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School boards losing trustee tradition, gaining more women

School committee member Sue Temper knew what she was getting into when she ran for the job here a year ago. Before that, she had spent three years observing school decisionmaking in this suburb of Boston, sitting through perennial deliberations over curriculum, staffing, and finances. During the recent budget planning season, she recalls, meetings were often scheduled weekly, and they could stretch to four hours or more. ``It's a big commitment of time, but it was no surprise,'' she says.

Mrs. Temper, a mother of two who holds a full-time job with a local agency for the elderly, is representative of the larger numbers of women now serving on school committees and school boards around the country.

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Margaret Jacques, assistant executive director of the Massachusetts Association of School Committees, says about 40 percent of committee members in her state are now women. The growth in the proportion of women on school committees in Massachusetts began in the late '60s, continued through the '70s, tailing off in the last few years, she says.

Across the continent, in California, there has been a definite jump in the proportion of women on school boards, according to Tim McClure of the state school board association. Beverly LoPorto, a doctoral candidate studying the issue at UCLA, says that about 47 percent of the school board members in the state are women, whereas 15 years ago, the figure was 15 percent.

This is ``quite important,'' says Michael Kirst, professor of education at Stanford University especially to the degree that female officeholders don't have other full-time positions outside the home. National School Boards Association data indicate that 17.3 percent of current board members fit this description. Such members are ``motivated, and they have the time to really dig into the job,'' Dr. Kirst says.

But it also means that many superintendents are not going to be dealing with the strictly consultative, ``board-of-directors'' type of body they've been used to. The ``old model'' -- a panel of businessmen, physicians, and other leading citizens who met once a month -- may no longer apply, Professor Kirst comments.

The more active, more heavily female boards have their strong points, Kirst says, but there's also a question of allowing administrators and teachers the freedom they need to pursue their tasks. Mrs. Jacques, who has served on school committees for 21 years, has occasionally seen members overstep themselves. ``They are there to see that the schools are well run, not to run them,'' she says.

When it comes to generalizations about the changing makeup of boards in the country's 15,500 highly diverse school districts, ``whatever you say is true, whatever you say is false,'' cautions Michael Usdan, president of the Institute for Educational Leadership.

John C. Cone, executive director of the South Carolina School Board Association, sees a number of ``conservative individualists'' coming on boards who are determined to fix ``the system'' and have little appreciation of what it means to work together as colleagues. Overall, however, he is encouraged by ``a very distinct change'' in the kinds of people serving on boards in his state.

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In particular, Mr. Cone says boards in his state ``seem to be getting back the kinds of people who served some years ago -- those with a substantial stake in the community, the better-educated.''

Thomas A. Shannon, executive director of the National School Boards Association, sees the same trend nationally. ``We're not only getting members as good as we used to, we're getting better ones,'' he asserts. His organization's surveys, taken yearly since 1980, indicate that two-thirds of board members have four or more years of college, half hold professional or managerial positions, and 56 percent have yearly incomes of more than $40,000.

Mr. Usdan, by contrast, says it's his impression that ``we're not getting people with the kind of socioeconomic status, or political leverage, you once had on school boards.'' Prominent local businessmen, for instance. He also suspects that special interests are more strongly represented today, with a corresponding drop in the numbers of members who really understand the traditional ``trusteeship notion'' of school boards.

With more women members, collective bargaining for teachers, and ``sunshine laws'' that require all meetings to be open to the public, ``the times are entirely different,'' says Mr. Shannon. ``The `good' members of school boards 40 years ago couldn't hack it today,'' he says; ``no more cutting deals outside the board room.''

Second of two articles: The first appeared June 7. Graph:School Boards. Source: National School Boards Association '72 '78 '80 '81 '82 '83 '84 % Family income over $40,000 %Female NOT ADJUSTED FOR INFLATION % 60 50 40 30 20 10 0 not available not available 11.9% 25.9% 28% 25% 32.8% 27.8% 38.3% 22.4% 32% 33% 43% 53% 56% 30{et

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