Here is the fourth question we will include in our voter guide for the following election, Chairman, Prince William County School Board, At Large. This election is scheduled for November 6, 2018 (see 2018 ELECTIONS).

Do you support or oppose giving school boards more control over the hiring and firing of teachers and administrators?

Why this question? Well, if we want our school board to hire effective and get rid of ineffective teachers, they have to be able to hire and fire them.

Is this a good yes or no question? Well, it could be. It depends upon how well we understand the issue. When the government runs something, that tends to complicate our understanding. We can imagine how things should work, but government never works that way.

Consider this question. Is Prince William County employing significant numbers of incompetent teachers and administrators? That’s a judgement call this post will not address. Why? Since the vast majority of schools are run by local government, we don’t have an easy and accurate way of comparing Prince William County schools with other schools. All of the public schools in Virginia have to abide by the state code, but each operates in a different part of the state. Each school system has a different clientele, size, infrastructure and budget. Each school system faces different challenges.

Consider how school boards operate. Article VIII of the Virginia Constitution provides the ground rules, and Section  7 specifically empowers the General Assembly to authorize and regulate school boards.

Article VIII. Education
Section 7. School boards
The supervision of schools in each school division shall be vested in a school board, to be composed of members selected in the manner, for the term, possessing the qualifications, and to the number provided by law.

Since school boards don’t have any taxation authority, they depend upon local governments, the Commonwealth of Virginia, and the Federal Government to fund them. Of course, all that money comes with strings attached. So we effectively have four different committees operating our public schools: school boards, local governments, the General Assembly, and Congress.  What does that mean? Read the following paragraph from this document: Does School Board Leadership Matter? (link found on Virginia School Boards Association).

Unfortunately, despite today’s spirited debates over how best to design school governance, very little evidence exists about how board members actually govern. As William G. Howell, a political scientist, remarked: “It is hardly an exaggeration to note that more is known about the operation of medieval merchant guilds than about the institutions that govern contemporary school districts.” Moreover, most investigations of school boards are case studies of a handful of boards or single-state analyses that make it difficult for policy-makers to draw useful representative conclusions about the effectiveness of boardbased governance. Researchers have fielded various high-quality national surveys of board members; but to our knowledge, no one has yet linked a national sample of school board members to demographic and achievement data in their own districts. (from here on page 9)

Because of ridiculous complexity of the management infrastructure, school board members have a very difficult job.

So what does a school board do? The Fine Print: Here’s some of what you need to know about your teaching contract. and What Does ‘Tenure’ Mean? Some straight talk about teachers, continuing contracts and ‘guaranteed employment.’ describe the employment of teachers from the perspective of the Virginia Education Association (VEA), a teacher’s union. The first article observes that teachers work for the school board, with school administrators serving as middlemen. The second article explains that teachers do not get tenure in Virginia. Instead, after a three-year probationary period, they receive a “continuing contract” that protects them from arbitrary termination.

When a teacher is dismissed, how does the dismissal process work in Prince William County? Well, there are a bunch of rules and procedures.

The headache with bureaucratic procedures like this is that the school board has to ensure that school administrators put together paperwork that makes an airtight case for dismissal. Otherwise, things can get complicated, as if they were not complicated enough already.

Here are the previous posts in this series:

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