Thursday, February 4, 2010

FAQ: Responses to "Answers"

Let's imagine someone offering several "answers" in response to the questions I've raised here. Let me try to articulate these and provide a reply.

Why are you opposed to a unified Board of Trustees? We're moving from many schools to "one school" on multiple campuses, so it only makes sense to have "one school, one board."

I don't think anyone opposes the "one board, one school" unification. That seems wise and stewardly. Unification is not the issue. Next question.

While we believe in the "one school, one board" principle, we also believe that the entire BOT needs to serve each student and family, across the membership. Your criticism (and counter-proposal) would only contribute to increased conflict because it would turn the Board of Trustees into a group of "representatives" each fighting for their own special-interest group.

My concern is not "representation," turning the board into a conglomeration of interest groups. And I also think that each member of the Board of Trustees should "serve each student and parent" for the "entire campus." Agreed. That can sound like a rather wonderful ideal--but how do Board Members know how to serve students and parents? How do they know what those needs are? Are they going to extrapolate from their own concerns and needs?

Well, then, here's precisely the issue: Let me paint the issue very starkly, as a "limit case": in the proposed amendments to the Bylaws, there are no structures or procedures in place to prevent the configuration of a Board of Trustees being entirely drawn from, say, Ada and Forest Hills. (Keep in mind that many students at GR Christian High do not come up through our elementary and middle schools.) Now, of course that means that there are also no structures in place to prevent the entire Board of Trustees being entirely drawn from Eastown and Heritage Hill. Both--BOTH, please note--would be equally problematic.

But the latter scenario is particularly unlikely; the former scenario, I have to confess, seems very possible. Having come from Oakdale, up through the Middle School (two still there), and now with two at the High School, one steadily feels the increasing role played by families from the suburban areas of the GRCS "region." And that makes a difference in the ethos of values.

This is important precisely because of what the BOT is charged with: strategic planning, which is a value-laden enterprise. And while we might talk nicely about "serving each student," we don't know student/family needs if we don't live where they do. I can tell you that an increasing number of families who live in the core city have experienced precisely this sense of disenfranchisement, and an increasing sense that GRCS is on its way to becoming a 'baptized' rendition of Forsest Hills Central or East Grand Rapids High (which is why there has been such significant interest in the Living Stones venture). My hunch is that GRCS is betting on that "clientele" for its future, and so won't be too bothered to lose its city members. But I'd hope this school that wants to be "a light in the city" might keep ties to the city, and the churches that are located there.

But you're missing all of the role that parents can play in the new structure: they can nominate people for the Board of Trustees and serve on new "Parent Councils" to be involved at their school. And the Board of Trustees will have new Subcommittees to focus their work.

I'm not too confident that these features will actually make a difference; my worry is that they're window-dressing on centralized power. These "Parent Committees" are just vents for "input;" they have no governing power (as stipulated by the relevant documents). And I've had some glimpse at how such committees work in GRCS. My wife briefly served on a newly constituted Nutrition committee until she realized that they had absolutely no authority or power--and that all the relevant decisions about food and nutrition had already been made by the adminstration (e.g., to keep vending machines in the high school; to start a supposedly "new" nutrition program at the high school rather than at the brand new elementary school, where habits are really formed).

As for the Board Committees: they will be composed of Board Members. But of course it's precisely the composition of the Board of Trustees that's at issue here.

Well, we still think this is the best way forward.

I wish I could agree with you. But, by the way: nothing you've said here addresses the other key issue I raised, namely, that these proposed amendments--if passed--will reserve the power to change the bylaws (except for doctrinal basis) exclusively for the Board of Trustees. In other words, if the membership passes these proposed amendments, they will be democratically relinquishing their democratic voice in the future. Am I mistaken about that?

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