There is some interesting ongoing conversation about the Gilbert Public Schools Governing Board’s recent reversal of policy regarding who has and should have the power to set the agenda for board meetings. The policy that was in place — reportedly since 2000 — required the superintendent to set the board’s meeting agenda. By a 3-2 vote in June, that was changed back to the board members having that authority.
I ask one simple question: What is the single most important responsibility a Member of a school board has as an elected official? I heard one Gilbert school board member say that it’s to hire a competent superintendent, then step aside and let him or her “do their job.” I can see where that might be a reasonable assumption, considering all the responsibilities given to the superintendent. But actually, that’s where the board member’s job begins, not ends. The single most important responsibility a member of the school board has is to make policy. Everything else board members do extends from there. The budget, personnel matters, curriculum — everything is an extension of what the policies are. Policy is made through school board meetings, and school board meetings are governed by an agenda. Therefore, whoever controls and sets the agenda, controls and sets policy. That’s Civics 101. This shouldn’t even be debatable.
That responsibility should not be abdicated to the superintendent.
Our system of representative government means that we voters elect board members to represent us — then they meet to make policy. Elected members of the school board are directly accountable to the voters, not the superintendent. They are elected to make policy, not the superintendent. Elected officials make policy, not staff. The board hires the superintendent and supervises him or her to make sure the policies they make are carried out. That is how our system of representative government works and it can only work properly by following that procedure, by elected board members following their constitutionally mandated responsibility.
Do they consult with the superintendent? Of course. They also should consult with teachers, parents, the Gilbert Town Council and other elected officials, the business community, even our students. But the agenda is the board’s responsibility to set because it is their responsibility and theirs alone to make policy.
I fully support and applaud the Gilbert Public Schools Governing Board for making this important change in who sets the agenda for board meetings. The elected board members are responsible for making policy for the district, not the superintendent. The superintendent should not be dictating the agenda. The power to control the agenda is the power to control the creation of policy. Thankfully, at least in Gilbert, that is back in the hands of those elected by the people to represent us on the school board. I hope every school board in this state that has a policy of the superintendent setting the agenda follows GPS’s example to correct this egregious error. If not, perhaps the Legislature will.
Ron Bellus is a candidate for the Gilbert Public Schools Governing Board.