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Wednesday, September 2, 2009

School Board Blog -- Why Not?

Amidst the thronging masses at Prairie Village this weekend, I saw Madison Central School Board member Tammy Jo Zingmark. She was working the gate as part of a fundraiser for the MHS band (throw a successful signature event, wealth trickles out to non-profits... heck of a deal!).

I asked her when we might see her lead the school district into Web 2.0 and start a school board blog. I paraphrase TJZ's response:

Oh, I don't know I don't know much about blogs or Twitter or any of that.

Five minutes, I say, and I can have you set up and blogging.

Well, the board would have to authorize something like that.

What, authorize a board member to express an opinion?

You know, we take an oath saying we'll work as a team. People call me and ask about issues, and I have to tell them, "Come to the board meeting." And then they never do.

Wait a minute. So if I want to find out what's coming up on the school board agenda or talk pros and cons with a board member, I can have that conversation once a month, during the public comment period at each official board meeting?

Let's review that oath:

[Madison Central Policy BBBB-E] Do you solemnly swear, or affirm, that you will support the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of South Dakota, and that you will faithfully and impartially perform your duties as a member of the school board of the Madison Central School District, Lake County, South Dakota, to the best of your ability, and in accordance with the laws now in effect and hereafter to be enacted, during your continuance in said office, and until your successor is elected and qualified?

And do you further swear to:

  1. Observe and enforce state laws and regulations pertaining to education.
  2. Accept office as a board member as a means of unselfish service.
  3. Transact school business only in regular sessions.
  4. Represent the entire community without fear or favor.
  5. Remember at all times that I am one of a team.
  6. Accept all board decisions once they are made and assist in carrying them out effectively.
  7. Delegate action to the chief school administrator as the board executive and to confine board action to policy making, planning and appraisal.
  8. Employ only competent, trained personnel and these only on the recommendation of the chief school administrator.
  9. Preserve the right and obligation of teachers to teach controversial issues fairly and without bias.
  10. Adhere to the School Board Member Code of Ethics.
  11. Govern the school in accordance with the school board adopted polices for the school district. (The answer is: “I do”.)

MCSD oath word count: 232. Presidential oath word count: 35.

Now help me out: which clause of that weighty vow supersedes the First Amendment? More specifically, which clause of that oath says that the board must authorize any public communication that a board member may issue relating to school matters?

For contrast, consider the city commission of Portland, Oregon. Here is a board like our school board, empowered to act only as a body, not as individuals. Yet the mayor and three of the four commission members maintain separate blogs to keep their constituents informed. They don't wait for a phone call and then say, "Come to the meeting." They actively push information online for anyone interested.

A school board blog would be a wonderful channel for information flowing in both directions: observations, opinions, and questions from board members and from citizens. And I see no policy clause that prohibits any school board member from opening a blog, saying "Here's what I think," and inviting fellow citizens to some healthy public online discourse.

...if they want to engage in such open conversation. If they believe regular public communication is part of their sworn duty to "unselfish service." If.


  1. We've got a city council member who Twitters and our mayor takes part in online chats on our local newspaper's website.

    I applaud those efforts.

    But considering how many government bodies don't even keep meeting agendas and minutes on their websites, I don't expect many to take up blogging. Too often the answer I get is similar to the one your board member gave.

  2. I think technology will catch up to them very soon Steve.

    One tech that I'm very interested in right now is a taser that has a video camera attached to it. Whenever it's fired the camera automatically comes on. This leads to more police accountability. The neat part is that it only adds a tiny amount of cost to the taser. It will be ubiquitous pretty soon.

    I expect that sooner rather than later pretty much anything of value to the public will be recorded and put up for all to watch. Even better than a blog! No interpretation, just what actually happened. Though commentary on what was said will drive public attention to the blog.

    Sort of like a freedom of information act on steroids. Maybe we'll call it the public accountability act.

  3. The Madison school board does post the video of meetings online, though they're a bit slow sometimes on providing the link for the latest meeting. But I'd like to hear more perspective from individual members on where they stand on issues, on what they're thinking about, and what they'd like to learn from constituents before voting. I'm not looking for gossip on inside matters; I'm just looking for another channel of communication to bring our elected leaders closer to the people who gave them their positions.

  4. There are perhaps a dozen school board members in the US that blog (an updated number will likely come out of the next nat' school board conference). Considering the number of school board membersin the US, that doesn't constitute a very high percentage of SB bloggers. To my knowledge, I'm the only SD school board memebr that blogs (used to blog, stopped blogging, started blogging again). For those interested, the site is www.school-of-thought.net. Topical suggestons and feedback is always welcome -- even from you Mr. C!

    Fred Deutsch


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