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updated: 6/28/2016 10:15 AM

Editorial: Does Palatine District 15 board lead or follow?

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  • Palatine Township Elementary District 15 headquarters.

    Palatine Township Elementary District 15 headquarters.

 
The Daily Herald Editorial Board

If you stop and contemplate the way a suburban municipality works, you usually start by thinking about the mayor or village president.

You don't think first of Village Manager Brian Townsend in Schaumburg, for instance. You think of Al Larson.

But when you stop and consider the way a suburban school district operates, you don't generally think first of an elected official.

You don't think of the school board president. You probably don't even know who the school board president is.

You think first of the superintendent or if not the superintendent, you think of the principal of whatever school matters most to you.

You may not know their names either, but if you've got a problem or a suggestion, you'll at least start with one of those positions.

And that's OK. You're a member of the public and you don't necessarily need to distinguish.

The problem is, that's the way many school boards think, too. And that mentality is significant because the distinction between the way municipalities work and the way schools work is more than nuance.

In a municipality, the paid administrator plays an important role and helps set the agenda, but the mayor calls the shots. And for the most part, takes the heat.

In many school districts, the school boards are too comfortable with the superintendent setting the agenda, calling the shots and taking the heat.

Earlier this month, Scott Thompson, superintendent in Palatine Township Elementary District 15, announced the formation of a public relations committee designed to help the district and the school board do a better job of communicating.

This is the school board that approved a historic 10-year teacher contract based on a summary of negotiations conducted without any board member's involvement.

Board member Jessica Morrison, who will be one of the committee members, said school officials want to do a better job of explaining their decisions and added that school board meetings are "not the time or place" to explain them.

We are all for improved public relations and endorse the creation of the committee, but we don't think that's the school board's most pressing problem. The school board's bigger priority should be figuring out its proper role.

Why, for instance, would a school board member think a school board meeting is no place for her to explain her votes?

The District 15 board is a microcosm of many other school boards. Like most school boards everywhere, District 15 board members are well-meaning people who care about their communities.

But their role is to lead, not follow. Their job, we agree, is not to micromanage, but neither is it to abdicate.

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