The controversy which developed at Thursday night’s District 861 School Board meeting raises interesting questions. Teachers union representative Jeff Hyma announced that the union had voted to release staff development funds to the district without conditions and thanked new board member Gary Shurson for facilitating collaboration (interesting choice of words) between the district and the union, by meeting with union representatives.
In response, board member Brian Neil complained that he “had no idea this meeting was taking place,” raising the essential question as to whether Shurson had any business or authority to meet privately with the union. “I feel like I’ve been involved in an end run,” Neil said.
Board chair Stacey Mounce Arnold then stated that she had known about Shurson’s meeting with the union, but that neither she nor he felt the board need be involved. “Obviously, and I think that’s wrong,” Neil replied. At this point board member Michelle Langowski said that she had not been informed about Shurson’s meeting either, but had received word from teachers all over the district that Shurson had made deals with the union on behalf of the board.
Shurson denied this, stating that he had met with the union not as a board member, but as an individual. “I’m not going to call every board member and tell them what I’m doing,” he said.
This is a strange attitude. The notion that board members can step back from their membership on the board to hold private meetings, negotiations, whatever, with the teachers union, does not jibe very well with their fiduciary responsibility to the voters and taxpayers to set policy for and run the business of the school district.
One of the board’s chief responsibilities is to deal with the employees of the school district as a management unit, to negotiate wages and conditions. This can often be adversarial; indeed, if it is not at times, the board is shirking its responsibility to the taxpayers. For a board member to break ranks and go hold private, unauthorized negotiations or meetings with the union, unbeknownst to fellow board members, raises the fundamental question of who it is that he or she is representing.
If Brian Neil, a high school teacher himself, understands this fundamental arrangement, it is hard to fathom why Gary Shurson and Stacey Mounce Arnold do not, and raises serious doubts about just what it is they think serving on the school board is all about.