Tuesday, February 8, 2011

When the Chain Pops Off

I have thought for a long time that politics and education were uneasy allies at best and unhealthy partners at worst. One way to put this is that education is on a long cycle--it takes years and years to build a foundation, see growth, weather backslides, deal with the fits and starts that are a natural part of learning--whereas, politics is on a short cycle--politicians need to get elected every two years or four or, at most, six. And because the short cycle provides the motive power (money) for the long cycle, the effect can be a lot like riding a bike in the wrong gear where the chain keeps popping and slipping.

Nowhere is this gearing issue more evidently problematic than in the relationship between a superintendent and a school board. In Wayne Township, Indiana it has surfaced that a retiring superintendent had, four years ago, pedaled quite the sunset ride for himself to his school board. According to the article, Dr. Terry Thompson was an effective, well respected administrator who just last year was named Indiana Superintendent of the Year by his peers. Now he is collecting his $225k a year base pay, a $200K "emeritus" payout for 150 days of transition work, and a $15K "retirement planning" stipend. Total payout: $1M+.

Leaving aside the ethical, but personal, issue of a school superintendent weaving a golden parachute for himself at a time when his district was making cutbacks and freezing administrators pay, what I want to highlight is the political issue of an inept school board now back pedaling on a contract they previously approved. One of the structural problems with our educational system is that school boards composed of mostly well-meaning, but lay members of the community are incapable of effectively governing our schools. Five of the current seven Wayne Township County School Board members were on the board in 2007 when Dr. Thompson's contract was okay-ed. What else are school boards not reading, or reading and not understanding, and approving?

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