Should A School Board Be Involved In Matters Outside Of Education? – Candidates Respond
We recently asked the current HUFSD BOE candidates to respond on the topic of Huntington BOE members taking a stand on town issues. We also asked them to read this article on the subject and comment including their position. Below are their responses in the order they were received.
A school district is a member of the community, and as such has responsibilities just like other community members. Town Hall is the institution charged with the responsibility of safeguarding the overall welfare of the community, including that of the school district. When things work well, the school district and Town Hall communicate regularly, share a vision for the common welfare, and Town Hall advocates on behalf of the entire community, including that of the school district, eliminating the schools boards need to be “involved.” If however, that mutually beneficial working relationship falters, a school board does not abdicate it’s responsibility to look out for the best interests of the district. If there are issues that have the potential to adversely effect the operations or financial well-being of the schools, then the school board has the obligation to take action. As local school districts are responsible for the major portion of local property taxes, this only makes sense. However, this instance of the two municipal entities not working together should present the exception to the rule.
That sums up my statements made at the PTA meeting, but in this forum I add the following…
I believe a means to strengthen the relationship between school districts and Town Hall would be to gain a common understanding and agreement about the development plan for our town. I would suggest that school districts and Town Hall jointly review the Horizons 2020 Comprehensive Plan Update for the town, come to an agreement on the guidance it provides and then work together towards smart development that adheres to this vision.
The primary focus of a board member should be to promote student achievement by facilitating the development and maintenance of sound educational policies, programs and services in a fiscally responsibly manner. That said, I would not hesitate to work with my fellow trustees in taking a stand on matters of the town that may directly or indirectly impact the interests of the school district or its students.
During the six years I’ve been on the board, we have discussed and acted on town issues when situations have arisen and it was appropriate to do so. Trustees don’t always agree on every issue and that’s why we vote and majority rules. To that end, it’s important to understand that school boards can only act as one body; trustees neither gain nor lose power as individuals when they join a board of education.
Finally, over the past year, the new superintendent and the board have worked to establish better lines of communication with our town and county officials. The best way to avoid adversarial relationships is by establishing a better dialogue in advance.
I have stated at every meet the candidates night that if there is an issue that the town is considering that directly affects our schools or impacts our students and our programs, then we need to be engaged with the town. For example, when the Brownsfield report came out and stated there was the potential for 1600 units being added to our district, somewhere the schools district should have been involved or at least consulted on this since it would have a major impact. These types of projects effect school capacity, teaching costs and in fact are dollars that we as a district just do not have the ability to support at present. As well, when properties are removed from our tax rolls due to a change in status or other incentives that ultimately reduce our schools tax levy base we need to know about them and what potential there is for them to be placed back on the tax rolls. This directly affects our budget and therefore the sooner we can be made aware of this the better we can plan for its impact, either positive or negative.
Ultimately if the Town communicated with the district in advance to inform, discuss and determine the effect of a potentially impactful change to our district during the early stages this could only help in determining if and or how that change could be supported by the district.
It is important to know that the School Board operates as a group of seven not as an individual. However as a private citizen, I do not give up my right to be actively involved in matters affecting the town and community in which I live, I currently do and will continue to do so.
We have come a long way in the last few years in terms of discussing the impact that Town issues can have on Huntington School District 3.
Living in Huntington almost my entire life, I am keenly aware that we, as a community overwhelming value quality education and academic excellence, yet escalating costs and their impact on property taxes make it very difficult for many to live here.
As a trustee, the core mission is to ensure that our schools provide quality education to all children residing in our District while at the same time being a steward of the District’s assets and finances. Should issues of significance arise that seriously threaten our ability to deliver quality education to the students we are responsible for educating today, and or adversely impact our school budget and taxpaying residents, I would welcome the opportunity to discuss those issues with our community, fellow Trustees on the Board and the Town.
Dealing with these types of sensitive and complex issues requires strong leadership. I am a proven leader and consensus builder, I can be counted on to discuss our challenges with respectful dialog, listen to all sides with out bias and to solve our problems with diplomacy.
Xavier A. Palacios
According to the NYS School Boards Association, School Board members have four primary responsibilities:
1. To set the District’s Direction – drawing upon the community, the board describes a shared vision, and established goals, standards and strategy to transform vision into reality.
2. Ensure Alignment – of strategy, resources, policies, programs, and processes with district goals
3. Assess & Account for Progress – using comprehensive data, thorough deliberation, and open communication
4. Continuously Improve – the district – accentuating and reinforcing the positive, and correcting the negative
As our primary responsibilities, Board members must put their energy and effort into collaboratively working with colleagues on the Board to improve our district and the educational outcomes of children. In this role, there are times in which Board members must be active outside of the day to day operations. For example, Board members must build relationships with other municipalities in order to work together when issues impact our schools. For example, school district operations are impacted by State mandates and as such, working with the State to best describe the needs of our district and challenges related to mandates is an important role for School Board members. Similarly, if one of our schools is located on a County Road and there are issues related to the safety of an intersection, School Board members, in conjunction with the Superintendent, would have a responsibility to advocate for measures that redress barriers to safety to promote safe access to the school building. These examples demonstrate the clear need for School Board members to work with other municipalities to safeguard the best interests of our children. Acting on behalf of students with other municipalities or within the public and private sector is not a mandate to act in a “political” nature. In fact, in order to work on behalf of the best interests of children, it is critical that Board members work collaboratively, wherever possible, to ensure that our children are being served. Acting in a political nature assumes representing the interests of some rather than the greater whole. As a school board member, it would be my responsibility to represent every child our district serves and every family that resides within the district’s boundaries. There is no room for political posturing or games in this process. School Board members have a serious responsibility to put children first and this will be my greatest priority if given the opportunity to serve.