board Association, is supposed to the Board’s Bible (at 838 pages of small print, it probably is shorter than the Bible, but considering that it is only a summary of school laws…..)  (It is rarely consulted, but I made it a minor cause célèbre when… to be continued.)

I then proceeded to read from Section 2:75 (the answer, not surprisingly, was “Yes, but….”) and from my request to see the records of the folks we would be re-hiring, emailed to the Superintendent  the previous Friday…

I quit. I mean, I’ll stop now.  I invite readers to finish this story — if you’ve been able to follow it — and guess the final vote on the EduJobs resolution.  (Hint: there are total of 7 board members, one of whom was absent that night.)


*Alternative title:  Shorten Your Life: Join a School Board.

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