School board is a full-time commitment

August 18, 2006|by Jacqueline B. Fischer

The large number of candidates running for most of the local offices bodes well for the electorate. Choice is good, but voters must choose well, not by selecting the names with which they are most familiar or the individuals with the biggest signs, but by studying each candidate's background, views, proposed solutions and availability to serve.

It is this last qualification, availability to serve, which I will discuss here. Voters seldom take this factor into consideration. Indeed, some candidates fail to take this factor into consideration when deciding to run for an office. Yet this availability can be a significant factor in the functioning of the body to which a candidate is elected.

As I am seeking re-election to a position on the Washington County Board of Education, it is the need for availability for the duties of this office that concerns me most. Many citizens (and a few candidates) believe that the sum total of a board member's service is made up of the three hours twice a month spent in public business meetings. Such a notion is far from the truth. Board members average 15 to 20 hours per week, with some weeks requiring closer to 25 or 30 hours.


In addition to the bimonthly business meetings, there are closed sessions, work sessions, committee meetings, public hearings, meetings held for the different school feeder patterns (known as Evenings with the Board), meetings with the County Commissioners, meetings with the City Council, meetings with the state delegation, county citizens advisory meetings, county PTA meetings, etc.

In their role as advocates for the school system, board members attend a wide variety of events and functions such as the State of the City report, the State of the County report, legislative committee meetings, Maryland State Department of Education hearings and celebrations, etc. There are also functions throughout the 44 schools to which board members are invited, including competitions, celebrations, dedications and performances.

Participating in meetings and events makes up only part of the duties of board members. Much of their time is spent at home reading volumes of reports, construction documents, proposals, bids, test data, evaluations, budget documents, financial reports, meeting agendas with supporting material and facility evaluations.

Board members receive a packet of reading material once a week and sometimes more often. Then there are the communications from parents, teachers and other concerned citizens' e-mail, letters and phone calls. Board members also need to keep up with what is occurring throughout the state and nation by reading publications for the education industry.

I could go on with the list of duties and responsibilities, but I am not attempting to frighten other candidates or bore voters. I simply want to impress upon the readers that board members need to have the time to devote to the task, as well as flexibility of time to meet the needs of the school system.

Board members with full-time jobs, especially those whose job hours are inflexible, hinder the board in scheduling meetings and events and place a greater burden on the other board members.

For example, another board function is a judicial one requiring members to hear grievances and appeals. Such hearings can go on for several days or a full week. A board member with a full-time job most likely would not be able to fulfill this commitment. I doubt any would be willing to use his/her vacation days for such a purpose!

Retired individuals and those who are not employed outside the home are best able to fulfill the time commitment required of a dedicated board member. I am a retired educator who spent nearly 32 years in the Washington County classrooms and two additional years as a substitute teacher.

Through the tenure of my present four-year term on the Board of Education, I have missed only one regular meeting and one committee meeting; no other present board member can claim that record.

If re-elected, I will promise to continue to do my homework, base my decisions on solid data, attend meetings regularly, and foremost vote for those policies and actions which are in the best interests of the students of Washington County.

Jacqueline B. Fischer is vice president of the Washington County Board of Education.

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