FRN Audience Reacts to Duncan’s Remarks

Many school board members said they liked what U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan had to say in his remarks Monday to attendees of NSBA’s Federal Relations Network annual conference.

Quite a few attendees also questioned whether good intentions would translate into good policy that supports local school governance.

For Lori Brady of Georgia’s Savannah-Chatham Public Schools, that means seeing how Congress responds to the proposals that Duncan outlined.

“I’m certainly pleased with what he had to say, but I want to see action . . . to see it happen,” she said. “I don’t want to hear the talk, I want to see Congress walk the walk.”

That’s particularly true when it comes to funding, which is “always an issue,” she said. “I was disturbed not to hear something about when we’ll fund IDEA (the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) at full level.”

Also generally positive—but cautious—to Duncan’s proposals was Don Blevins, chair of the Waterford Public Schools and president of the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education.

“He seems well intentioned and has all the right positions in general,” he said. “I hope that he can make sure that attitude percolates down into the bureaucracy.”

For example, Blevins said, he hopes lower levels of the education department will follow up on Duncan’s reassurances that proposed new competitive grants—targeted directly at local school systems—would have an application process that would not be beyond the expertise or resources of smaller, poorer school systems.

Previous remarks by Duncan in support of charter schools concerned Panfilo Contreras, executive director of the Arizona School Boards Association. Coming from a state that’s “a model for how not to do charters,” he was, however, relieved to hear Duncan talk about holding charter schools more accountable.

“We need to do away with charters that don’t work,” he said.

Board member Jesse Morris of Gary, Ind., expressed concern that Duncan didn’t say more about helping urban school systems. He noted that federal officials didn’t pay enough attention when Indiana officials bolstered the state’s general fund with  stimulus dollars designated for education—and left urban school systems hurting financially.

Meanwhile, board colleague Barbara Leek worried that the new federal interest in competitive grants would force her school system to divert resources to grant writers.

True, Duncan said existing Title I and IDEA funds would still be distributed as normal, she acknowledged. But diverting new funds to help expand “successful” strategies won’t help her school board deal with a lowest-performing high school that has defied reform.

“We’re not going to be able to fully address the needs of that school without more money and help.”

The final word came from Bobby Rigues, a first-time FRN Conference attendee from Aledo, Texas. He said Duncan’s remarks—and the entire conference—was a “very unique and enlightening experience.”

“It allowed me to see the broad perspective, the big picture,” he said. “To hear a person of that position give us his perspective . . . that definitely added value to the message we need to send [to Capitol Hill].”

Del Stover, Senior Editor

Del Stover|February 1st, 2010|Categories: Governance, School Boards, FRN Conference 2010, Educational Legislation, School Reform, School Board News|Tags: |

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