Friday, February 10, 2012

Bells may be below the line

Parents from Crestdale Middle School are petitioning the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board to revisit the 2012-13 bell schedule announced last month.  Interim Superintendent Hugh Hattabaugh signed off on changing the start and dismissal times for 10 schools;  Crestdale's moved 30 minutes later,  to a 9-4 school day.  The move is designed to save more than $600,000 on busing costs.

Parents are upset that CMS made changes that affect their family life and students' after-school opportunities without giving them a chance to weigh in.  Those who have older kids in high school,  with a 7:15 a.m. start time,  say the change is especially stressful.

Katy Ridnouer,  one of the parents urging CMS to reconsider,  says she's heard nothing specific from board members.  I emailed board members on Wednesday,  asking them to let me know if they plan to propose revising the bell schedule.  I've gotten no replies.

It's possible that someone could ask Hattabaugh to try again.  The board is likely to discuss transportation costs as part of ongoing budget talks.  But this is a classic example of a dilemma that faces this school board and others:  The temptation to micromanage.

At their recent retreat,  CMS board members said they're committed to sticking to their role as policy-makers.  Setting school hours is "below the line"  for board intervention,  but it's also the kind of decision that affects people's lives and inspires pleas for help.

Boards that try to do the superintendent's job are generally studies in bad leadership, writes Gene Maeroff,  an education researcher and New Jersey school board member, in  "School Boards in America: A Flawed Exercise in Democracy."

"Democracy does not mean that the people's representatives  --  the school board  --  take over and operate the schools any more than it means that the board members of a symphony play the violins,"  he writes.

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