A moot point on the school board

Published 9:49 pm Thursday, September 19, 2013

At last week’s monthly School Board meeting, something occurred that could almost be called a phenomenon — a board member attempted to effect meaningful change rather than wait for a bureaucrat to request the approval of something.

The merit of Linda Bouchard’s proposal, to have Superintendent Deran Whitney explore outsourcing “parts of maintenance and custodial services” as a way of funding a 5-percent raise for educators alone, was sound.

That’s because “explore” was the key word.

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It’s been years since the men and women most immediately responsible for educating Suffolk’s children have had a raise.

Surely righting this wrong should be a major pillar of any plan to turn around underperforming schools.

Bouchard independently made a motion to investigate what she believes could be an effective means of giving teachers raises — when every other idea to do so in the past five years has failed — and in the process drew criticism from some of her board colleagues.

But the policies administrators routinely ask the board to support, or else introduce in an executive fashion, are more likely to fail or be sub-par, because educators have had enough of being asked to do more with less. That’s the irony of the situation.

Members of the School Board are responsible for the successes and failures of Suffolk’s schools. Suffolk voters have invested them with the power to radically change how schools are operated, but it often seems as if they are oblivious to their own potential.

That’s why Bouchard’s motion, voted down in the end, though not unanimously, could almost be called a phenomenon. To one observer, at least, it was a very rare instance of a board member using the power invested in them to attempt to effect change in the order of the magnitude that’s needed.

Bouchard’s motion — to extend a respectable raise exclusive to teachers and assistants by inviting private enterprise to help provide some services it might be able to handle more efficiently — could have negative effects on the jobs of some school employees. Its positive and negative aspects should be carefully weighed.

In that careful weighing, ideology would best be banished from the room, if the interests of providing the best quality education for our children were to be served.

But, sadly, in politics ideology will pretty much always stand in the way of pragmatism.

And that’s the main reason why the merit of Bouchard’s plan is now a moot point.