Independent voice

Published 8:08 pm Saturday, February 15, 2014

Every elected body needs a Linda Bouchard.

The Suffolk School Board member doesn’t always get her way, but she continually challenges conventional wisdom, keeping fellow board members and administrators on their toes with thoughtful policy positions that run counter to the consensus of the educational bureaucracy.

Last year, Bouchard pushed outsourcing of services, such as janitorial, as a means of funding badly needed pay raises for teachers. She was branded a racist by colleagues who resorted to cheap emotional appeals when they lacked effective intellectual counterarguments.

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Bouchard was back in top form at last week’s board meeting, standing up for teachers as board members began reviewing Superintendent Deran Whitney’s proposed budget for 2014-15.

In response to Whitney’s call for 3-percent raises for teachers and 2-percent raises for non-instructional staff, Bouchard suggested redirecting the administrative raises to more meaningful pay hikes for teachers.

Under Whitney’s plan, a teacher who earns $50,000 annually would get a whopping (sarcasm intended) $42 more per paycheck.

“I just feel like we should concentrate on the raise for the teachers,” Bouchard said.

She also questioned the expenditure of a half-million dollars on keeping police officers in the schools now that grant money for that service has run out. The city apparently has said it won’t provide the police manpower any longer unless the schools pay for it.

“Just call the police when we need them,” Bouchard offered as an alternative.

She was shot down on both counts, with little discussion about the merits of either.

Nonetheless, Bouchard provides an important public service by simply speaking up when colleagues might otherwise be inclined to rubberstamp administrators’ positions.

Groupthink is a dangerous condition that can easily pervade a board when members become complacent. Independent voices like Bouchard’s are the best antidote. Agree or disagree with some of her positions, taxpayers and public-school supporters should be grateful to have her on the Suffolk School Board.