School Board Decision Making

by Heidi Burgess

A good illustration of rushed decision making is the approach of the new school board elected in the Boulder Valley School District in Colorado (USA) in 1995.  This school board, a group of private citizens elected by a region to run their schools, was politically very different from its predecessors.  It was a much more conservative board, dedicated to improving the quality of teaching and student achievement.  It sought to reverse many earlier decisions of past boards which it thought detracted from those goals:  decisions to provide social and emotional support for students as well as "academics," for example, or decisions to follow new teaching trends which were seen by many as ineffective.


Since this board was sure they knew what the problems were with the schools and what needed to be done to fix them, they tried to make as many decisions as quickly as possible, without involving the public any more than was absolutely necessary.  They limited the number of speakers who could speak at board meetings, and limited the few who could speak to two minutes each.  They voted on measures before they were supposed to, so people who were opposed to what they planned did not have time to respond before the decision was made.


The result of this approach is that the community completely reversed itself in two years.  Though the community still wanted its schools to stress strong academic achievement, it wanted a school board which would listen to community input and consider decisions carefully before making a choice. As a result, the 1995 school board was almost entirely voted out of office in 1997, and a go-so-and-carefully school board was elected in its place.

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