January is School Board Appreciation Month – a great time to learn about the important role the Board of Education plays in the Boulder Valley School District and to thank them for their dedication to our district.
Here are five things you need to know about BVSD’s Board of Education:
1. The Board of Education is elected
Like all school districts in Colorado, Boulder Valley School District is governed by an elected Board of Education. The Boulder Valley Board of Education has seven members who each represent one of seven different districts throughout the geographical area of BVSD. Each member serves one four-year term per election up to a maximum of two terms or eight years total service.
“It was intimidating [to run for office],” shared Kathy Gebhardt.
Gebhardt’s father was a state legislator representing Boulder, so she, naturally, had been involved in politics from a young age. She, however, had never run for public office – before running for the school board in 2016.
“It is much easier to campaign for someone else and to ask people to support someone else, rather than asking for yourself,” Gebhardt said.
BVSD Board of Education (L to R): Kathy Gebhardt - Board Vice-President - District C, Richard Garcia - District G, Donna Miers -District E, Tina Marquis - Board President - District B, Kitty Sargent - Board Treasurer - District F, Stacey Zis -District D and Lisa Sweeney-Miran - District A.
2. Board Members are unpaid volunteers
Board members are not paid for the long hours they spend at Board meetings, conferences with constituents or the myriad of other events they attend.
In speaking with them, they uniformly say that they ran for office and dedicate the time because they are interested in making a difference for students in our district and are committed to public education.
“Public education is very important,” said Tina Marquis.
I happen to think that education is one of the most important things that a government can do for a community and for its citizens,” added Gebardt. “We need to make sure that the education we are implementing and overseeing is one that serves the needs for everybody.”
3. They are not involved in the daily running of the district
Despite what you might think, the board’s role is not dictating how the district will operate on a daily basis.
They are responsible for the broader strokes, including:
Setting the vision and goals for the district
Adopting policies that give the district direction to set priorities and achieve its goals
Hiring and evaluating the superintendent
Adopting and overseeing the annual budget
Managing the collective bargaining process for employees of the district
“We don’t get into the nitty gritty,” explained Kitty Sargent. “We are at the policy level, providing general direction and supervising the superintendent.”
Board members are in a position to refer immediate concerns to district leadership and consider the feedback as they continually review policies and propose new ones.
“I'm a little surprised by the number of people who have sought me out now that I'm on the board to tell me this is going on at their child’s school,” admitted Stacey Zis. “Most of them are pretty good concerns, but I work to frame them in a board policy, bigger picture kind of way. That is the way that we, as a board, address situations and offer help.”
“I really recognize the responsibility [of serving on the Board] and the responsibility that I have to the entire community to lead the district to provide the education that our students deserve,” Sargent said.
4. The superintendent is the Board of Education’s only employee
While the Board’s decisions can impact the entire district and every employee – it’s only employee is the superintendent. The superintendent is responsible for the daily operations of the district and our more than 4,500 employees.
“[Superintendent Anderson] is very accessible and doesn’t shy away from problems,” said Garcia. “I feel very comfortable sitting down with him, when I have my one-on-ones. I bring issues and he understands, he really truly understands.”
“Where I have seen a big change is listening. [Superintendent Anderson] does an excellent job in responding in a timely fashion. That, to me, has made all the difference,” Miers said. “ There were some times when I first came on to the board, that parents felt like their question had been ignored -- or they hadn't been responded to. Rob gets an answer to the people who ask the question, so it doesn't simmer or become a major issue. That is what people want – answers and their voice to be heard.”
“Rob has put so much thought into where we are and where we are going,” said Sweeney-Miran. “The more that I’ve had the opportunity to dig into the strategic plan and all of the moving parts, and the components and the way that the BVSD administration has been reorganized – it is incredibly thoughtful.”
5. The Board’s role is to represent the community’s voice
As elected-officials, a big part of their role is conveying the will of their constituents as they create and modify district policies.
“There isn’t a single person on the board that doesn’t want to hear from the community,” said Lisa Sweeney-Miran. “If someone feels something is not being addressed, just get in touch. Send an email to the board – we want to hear what is going on. If you want to have a meeting with any of us, we can make the time.”
Knowing that not everyone has the same opportunity to come to board meetings or meet one-on-one, they work especially hard to understand and represent the voice of those who are unable to participate.
“A lot of people are not able to come to board meetings,” said Tina Marquis. “They are not my friends. They don’t have time for coffee at 10 a.m. We need to make sure to find ways to represent those less-vocal communities as well.”
By being out in our community, whether they are visiting schools or participating in events in the community, they have the opportunity to hear about what is going well and challenges in our system.
“Sometimes I represent that voice,” explained Donna Miers, “I get a lot of people thanking me for representing their viewpoint and the needs of their children.”
“I need to be sure that I’m asking the questions that my community are asking,” added Richard Garcia. “One of the more significant things that a board member can do is ask some provoking questions, like why is the suspension rate so high for Latino students compared to white students. Hopefully that will get other people to start thinking about it – especially from a board perspective.”
Board members say they want to ensure everyone has a voice in the school district, including residents who don’t have a connection to the district.
“I would hope that people would get engaged in their local school and in their local community around education issues, even if they don’t have kids in school anymore,” said Gebhardt. “As we know, we only have about a third of the population at most that have kids in school but everyone is touched by the quality of the education system. I hope that more people understand how important it is to stay engaged even after your own kids are out of school.”
“I hope we can find ways for the community to stay connected,” Marquis added. “We are all contributing to our public funding budgets.”