School councils need broad participation
"ACT LOCALLY" is the concept behind School Community Councils mandated by the Reinventing Education Act of 2004. Unlike the old School/Community-Based Management councils that were optional, SCCs are required and now operating at all public schools (excluding charter schools).
Council members are elected by their constituencies -- teachers, staff, parents, students and community members. The principal is a member but may not serve as the council chairperson. The community stakeholders (students, parents and community members) must be equal in number to the number of school staff on the council.
The SCCs are advisory groups helping principals act locally on behalf of their schools. Their first major task was to evaluate their school's academic and financial plan (AFP) prepared by the principal. When approved by complex area superintendents, the AFP becomes the school's blueprint for spending its money allocated under the new weighted student formula. The AFP will help the school align resources with identified school needs for the purpose of improving student achievement.
Superintendent of Schools Pat Hamamoto says SCCs are a "new way (for members) to contribute to the education of students in your school." Remember Act 51 is all about new ways, about doing things differently, about thinking outside the box. So how are the SCCs doing? Time will tell, but they seem promising.
The SCC at a small elementary school suggested a merger to the SCC at a nearby school. Both are projected to lose considerable funding when the proposed weighted student formula (WSF) goes into full effect. Another SCC, after reviewing the school's draft AFP, made additional recommendations that were then included in the final plan.
The SCCs at many smaller schools are facing the loss of considerable funding under the new funding formula, and the minutes of their meetings reflect this. "Small schools have to fight for whatever they have; we're getting less and less. How do we get our voice heard to let others know how we feel?" From another school projected to lose money: "Two half-positions will have to be cut."
Clearly SCCs are keeping their eyes on the prize -- optimizing learning conditions. One SCC says, "Of the projected total school budget, most of the WSF funds will be used to provide student-to-teacher ratios as low as possible."
The SCC at a school whose sixth-graders will be moving to the neighborhood middle school asked for a joint meeting with the middle school's SCC to coordinate transition issues. Many SCCs have invited their schools' Parent Teacher Association to send a liaison to SCC meetings.
Act 51 envisioned that SCCs would be a major part of the overall decision-making structure at a school. In practice, this is not the case; they function as advisory boards and forums for the exchange of ideas. In addition, although council members are elected by constituencies, they do not represent these groups, according to the SCC Handbook (on the DOE Web site at http://doe.k12.hi.us).
These reshapings of the SCC concept seem reasonable. Schools are multimillion-dollar businesses and shouldn't be run by committee. Principals must be in charge, and SCC members should not promote personal or constituency agendas, but, rather, see the big picture.
You can participate on a SCC if you live in the school's geographical area, you own, operate or work in a business within the school's area, or if you're a graduate of the school. By attending SCC meetings or, even better, standing for election, you will be contributing your time, energy and talent to Hawaii's children.
Ruth Tschumy is a consultant to the Hawaii Educational Policy Center, a nonpartisan research organization.