School Committee Influence

We respectfully disagree with a statement made by Stephen Davol, one of Chatham's representatives on the Monomoy Regional School Committee, during last week's meeting to fill a vacancy on the education panel. He prefaced his question to the two candidates for the post by cautioning that school committee members “do not affect the day-to-day operations of the schools.” That's the job of the superintendent, he said, adding that previous committee members thought they could impact what happens in the schools. “It wasn't a good fit,” he said.

In our opinion, impacting what happens in the school – on a day-to-day basis – is exactly the job of a school committee member.

Like selectmen, school committee members are essential a board of directors who set policy, often through budget decisions. Like a corporate board, selectmen and school committee members do not get involved in individual management decisions; they don't go into the classroom or the DPW and tell employees what to do and how to do it. That's up to management, guided by the policy and budget decisions put in place by the board. In that sense, Davol is right; yet we argue that those policy and budget decisions directly influence the day-to-day operation of the schools, and therefore school committee members should be acutely interested in what is going on in the schools.

Davol and other members of the committee frequently clashed with Karen Ryder, whose recent resignation created the vacancy they came together with the selectmen to fill last week. Ryder asked a lot of questions and challenged administrators, teachers and others when they came before the committee – sometime bluntly – but we never had the impression that she was interfering in management's execution of its duties. Indeed, she wanted to affect the day-to-day operations of the school, and fought an uphill battle against a majority that largely rubber stamps what is put in front of them by the administration.

Education spending represents the largest single chunk of municipal spending in both Chatham and Harwich – 22 percent in Chatham alone. The school committee has enormous authority over the largest single town department. Members should be intensely interested in what's going on in the schools, and their actions, through policy and budgets, must shape how the schools operate. We hope the newest committee member, Jo-anne Sheehan, takes this approach, and helps shake up a school committee that is sorely in need of shedding its complacency.