School Boards; Motive: love of kids, local pride
Lynbrook, New York
Who would want to be a school board member with duties that entail long hours; may involve lots of pressure; and, in the overwhelming majority of cases, offer no pay?
More than 95,000 people, that's who.
And with the exception of about five percent who are appointed, each is elected by a local community in one of the nation's nearly 16,000 school districts.
''Ultimately you are elected to make decisions - to listen, be open - but you must be objective and remove yourself from personal considerations and decide what is best for the district.''
That, Alice Bresnihan says, is what she, Robert Delmond, and George Berch try to do as school board members.
All three have lived here for at least 20 years. Each is very proud of the community and the public schools their own children attend. Each feels that involvement on the school board allows them to serve a community they love. Each devotes many hours every week to school duties - without pay.
''A school board member needs an open ear, stamina, and some amount of creativity,'' says Mr. Delmond, the board president and a businessman. ''You need to level with the pressure groups that might bear down on you, always doing what you think best for the overall district.''
''You certainly have to realize the whole community benefits by or suffers from good or bad education,'' says Mr. Berch, a New York city school administrator for the past 25 years. ''In our district we look for and expect excellence, in administrators, in teachers, in curriculum.''
''We realize the school is often the focus and center of the community,'' says Mrs. Bresnihan. Past president of the Parent-Teacher Association, she made the decision to run for the school board, she says, because she felt, ''I had reached a point where I had something to offer on a higher level.'' What do the Lynbrook officials feel are some of the more difficult problems faced by any school board?
''Having to close a school due to enrollment decline,'' says Mr. Delmond. ''It was the most challenging social issue we've faced. Our village has a strong neighborhood-school concept, and it was where we really had to keep the good of the overall district clearly in mind.''
''Dealing with another board member elected as a single-issue candidate,'' says Mrs. Bresnihan. But she quickly adds: ''We don't have that problem here. Our public schools are not for dissension, but for unity. ''A single-issue candidate doesn't start out with that point of view.''
''Government mandates from the state or feds without the money to carry out the mandate,'' says Mr. Berch. ''Mandates with money are fine, because without mandates school districts can tend to stagnate and not make the progress they should. But without the money, we have to find the funds out of our own budget. Less paperwork with the mandate would be nice, too.''
Each agreed the most important decision a school board makes is hiring a superintendent. No single decision has a greater effect on the quality of education in the district than who runs the schools on a daily basis.
And all three cautioned that, once a superintendent is hired, the school board must set policy - but leave the details of implementing the policies to the superintendent. Nothing can be more disastrous to the effective running of a school system, they say, than to have parents, teachers, or students making end runs to the board rather than dealing with the appropriate school officials.
Lynbrook is an established middle-class suburb in Nassau county near Kennedy Airport, three miles from the New York City line. It has a population of 28,000 and a student enrollment of 3,100. Eighty-five percent of its high school graduates pursue some form of higher education.