School board and school budget committee members come to their posts eager to represent their constituents, but more often than not, they end up turning into a rubber stamp for their superintendent, according to Donna Green of Sandown.
She said the change in focus comes about because of board members’ isolation and lack of knowledge, and as a way to offer an alternative, she has founded the School District Governance Association of New Hampshire (SDGA NH). Now serving as president of the group, Green sees it as a resource for board and budget members, a place to give them an understanding of what they need to know - and how to find that information.
Green, who is a member of the Timberlane Regional School District board, which serves Sandown, Danville, Atkinson and Plaistow, and her husband, Arthur Green, a former Timberlane Regional school budget committee member, founded the group with several others in July.
“We had no shortage of people to sign on,” Donna Green said of the group’s founding and submission of articles of agreement to the state.
Green has been that lone voice in local school affairs. She has disputed decisions by her superintendent and fellow board members and taken the Timberlane district to court – and won – over Right to Know requests.
Donna Green said she has been a member of Right to Know New Hampshire for several years, where she met that group’s founder, Harriet Cady of Deerfield. “I complained to Harriet two years ago about my travails with the Timberlane board, and Harriet said we needed an organization for school board members to share ideas and best practices,” she recalled. “In July I had some extra time, and decided to start that kind of organization.”
The group met for the first time in August, and now meets monthly. It has also held two budget workshops, one of them online, and Donna said those events have been quite successful.
SDGA NH attracted members by word of mouth while getting its bylaws established. But members are now ready to make their presence known, and issued their inaugural press release Dec. 12.
Board members are Donna Green, president; Tim Jandebeur, a Northwood school board member, financial officer; and Arthur Green, former Timberlane Regional school budget committee member, acting secretary. Rich Girard, who serves on the Manchester Board of School Committee, is board member at large.
While board members must have school board or school budget committee experience, provision is made for non-voting members who share the group’s philosophy. “The reason we want to restrict voting membership to people who have school responsibility is that our positions are founded on experience,” she said. The group is also looking to create model policies to empower school boards to have more authority, and hope to lobby legislators to change laws that currently consolidate power at the SAU (School Administrative Unit) level, giving the superintendent more power than the group thinks he or she should have.
Harriet Cady chairs the accountability committee; Arthur Green chairs the budget and finance committee; Leonard Mullen, a former Timberlane school budget committee member, chairs the communication and outreach committee; Ralph Boehm, who served on the Litchfield school board for six years and is a past legislator, chairs the legislative affairs committee; and Howard Coffman, a member of the Nashua Board of Education, chairs the policy standing committee. The curriculum and assessment committee is pending.
“I’m extremely proud to be working with these people,” Donna Green said. “I feel the group is going to grow and do well, and I’m very encouraged by the reception of this idea. I’m quite optimistic. I feel that a lot of what we have to offer is really going to change the landscape.”
SDGA NH is not a copy of the long-established New Hampshire School Boards Association, whose stated purpose on its website is to provide member school boards with “Training, support, advice, information and other essential services to help school board members perform your very important jobs.”
“We believe that group’s agenda is to consolidate power at the SAU level,” Donna Green said. “Ours is to empower local school board and budget committee officials. I feel we have a very different approach to school governance issues.”
Green said that while the School Boards Association considers the board’s role as setting policy and the budget, with everything else viewed as micromanaging the superintendent, she noted the school board is the oversight body for the superintendent.
“The idea that anything a school board member would ask of the SAU is micromanaging the superintendent is completely wrong,” she said.
“Our organization is for people who might feel they want to be more proactive and go against the flow, but are isolated and get information out of context,” Green explained. “They don’t have the knowledge base. We are a forum for people to come together and gain the knowledge of what it is they don’t know.”
According to its press release, SDGA NH “is a forum of experienced elected officials committed to:
• Educating elected school district officials as to their proper role and responsibilities.
• Promulgating best practices in good governance and prudent budgeting.
• Formulating model school district policies so boards will now have an independent, alternative resource.
• Proposing and monitoring legislation that enhances local control in education and openness in administration.”
Looking ahead, Green said she would like to see a booklet produced to tell school boards and school budget committees what information they should be receiving and when, with a link to state filings.
“Much of the information has to be filed with the state,” she said, adding that board members should know the time frame when those items need to be filed, and what information they as board members can be involved with. “The oversight role is involved with those filings, and if you don’t know they even exist, you can’t exercise oversight.”
Having been told when she raised questions as a school board member that she should trust her superintendent, Green said, “our job is not to trust. Our job is to exercise oversight,” and emphasized that without information, oversight cannot be exercised.
“SDGA's mission is to move the balance of power back to elected representatives for the ultimate benefit of our children's education,” Green added.
For more information about the School Board Governance Association of New Hampshire, visit SDGANH.org. Green also welcomes calls at 513-1647.