We applaud the Steamboat Springs School Board for reviewing and revising its governing policies. Such an overhaul appears to have been due.
But we are concerned with the board's plans to revise Board Governing Policy 11, which covers board member conflicts of interest. The policy currently reads, "Steamboat Springs School District RE-2 paid employees are prohibited from serving on the Board."
The board is considering revising the policy to remove that restriction. The board will discuss the matter June 20.
We believe the restriction is appropriate and should not be changed.
State law does not prevent school employees from serving on school boards, and several Colorado districts allow the practice. It should be noted that Steamboat Springs allowed school employees to serve on the board until the policy was changed in 1998. In fact, George "Bud" Romberg served on the board while working as a chemistry and physics teacher at the high school.
School Board President Denise Connelly, a former teacher, rightly notes that it's not always easy to recruit candidates to serve on the board, and that changing the policy opens the door to hundreds of potential candidates who have a vested interest in local public education. She said the board's policies already require board members to recuse themselves from voting on matters in which they have an interest. School employees on the board would simply have to follow the same rules.
"I think what we are talking about is just changing the policy back to the original intent" before 1998, Connelly said. "My feeling is that we should look at this to reflect state law."
We have lamented the lack of School Board candidates and contested races in the past, so we can certainly empathize with the board's desire to increase the pool of those willing to serve. Still, we see good reason for the policy to be in place and see no reason to change it now.
Experience in public education is an asset to the School Board. The board includes a former teacher and a former principal.
But in a school district that uses collaborative bargaining to negotiate salaries and benefits, school employees should not serve on the board. The board's job in the bargaining process is to represent the district's taxpayers, which sometimes puts the board in conflict with district employees. That's an awkward place to be for someone serving in both roles.
There are other factors to consider. How would the employee board member handle his or her relationship with the superintendent? On one night, the employee is the superintendent's boss; the rest of the time, the situation is reversed.
Consider performance evaluations. How difficult would it be for a principal to offer a fair assessment of a teacher who also happens to be a School Board member? Imagine if the principal or the superintendent felt the employee should not have his or her contract renewed. Suppose a principal or other administrator was elected to the board and had to judge and be judged by the superintendent.
We don't doubt that district employees could bring valued perspectives to the School Board, but in our opinion, there is no compelling reason to take this step now. The current policy has worked well for the past decade. We urge the School Board not to change it.