Oak Park elementary school board members last week began a process of defining the board's role, the role of its officers and of the superintendent in a process designed to build mutual understanding into a newly formed leadership at District 97.
The board got halfway through the process, and decided another four-hour session would need to be scheduled, but no date was set.
Leading the process is Bill Attea of Hazard, Young, Attea & Assoc., the Glenview-based consulting firm the district hired to find its new superintendent, Constance Collins, who took part in the planning meeting.
Attea told board members they would necessarily act collectively, as motions are either passed or not passed, and members need to support the action once resolved.
"You are a body, a legal body, a corporate body," Attea said. "The body does things collectively and, as members of the body, we all have to support what the body does," unless the action is illegal, immoral or unethical.
"One of the reasons our schools, generally, are not at the premier level they can be is that there have been too many concessions to adults relative to schools at the expense of kids," Attea said. So, it's up to board members to act as trustees of the schools, making the right choices for students, regardless of whether those decisions are popular with parents or people in the community.
"Your responsibility is not to represent the public. Your responsibility is to be representatives of the public, a very significant difference in a democratic form of government," Attea said.
Board member Dan Burke said he had a "core disagreement" with Attea's concept of trusteeship in how members are able to disagree on issues.
"I think there has to be some freedom or understanding without penalty that you can hold a principled belief and express it in an appropriate way," Burke said. "I don't want people to feel penalized and ostracized for taking an alternate view."
Attea agreed that all members' positions need to be heard on an issue, but that once a vote has been made, dissenters must give up pushing for their side.
The group also discussed the difference between management and governance, with responsibility for managing the district primarily falling on the superintendent's shoulders while the board governs by making sure the district runs well.
By appropriating responsibilities for the day-to-day operations of the district, including hiring decision, the board limits its ability to hold the superintendent accountable, Attea said.
Board members should also be careful not to take up causes of community members, he said. Attea called doing so carrying the "monkey of the community" on one's back, and said board members can get themselves into uncomfortable situations because when they take on a parent's cause they usually only have one side of the story.
Burke took issue with Attea's use of the monkey metaphor, but agreed with limiting issues raised at the board table to "broader ideas in the community."
In its next session, the board will discuss roles of board officers and working together.
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