Sunday, January 31, 2010

Unification? Or Homogenization?

Given the consolidation of GRCS elementary schools, it is necessary for GRCS to restructure its governance, particularly the Board of Trustees (BOT). The current BOT is composed of 7 representatives of schools in the GRCS association (formerly Sylvan, Oakdale, Millbrook, etc.), plus 6 at-large representatives. Given that many of these schools will no longer exist next year, and in order to eliminate bureaucratic redundancy, a task force has proposed one unified BOT which will oversee "one school" with multiple campuses. This reconfigured BOT will be tasked with strategic planning and will specifically seek members with relevant, and needed, gifts and expertise. See the New Governance Recommendations on the GRCS website for more details and links to the relevant documents. (You'll find it a bit difficult to track down the current [soon to be "former"] by-laws--indeed, the link from the menu seems to be disabled. But the current bylaws can be found here.)

Unification and administrative streamlining seems wise and stewardly. However, I think there are serious concerns about how this Board will be selected and composed. In particular, I'm concerned that in the name of unification, what we'll get is homogenization. Let me note two concerns:

1. No "checks and balances" on BOT composition

The new BOT will be charged with strategic planning and vision-casting. These are highly valuative tasks--what we consider "strategic" will be an expression of a constellation of values. Now, even if we assume that all GRCS members share the Christian doctrinal basis of the schools, clearly our faith finds different expressions. I would highlight just one tangible indicator of that (which we could easily substantiate with sociological data): GRCS families who live in the core city of Grand Rapids often value different aspects of Christian faith than GRCS families who live in Ada or Forest Hills. Or, to put it differently, our decisions about where we live are significantly expressive of what we value--not better or worse, but still significantly different. Thus one might find a different ethos at Oakdale or Creston than you might find at Millbrook or Ada Christian School. Again, I'm not making any evaluation between these, only noting the differences in what's valued for folks who make different real estate decisions.

Now, what does this have to do with a "unified" GRCS Board of Trustees? In the current confirguration (which we agree cannot be maintained) there is still a "representative" element insofar as each school--and thus each neighborhood--had a voice on the BOT. The BOT, in other words, brought together people from across the "region" of GRCS.

But in the new proposal, there are no such "checks and balances"--no constraints or requirements on the composition of the BOT. While the governance taskforce highlights the call for GRCS to be "a light in the city," in fact there is nothing in the proposed bylaws to prevent the entire BOT being composed of members from outside the city. For example, there are simply no external requirements that would prevent all of the Board members being high school parents whose children perhaps attended Ada Christian School.

Now the taskforce and BOT will counter that, of course, they would never want such homogeneity. I'm sure that's true. But what they want and what's possible are two different things. The revised bylaws require us to simply trust the goodwill of the sitting BOT and Nominating Committee to ensure that we avoid such homogenization. But it has surely been one of the marks of Calvinism--and Calvinist polity--to not trust our own good will. This is why one of the marks of Calvin's legacy on politics has been to externalize such requirements, creating procedural "checks and balances" that don't depend on the contingencies of good will.

The upshot is this: while it makes good sense to unify the BOT, the proposed amendments have no procedural checks and balances in place to prevent a resulting homogenization of the BOT. (In a follow-up post, I'll suggest just such a procedure that I think could easily correct this.)

2. "Invitation," expertise, and a new version of an "Old Boys' Club"

The governance taskforce emphasizes that the new BOT could specifically nominate and recruit BOT members with relevant and needed gifts and expertise. For example, the Board might be especially in need of members with fiscal expertise, or curricular expertise. Since the BOT would not be largely composed of "school reps" sent to the BOT, this provides a new opportunity to configure a board with relevant expertise. While the GRCS membership will be welcome to nominate people for the Nominating Committee to consider, the amended bylaws emphasize the role of the Nominating Committee in identifying and inviting potential BOT members who have needed gifts and expertise.

On the one hand, this sounds promising and wise. But if one begins to think through this just a bit, a question arises: how exactly does the BOT know, across the GRCS membership, who has the requisite gifts and expertise? Won't it be likely that BOT members will "know" those who are the most familiar to them? And won't that often be longtime GRCS "insiders?" Indeed, given the demographics of Grand Rapids and GRCS alumni, won't it often turn out that the Nominating Committee will "know" those they went to Christian High with twenty years ago?

Contrary to how it's billed by the taskforce, isn't this simply a formula for reinforcing an insider, "Old Boys'" club?

I think there are more areas of concern in the proposed amendments to the GRCS bylaws and articles of incorporation--and will note some in later posts. But here I highlight just a couple in order to prompt GRCS members to see something at stake in the upcoming GRCS membership election.

So what can you do?

1. Read all the relevant documents, analyze them for yourself, and see if you think my concerns are valid.

2. If you share my concerns, forward this information to other GRCS families who you think will share our concerns. There are easy ways to share this blog on the right-hand menu.

3. If you're able, attend the Town Hall Meeting at Rockford Christian School on Tuesday, Feb. 2, 7:00pm. (Unfortunately, only 8 people attended the Town Hall meeting last Wed. at Christian High. I think that's partly because it was scheduled on a Wednesday night, in conflict with many local church activities; partly because of a general disenfranchisement amongst GRCS members vis-a-vis the GRCS administration; and partly because the taskforce communications have downplayed the significance of what's included in the proposed amendments.)

4. Vote accordingly. Note that there are five different ways to cast your ballot for the March 15 election.

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