Democracy at Its Finest

By: David Freund, Chief Leadership Officer

Election day 2018 is now past. I would like to touch on democracy at its finest.  In 1784, Governor George Clinton established the Regents of the University of the State of New York. In 1787, the Regents declared the need for erecting Public Schools for the teaching of reading, writing, and arithmetic. In 1795, the State Legislature responded by inaugurating a system of State aid to encourage the establishment of common schools. The funding was to begin at $50,000 and be divided up between various towns, and thus, began the public-school system in our great state. I think that we here in New York have one of the finest educational systems in the country. Sustaining it and paying for it is another matter, but the availability of excellent instruction, in my opinion, is first rate.

One of the things I love about our system is that it is very localized. Our Boards of Education are made up of ordinary citizens, and with the exception of the big five districts, school board candidates run without any party affiliation.  Board members are elected as representatives of the community to serve as custodians of the process Governor George Clinton started over 200 years ago. This allows each district to take on the flavor and character of the community in which it resides.

I had the privilege of spending three years on the Onondaga Central School Board. It was a fascinating and very rewarding experience. We were tasked with finding a new Superintendent, working through a capital project that touched every building in our district, voting on tenure for faculty members, approving contracts and district policies, but perhaps the toughest challenge was to approve the annual budget so each district resident over the age of 18 years could express their personal conviction at the voting booth. This was democracy at its finest.

For this system to work, you need board members who care enough to get involved. In 2013, there were 950 school districts in New York State. School districts governed by locally elected school boards. How about you? Are you ready to step up and take your turn as a custodian of this great opportunity.

We are fortunate in Central New York to have the Central New York School Boards Association which advocates in Albany for our districts and provides crucial training to the hundreds of school board members in our area. This week on The Next Page podcast episode 73, I chat with CNYSBA Executive Director, Charlie Borgognoni, about school boards and the challenges of education in our great state.

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