There are Conservatives on School Boards. Now What?
School board races are over, and a lot of conservatives were elected to replace liberals and educrats. The question becomes: What now? The backlash against bloated budgets, CRT, and onerous restrictions on personal freedoms swept many conservatives into these important positions. But getting on the board as a conservative is not the same thing as enacting conservative reforms once one is elected to the board. Below are a few recommendations I have based upon my experience serving on the Board of Trustees of the largest and most diverse community colleges in the nation.
I come from an academic background having taught at the K-12 and university levels. I left full time academic employment in 2008 to try my hand at entrepreneurship. Things were going well, but I still wanted to be involved in education. So, in 2013 I ran for the Board of Trustees of my local community college and ran against the nearly $500 million bond referendum. I made a lot of people angry within higher education and the construction business. They mounted a concerted attack against me and for the bond. With tremendous support from conservative and grassroots groups I won, and the bond was defeated. I was emboldened by the result, but that confidence was misplaced. I was about to walk into a room with people who were ready to head me off at every turn.
I learned a few lessons the hard way. Here are three things all new trustees should try to do if they want to do more than just win an election.
Build Alliances. No board member can be effective alone. Without the majority of votes, board members cannot get anything done. The superintendent or president can disregard all recommendations if you are in the minority. Their job is safe. Also, without support from your fellow board members, your items will not make it on the consent agenda, and if they do, they will not pass. Therefore, your election will have been futile as all you will have is a pulpit to yell from rather than a seat to govern from.
You must understand what your fellow board members care about and craft your priorities around theirs. This may mean building different alliances around different priorities, but the goal is to get your recommendations into policy, not make friends or avoid enemies. There are probably board members who you do not like and who do not like you, but you must work to bury the hatchet and work together. Be the first to reach out, listen, and look for common ground. Chances are you have more in common than you think.
On a nine-person board you need at least four other like-minded thinkers on any one policy. These alliances may change depending on the policy, so be flexible, respectful and open to working with everyone when the time is right.
Maintain Open Channels of Communication. If you ran in opposition to the administration the first thing they will likely do is limit your access to information. They can either say the information doesn’t exist, pretend like they don’t know what you’re asking for to make you refine your request for more than a month, or they just may send you the wrong information. They can do a data dump and give you thousands of pages in an unusable format. Once I got more than 100 out of order, loose-leaf pages that were unnumbered. Another oddity I experienced after my election was that all my emails sent to the college were kicked back as undeliverable. I didn’t have that problem when I was a candidate. Nor did I have that problem when I created a new email address as a workaround. Odd. We currently have a different administration that avoids these tactics now.
Therefore, you need to quickly reach out to the administration and make them understand you care about the institution as much as they do, but that you just see things a different way. Work to restore the trust that was likely undermined during the election. Also, do not be afraid to hold your own town halls on campus. If you are visible and accessible, employees will reach out to you and provide you with the information you need. But be careful. If you get too involved this could end up being a SACS violation. So, make sure you let the administration know anytime you plan to visit a campus. Remember, most boards are policy boards and not management boards. The first place they will try to stymie your efforts is by saying you are stepping into management responsibilities and have lawyers start warning you. All boards should have their own attorney separate from the institution they can go to for help. One of my first acts as a board member was to hire a board attorney to represent the interests of the board and board members.
Resisting Groupthink and Indoctrination. As time progresses, it becomes increasingly difficult to go against the grain. If you are the lone—or maybe one of two—conservatives on the board it is possible that toward the end of one’s term, the conservative board member will begin thinking like the rest of the group. There are two reasons for this. First, humans are by nature social creatures. God tells us this in the Genesis Chapter 2, “It is not good for man to be alone.” Ancient philosophers such as Aristotle wrote that anyone who can live apart from the group is either a beast or a god. Even modern science has shown that humans are inclined to cooperate and exist together. Thus, when one is alienated from the group one tends to conform in order to be part of the group. The process is gradual, but the once boisterous board member may start to tone things down, oppose a little less, or make compromises they would not have made at the beginning. Of course, no one thinks they will do this when they first get elected, but research demonstrates that elected officials get more moderate and conform more the longer they are in office.
Second, board members are sent to “training” when they are first elected and continue this throughout their time in office. At these training sessions they are continually reminded that their only job is to hire and fire the chief executive, support the school’s reputation by having a unified front, and to support the school in all its efforts. The implications of this are laughable, but without counterbalance from alternative views it becomes easy to question one’s desire to hold accountable and disrupt.
Republican groups across the state should pull together and offer their own training. If a school board candidate gets any help from the Party, it is during the campaign and then they are left to their own devices after the election. For most candidates, a school board race is likely their first race and their first elected office. The Party would be wise to continue its support after the election to make sure conservative values are upheld and become policy. These can be half day sessions to teach board members about what to look for, how to read a budget and financial statements, how to put an item on the consent agenda, how to remove an item from the consent agenda, how to write a policy recommendation, Robert’s rules of order, how to seek legal advice and what are the accreditation risks they need to be aware of.
These are just a few of my recommendations for new board members and the Party. I made a lot of mistakes early on as a trustee. I hope this helps others avoid the same mistakes. I also hope the Party takes my recommendation seriously to get out and help our board members be better board members. That would be a huge value add for our board members and our children.
Kyle Scott, PhD, MBA is a proven conservative and taxpayer advocate. Scott has been a successful entrepreneur and educator. He lives with his wife, Bethany, and two teenage children in Spring, TX. They are longtime members of Trinity Lutheran Church and Kyle serves on the Board of Trustees of Concordia Lutheran High School. Kyle was elected to the Board of Trustees of Lone Star College in 2013 with strong conservative and grassroots support. He received his bachelor’s degree at University of Texas at Austin, PhD at University of Houston and MBA at Rice University. Kyle is currently running for Harris County Treasurer to help turn Harris County red once again. He can be reached at [email protected] and electkylescott.com