Independence? Oversight? With the current board, nowhere to be found

In 2017, the Daily Herald made its endorsements in the school board race on March 14 (for residents of Arlington Heights, viewable via the library’s online databases).  Here’s what they said:

This is a remarkable group of knowledgeable, engaged candidates, all of whom are intimately familiar not just with individual schools but with the district as a whole. Each has some unique strength to offer the board. Incumbents Hineman and Younger come to the race with a clear record of success. After them, we find ourselves drawn to Palmer and Walker. The energy they have devoted to District 214 is extensive, and they approach issues with a personal independence that can dispel misgivings about whether they’ll be rubber stamps for the slate they joined with Hineman and Younger. If she wins, Palmer would be one of just two women on the District 214 board, and Walker’s business background is an added plus for him.

So did Palmer and Walker show any “personal independence” in the four years in which they have served on the board?

I have now read through the meeting minutes of every meeting that has occurred since they took their oath of office, not just the meeting subsequent to the pandemic but for the years prior.  I read the effusive praise of the board members as they report on attendance at activities in the district (most notably Palmer, who tends to be espcially gushing in her praise of the achievements of district students as she attends fine arts performances and the like).  I pored over bids, lists of student recognitions, summaries of updates, and the like.

Those in attendance at the August 13 board meeting watched  the board members ask questions which, by and large, had the function not of gathering information but of affirming the recommendation to close the schools, then vote 6 – 1 to close, with Todd Younger dissenting.  There was so little engaged discussion among the board members as to convince those observing that they had coordinated their vote beforehand.

And, in fact, in the entire 4 year term that the three incumbents served, starting in 2017, there were only two votes which were not unanimous.

On December 12, 2019, Alva Kreutzer dissented in a vote permitting a previously-expelled student to return.  And that same day, Bill Dussling dissented on a vote finalizing a tax levy — though, as there was no discussion reported and the preliminary vote in November was unanimous, it is not clear to me that this was a clear opposition to the levy.

If Palmer, Walker, and Hineman have taken actions other than merely rubber-stamping the superintendent’s decisions, there is no trace of it in the meeting minutes.  If they have attempted to independently identify areas of concern that the district administrators may be papering over, this has not manifested it in any actions taken in board meetings.

In fact, in August of 2017, the board reaffirmed the districts mission, vision, and goals, and “It was recommended that, as we have new Board members, the administration could review with the Board the mission, vision and goals in the spring at a workshop to gather their perspectives and insights.”  This never happened.   Maybe it’s meaningless because mission statements are mere fluff, but I don’t think that’s true in this case:  even in the minutes, they report that the goals “are guiding and driving the students to be more than a score.”  This references the “Redefining Ready!” initiative, which rejects standardized test scores, but instead uses a set of definitions for what it means to be “college ready” which, let’s face it, are very low bars.  And two years prior to this meeting, students at Meadows essentially boycotted the standardized testing then in place.  Does the rejection of test scores mean that the district is ignoring the disparities in test score results among students of different demographic groups?   Seems to me this merits discussion — and that’s all the more the case now, when there will be much closer attention paid to these disparities and since the school district has gone all-in on dual credit, without, as far as I can tell, answering, or even asking the question of whether this is coming at the expense of students’ mastery of core subjects.

Do I believe that school board members should be incessantly combative, fighting among each other and against the school administration?  By no means.  But a school board simply must be more than a boosters club, must be more than cheerleaders who promote and celebrate the district.

Declaration of Independence; image via Pixabay,

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