School board choice critical

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, June 20, 2007

The job doesn't pay well. It involves stress. Occasional controversy. Hard work. And there is little positive recognition.

But few community roles are as important as a school board position and the need for a competent individual to step forward and assume the Butler County public system post left vacant by the departure of Joanne Peak, due to relocation, is critical.

The responsibility of appointing a successor, as you probably know, rests with other members of the existing board, men and women who have now adopted a specific procedure to identify candidates and choose a replacement. Key to the process is that members understand the significance of the selection, remain true to a rigid set of qualifications and realize the position is one of policymaker, not daily administrator, recognizing on occasion the difference is separated by the finest of lines.

The new board member should demonstrate a genuine concern for youngsters and a desire to create a challenging and safe learning environment.

He or she needs to have an appreciation for the importance of public education, the role it plays in pushing student learning, in setting the tone for who we are, in aiding economic development and in establishing the broad lines of stability for our community. Having children in the system is a probable plus, but not so great as to eliminate candidates who don't.

The new board member should work objectively and independently within the board, but should also understand the value of shared experiences, skills and talents, the need to communicate publicly often and openly, the gains possible through that open discussion and the benefits of building a cohesive unit.

He or she needs to be apolitical with no hidden agendas, color blind, thick-skinned enough to handle occasional criticism and frustrations brought on by legal constraints and mandated programs.

He or she needs to be college educated and sharply principled so as to understand an annual budget that approaches $27 million and funds a system of 3,500 students and 450 educators and staff members. Large doses of simple common sense will also mean much.

Hopefully, the search will produce such a uniquely qualified person. So essential is the finding the right man or woman now that board members must recruit at the highest level, then exercise their best persuasive powers to enlist those talents, ignoring potential &#8220no” first answers with rational pleas for help.

While there are no hands-on classroom responsibilities, the selection of a strong, new board member is an important step toward providing area youngsters a quality of education that exposes them to the world, that opens doors and opportunities, that provides a base for extended learning, that enables them to compete for the best possible jobs and that prepares them for the future, for starting and raising families of their own.

The board job, to be certain, is a tough one. Its demands and expectations are great. The system has a history of concern. Test scores are low. Dropout rates are high. And while new taxes that will aid schools have been recently approved and available state monies are likely on the way, local financial support has been lagging.

Still, the outlook is promising. Though unlikely the system can match a turnaround so great as last year's Greenville High football team which won 10 games after only winning one the season before, you can sense something good is happening.

An enthusiastic, can-do attitude is developing. A commitment to innovative thinking and programming is expanding. A sense of community is growing. A plan is in focus. And continued hard work will ultimately turn tiny steps of progress into a system of service, one of which we all can be proud.

A dedicated board is essential if that is to continue. Choosing the right person to fill an unexpected vacancy is not simply important. It is critical.

Ed Darling is president and publisher of Greenville Newspapers LLC. He can be reached at 382-3111 or