An elected school board brings transparency. A mayorally appointed school board brings “neutral experts.” So why not compromise—and do both?
East Rock Alderman Justin Elicker, an “exploratory” candidate for mayor, floats that concept in a new video.
The video has two goals: To explain how charter revision, which New Haven has started exploring, works. And to delve into the debate over one charter-revision proposal that may end up on the ballot this fall: Whether to convert New Haven’s mayorally appointed Board of Education, the only one of its kind in the state, to either an elected school board or a “hybrid” of both models. (The mayor currently serves on the school board and appoints the other seven members.)
Click on the play arrow to watch the video.
At a minimum, Elicker’s video is part civics lesson, part political argument sprinkled with graphic punchlines.
Like when he flashes the photo of North Korean strongman Kim Il-Jung.
He does that illustrate one of the arguments advanced by people who want to preserve the current system of having the mayor appoint all school board members. The argument: That giving an elected mayor control over the board allows him or her to produce “faster reform.” Elicker calls that the “benevolent dictator” argument. He questions whether that idea works when the “dictator” isn’t so benevolent. (He’s speaking in general terms here, not about anyone in particular, at least as far as the video presents the argument.)
“Sure if we have a great king, we’ll get a great Board of Education,” Elicker argues. “But on the off chance that we don’t have a great king, what kind of Board of Education are we going to get?”
Elicker cites a second pro-status quo argument, one that incumbent Mayor John DeStefano has made: That elections will “politicize” the school board. Elicker argues that the schools are already politicized.
He does give credence to a third argument advanced by status quo supporters: that “neutral experts” who can contribute a lot to policy might not bother with running for office, but they’d serve if appointed. He argues that the current board does benefit from having some such appointees. (He doesn’t specify; diplomatically, he posts all board members’ pictures.)
Ultimately, he argues, “if our schools were fantastic, that may make the case” for having New Haven remain the only Connecticut municipality with a mayorally appointed school board. New Haven’s schools aren’t quite there “yet,” Elicker concludes.
In response Wednesday, DeStefano argued that the current system has produced lowered drop-out rates, rising test scores, “Promise” college scholarships, rebuilt schools, a groundbreaking teachers contract, and a $50 million new federal grant to promote teacher innovation.
“Let’s look at where we are. Forget the politics,” he argued; changing the school board selection process is “just a bad idea by a politician. There’s work to be done for sure, but it isn’t because of structure.”
Elections would “harm the direction” of school reform, he argued. “This is someone political creating an issue.”
In the video, Elicker proceeds to list the advantages of an elected school board: more public involvement, which parents have been demanding; more “transparency”; and more “accountability.” He complains that it took too long for the school board to heed parents’ demands for a better policy on admitting siblings to magnet and neighborhood schools. He speaks of how, even though he’s an elected official, he had to file a Freedom of Information Act request eventually to obtain enrollment data. That could change with elections, he argues; board members who don’t deliver can get voted out.
Given that both models have strengths, Elicker concludes, why not combine them with a partially appointed, partially elected board? Click here for a previous story in which citizens interested in charter reform argued the Board of Ed question in detail.
Also on the charter-revision menu: whether to shrink the size of the 30-menber Board of Aldermen and whether to impose term limits on elected officials.
And of course, now that he has discovered that ther are other people in town than in East Rock, he figures it is time to pretend to care about them and their schools. (note his reversal on Bowen field). We know better.
posted by: ELMCITYDOC on January 15, 2013 3:15pm
I believe in democracy and I believe in free and fair elections. What I don’t believe in are the popularity contests that often come along with many of our local elections. A hybrid board sounds great in theory, but what evidence do we have that electing school board members will be any different from the current debacle we have going on with our Board of Alderman? I’m labor organizing but have a problem with unions hijacking what should be a citizen-led governing body. Should we worry about Achievement First fielding an entire slate of school board candidates to promote the false belief that “charter schools are public schools?” Perhaps we could elect a small Board of Governors to oversee local appointments to commissions and boards that would reduce the mayor’s complete control. But let’s not fool ourselves into thinking that electing a school board will provide greater transparency and accountability. Especially given the growing importance of money in local politics/elections
Destefano: ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha “In response Wednesday, DeStefano argued that the current system has produced lowered drop-out rates, rising test scores, “Promise” college scholarships, rebuilt schools, a groundbreaking teachers contract, and a $50 million new federal grant to promote teacher innovation.”
Lowered from WHAT? From the same rates it already produced!
The appointed BoE is the direct cause between lowered drop-out rates? If that is true, then what did DeStefano do wrong for EIGHTEEEN YEARS presiding over higher drop-out rates?
Elicker is “just a politician”—what does John “Campaigning every day” DeStefano think he is, a priest? A firefighter? A corporate president?
The idea of a hybrid Board of Ed is something that parents, students, advocacy groups, and citizens have been talking about for years. Elicker is a decent human being who is considering an idea that people across the city are discussing.
DeStefano is poo-pooing and dismissing the idea despite it coming up at the ONLY fully public brainstorming session on Charter Revision that has been held in this city in record. (Unless anyone can demonstrate a meeting prior to the recent one at the Grove where citizens were invited to share ideas from scratch, I stand by that statement.)
posted by: thesixteenwords on January 15, 2013 3:38pm
@Solsbury—I think that’s uncharitable. The job of an alderman is to fight for his district. And Elicker has been a good alder. If Elicker starts to focus on issues that affect more of the town, then that’s not a flip-flop, that’s what any person trying to build a citywide coalition HAS to do.
posted by: Wooster Squared on January 15, 2013 3:48pm
Great video. This is exactly why Justin Elicker should be our next Mayor. Justin is looking to let parents and citizens have more direct say in education by allowing them to elect a portion of the school board. We need a mayor that wants to work with the public in a more cooperative way, instead of one that tries his best to lock people out of the process by insisting that appointing an un-elected group of people to control our schools is the best way to do things.
After decades of under-performing schools, DeStefano continues to stubbornly demand that we stay the course and keep a school board in place that is accountable to no one but him.
Here’s an obvious question for DeStefano: If a hybrid or elected school board is so terrible, why is it that most school districts in the state have one and most of those districts routinely outperform New Haven?
More democracy is better, especially when it comes to our schools, and this is something that Justin understands.
posted by: HhE on January 15, 2013 3:52pm
Justin Elicker is about the most apolitical politician I have ever known.
I opine that “He only cares about East Rock” and “This is someone political creating an issue.” are the cheep shots without merit or basis.
posted by: anonymous on January 15, 2013 4:37pm
It sure must be frustrating when parents work for years asking for change, and it literally takes years to get an answer from the Mayor, a transparent lottery, or even a simple data sheet from his Board of Education.
If these necessary changes had been made years ago, when they were requested, I doubt that the Mayor would be facing such serious challengers over the past couple years.
15 Aldermen representing around 8500 people each is better than what we currently have.
1. Downtown 2. Yale 3. West Village 4. WEB 5. Dixwell 6. Oyster Point 7. Upper State Street 8. The Hill 9. Westville 10. West Rock 11. Fair Haven West 12. Fair Haven Central 13. Fair Haven East 14. Quinnipiac Meadows 15. East Shore
Downtown a. Southeast Squares b. Downtown Crossing c. Audubon District d. Wooster Square
Yale a. Northeast Squares b. Tower Parkway c. Hillhouse d. Science Hill
West Village a. Chapel West b. Dwight-Kensington c. West River
WEB a. Whalley Avenue Corridor b. Edgewood c. southeast Beaver Hills
Dixwell a. Dixwell b. Science Park c. Newhallville d. Mansfield Street
Oyster Point a. Trowbridge Square b. Kimberly Square c. Church Street South d. City Point e. Long Wharf
Upper State Street a. SoHu b. Goatville c. Whitney-Orange Corridor d. St. Ronan/Upper Prospect
The Hill a. Amistad Park b. Medical District c. Congress Avenue d. Washington Avenue e. Upper Hill
Westville a. Lower Westville (Westville Flats) b. Upper Westville c. Beverly Hills
West Rock a. West Hills b. West Rock c. Westville Village d. Northwest Beaver Hills
Fair Haven West a. Fair Haven west of Ferry Street
Fair Haven Central a. Fair Haven between Ferry Street and the Quinnipiac River
Fair Haven East a. Quinnipiac River Village b. Fair Haven Heights c. Fair Haven East (Farren Avenue)
Quinnipiac Meadows a. Foxon b. Eastern Street
East Shore a. Morris Cove b. East Shore c. Annex
posted by: ElmCityMama on January 15, 2013 5:34pm
DeStefano must go.
“There’s work to be done for sure, but it isn’t because of structure.” Elections would “harm the direction” of school reform.
I wonder if the Captain of the Titanic asserted that there was nothing wrong with the ship and that to change course away from the iceberg would harm the direction of the ship’s voyage?
DeStefano MUST GO.
posted by: THREEFIFTHS on January 15, 2013 5:43pm
posted by: ELMCITYDOC on January 15, 2013 2:15pm
Should we worry about Achievement First fielding an entire slate of school board candidates to promote the false belief that “charter schools are public schools?”
There already there.Look at the mayors last appointment.
Perhaps we could elect a small Board of Governors to oversee local appointments to commissions and boards that would reduce the mayor’s complete control. But let’s not fool ourselves into thinking that electing a school board will provide greater transparency and accountability. Especially given the growing importance of money in local politics/elections
West Haven Has a elected school board.
Why the silence as Pryor undermines the role of local Boards of Education?
I am impressed and grateful for this public service message by Alderman Elicker.
This bodes well for the community at large.
I especially appreciate the lifting of public awareness that this video aspires to.
I believe that lack of knowledge is a key factor in why our community has such stubborn problems.
Great job Alderman Elicker and NHI.
posted by: GoodNatured on January 15, 2013 7:38pm
Elicker’s video is an EXCELLENT example of ways the city SHOULD be communicating. It is fair, clear, and non-partisan.
My experience dealing with NHPS system—as a system—is exactly the opposite of the example Elicker sets. It is consistently difficult to get honest information. They are not transparent. They are not clear. They are a lot about spin (fancy brochures about “choice” and “reform” and “achievement”—printed by the thousands when our kids in school don’t even have copy paper).
So—YES—to everything Elicker talks about in the video. And if you haven’t seen it - watch it.
A hybrid elected and appointed Board of Ed sounds like a reasonable and worthwhile proposal. I doubt it will have a negative impact - my guess is that it will be a slight improvement, but we shouldn’t think that this is an end all be all solution that will magical “fix” the schools - it likely will have a marginal impact, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth a try (it can always be reversed in ten years).
I’d like to see terms of 4 years for Mayor and Board of Alderman, with limits of 12 years. Elections should be offset for mayor and alderman by two years. (Mayoral elections in 2014, 2018, 2022, etc. and Aldermen elections in 2016, 2020, 2024, etc.).
posted by: NHteacher on January 15, 2013 10:04pm
I appreciate this invitation to open, meaningful dialogue. Elicker seems to have great intentions. I am intrigued by the idea of a hybrid board of education.
However, real dialogue about public education cannot begin until all parties acknowledge the glaring fact that the CMT tests are ridiculous assessments, and the Common Core assessments that will soon be rolled out are no better. They suck whole months of instructional time out of the school year and create a climate of anxiety, anonymity, and fear.
These standardized tests are largely a measure of socioeconomic status, and are a gigantic waste of energy, resources, and precious time. End of story.
Until we admit that this elephant is in the room, we can’t have a real conversation about what works for children or about what our community needs. If our city is given the chance to vote for board members, I hope and pray that we will choose wisely. We need leaders who haven’t tasted the standardized testing kool-aid.
posted by: darnell on January 16, 2013 8:06am
Just kidding, great video Justin. I look forward to seeing more on the other Charter Revision issue highlighted.
posted by: cedarhillresident! on January 16, 2013 11:23am
Like the list Johnathan…BUT were is Cedar Hill?
I really think the alders should be thinned out. I also think we should be a hybrid…I do love the video….had to do a sad giggle when it shows new haven has the ONLY appointed BOE board…and the sad fact that all it does is guarantee people in that circle jobs that may or maynot even be needed positions…and the fact that education has not improved NOT MATTER WHAT SPIN YOU TRY TO PUT ON IT!
Justin you rock!
posted by: romeo wise on January 16, 2013 12:35pm
Elicker points out that an elected board would be more accountable to the people because they could vote out board members who don’t deliver what the voters want.
New Haven has an elected mayor (and reelected, and reelected…) Doesn’t that mean he’s doing a good job of delivering what the people want, in part by appointing effective school board members?
Now, I know many of you will say, “But the mayor has a machine that gets him reelected. He doesn’t really serve the voters.” If that’s true, what’s to stop the school board from getting elected by a political machine and not the voters?
Who really benefits from shaking up the school board?
posted by: ElmCityMama on January 16, 2013 1:09pm
We need a new charter. We need a new board of ed. We need a NEW MAYOR.