NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

December 5, 2013

School councils:Where it's at

Viewpoint
Ralph Orlando

---- — Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 71 Section 59c defines the state mandates for individual school councils. For several years, the district has failed to comply with the laws with some schools within the district not even having school councils. These laws assure public accountability for public education, as they are required to convene regularly subject to the rules governing Open Meeting Laws with publicly announced meetings open to all.

Last year, these deficiencies were brought to the attention of the Newburyport School Committee, resulting in the current new superintendent’s development of a districtwide plan. Despite this plan, individual schools have failed to institute school councils in full compliance with the state statutes.

Each school council is required to have elections of parent and teacher members, there must be equal parity among parent and teacher members, a community representative can be appointed by the respective principal and their meetings must be open to the public, although some schools in the district convene their meetings at 7 a.m., questioning their willingness to be transparent to the public as required by law. This continued defiance of the law and the associated lack of public review of individual school policies, procedures, student achievement and budget cannot be allowed to persist. There must be public accountability for public education.

Elected members of school councils are public officials with clearly defined roles and responsibilities that guarantee state-mandated public accountability for local schools. Unlike PTOs, valuable in their own right, school councils function more as official committees. Although clearly tasked with the creation of the School Improvement Plan (SIP), this should not be their sole function. Their duties and responsibilities, defined by the state, include the adoption of educational goals and identifying the educational needs of students in a given school.

In addition, school councils are required to review the individual school’s annual budget before presentation to the School Committee and the councils can and should make non-binding recommendations to the School Committee for approval. School councils can initiate the creation of valuable subcommittees with extended memberships to other members of the public to investigate, analyze and arrive at a consensus for a solution to any identified problems or tasks. The School Committee, if so desired, can also grant additional authority in the area of educational policy.

All of these duties and responsibilities are outlined in the state statutes governing school councils; however, many of such duties and responsibilities are not regularly conducted and I am certain that many realize this, too.

To this end, especially given all the recent concerns with our schools, in addition to welcoming the public to the School Committee meetings where I have been in regular attendance for over nine years now but public dialogue is not allowed, may I, more importantly, encourage residents to join the individual School Councils where a more significant impact and influence can be made as herein is the forum for recognized public dialogue, at least, when they are obligated to convene the meetings at times more convenient to working parent and community members. I believe these state-mandated venues provide the best opportunity for community input to our schools.

May I encourage residents to attend and please feel free to contact me, at rorlando_48@yahoo.com or 978-502-2591. I, like so many others, would not find myself where I am today were it not for those before us who had an interest in our growth and education. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts affords each and every one of us this opportunity to make a difference. No one should deny us these rights. Just do it. Our kids deserve our best.

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Dr. Ralph Orlando lives in Newburyport.