I had the pleasure of working behind the scenes in public education for over five years before becoming a stay-at-home mom. During that time I learned the ins and outs of how public schools work. Here’s how to keep tabs on what goes on in your school district:
1. Understand how the system works.
Your school district is governed by an elected board of education. That board receives their information and directives from school board associations at the state and national level. Check out their websites. See what their goals are and what issues they’re talking about. Then see how those initiatives are influencing your district’s curriculum.
The same goes for teachers’ unions. Most teacher unions have a parent organization at both the state and national level. The two largest are the National Education Association (NEA) and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT). Check out their websites. See what they’re talking about and where their pensions are invested to know what and how they’ll be talking to your kids.
2. Follow the money.
School budgets are public documents reviewed in public meetings. Most boards of education now publish their budgets on their websites. Hard copies should be made available at your local board of education office. These budgets will detail salaries, supplies, and programming costs among other important tidbits like how much your district budgets for legal fees and professional development.
3. Know what your teachers are learning.
Most teachers are expected to attend so many hours of professional development per academic year. Professional development usually translates into day-long seminars on any number of topics. One of my roles in my former district involved reviewing paperwork for seminar approvals. My favorite seminar title involved LGBTQ literature for Tweens. Want to know what your kids are learning? Start asking what their teachers are learning and what your tax dollars are paying for.
4. Read your district’s policies.
Every school district has a load of policies, all of which are required to be made available to the public. Usually they’re on the website. If not, go to your local board office for hard copy. These policies will tell you how teachers and administrators are evaluated, how discipline is handled, how hazardous conditions are dealt with and detail the code of conduct for staff and students.
5. Study the union contracts.
Most public school staff are unionized employees. Their contracts are public records and should be published on the district’s website. (Again, if not, pay a visit to your local board office.) These contracts include salary guides, details on benefits, and how grievances are handled. Note: Grievances can and do cost school districts tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars.
These contracts are negotiated between the board and the union at regular intervals. Boards of education generally have influence over health benefits, paid time off and leave-related clauses. The salary guides are generally provided to the board of education by the union’s state-level parent organization at the completion of negotiations.
6. Know the data.
As the human resources specialist I was required to complete what my predecessor referred to as “the underwear size report” each year, a massive data transfer that detailed everything about our teaching staff members short of their underwear size. This data would then be used by the state to create a number of reports on teacher and student achievement, all regularly published on the department of education’s website. This data would influence everything from curriculum to area home values.
Thanks to the Internet, you don’t need to join the PTA or attend monthly board meetings to be an informed parent. A few mouse clicks or finger taps will get you the information you need to be an active part of your child’s public school education.