My Turn: Doing the job they were elected to do

Nancy Gisko

The role of a Trustee of a school district is often the most selfless, misunderstood and least appreciated of elected officials in a community. There is certainly no glory involved. No accolades are expected, and in most cases, little appreciation is accorded to these public servants. People who take on these positions do so because they have a deep commitment to serve the educational needs of a community’s children.

These are not enviable times for education in the state of California. Education budgets are shrinking, and our basic aid status does not insulate us from this reality. Student achievement standards are as rigorous as they’ve ever been. The district has just gone through a very painful process to trim $3.7 million from the budget, and it appears as though an additional $2.6 million must be eliminated before schools open in August.

And now, when we need an informed, experienced and caring board to guide us through the morass of the budget implosion, some members of our community insist that we’d all be better off without three members of our board.

So what, exactly, did Bev Ducey, Bill Kraus and Kristy Olk do to deserve the recall attempt? They directed the Superintendent to hold community and staff meetings throughout the district to educate people about the financial realities facing the district, and to solicit ideas about how the district might address reductions in costs. They directed the Superintendent to form staff committees to recommend solutions addressing both reductions in cost and improvements to the delivery of education.

They held public meetings at locations throughout the district to discuss the committee-driven recommendations and gather public input, and asked staff to incorporate public response and revise their recommendations. They deliberated on the final two staff recommendations, evaluated the educational model, financial impact and community responses, ran them through the filter of how they would best serve the students in the district, and they made a series of difficult yet necessary decisions.

In short, they did exactly what we elected them to do. It wasn’t easy. These weren’t decisions they relished making, but needed to make to balance the budget. They didn’t want to lay off teachers and other personnel, to raise the cost of school lunches, or to charge for transportation. They did want to maximize the scarce resources at the district’s discretion, and they did want to create a learning environment that would challenge all students to learn and to grow. Was everybody happy? No. Was it possible that everybody could have been happy? Not likely. Will every decision they made turn out the way we all hope? Probaly not. But not because they were remiss in their responsibilities to consider, evaluate and make the best decision they could make.

Change is difficult, no doubt. These days, it seems as though change is the new status quo. Budget reductions will not give school districts a free pass to allow student achievement to decline. Bev, Bill and Kristy are committed to making sure that each and every student in our schools has the opportunity to learn and to succeed. In a time of conflict, crisis and controversy, brought about as much from outside forces as well as those within the district, they are exactly the three people who have the vision, the intelligence, the tenacity and the integrity to lead us through these volatile times for public education.

Rather than vilify them for one unpopular yet arguably necessary decision they made, we should honor them for doing the job few of us ever aspire to, and doing it quite well, indeed.

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