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New board members surveyed at workshops

Newly-elected school board members who attended IASB workshops in April 2007 were invited to take part in a survey. Somewhat more than half of the workshop participants accepted the invitation.

The survey consisted of 47 questions, many of which create a composite picture of the new board members themselves: age, gender, ethnicity, type of community, family size, family income and the like. The survey also probed such issues as board member priorities for the schools and how they felt about their needs for training.

The 244 useable responses represented about 15 percent of the nearly 1,400 board members elected for the first time in April 2007.

Response totals for all 47 questions are available online for 2007, 2005 and 2003.

Download 2007 data in rich text format.

Download 2005 data in rich text format.

Download 2003 data in rich text format.

Here are just a few general observations one might draw from an examination of the survey results.

There has been a slight increase in the percentage of college grads (33.2 percent) or post grads (32.0 percent) among new board members.

There has been a small increase in the proportion of those who say they were elected because they support change in the school system (29.5 percent) and a slight decrease in the proportion who say they were elected to protect tax dollars (4.1 percent).

As the impact of the No Child Left Behind Act increases each year with higher standards, the number of new board members who said they ran to improve student achievement is also rising. In 2007, 44.3 percent made it their highest priority, compared with 38.4 percent and 29.9 percent in 2005 and 2003, respectfully.

As in past surveys, new board members elected in April 2007 are somewhat more likely to be critical of the schools than are veteran board members who were surveyed in 2008. Most respondents in both groups, however, are positive in their views of the schools.

In comparison with veterans, new board members are somewhat more likely to stress a need for more community engagement (37.3 percent new board members; 28.7 percent veteran board members) and less likely to stress a need to improve district finances (2.0 percent new; 7.1 percent veterans).

No significant differences arise between new members and veterans in what they see as the positive aspects of being a board member. At the top for both groups are involvement in making public policy (43.0 percent new; 35.7 percent veterans) and seeing students grow and graduate (34.4 percent new; 34.2 percent veterans).

As to perceptions of the negative aspects of board membership, new members more often mention time away from family and job (31.6 percent new; 20.0 percent veterans) and loss of privacy (11.1 percent new; 6.8 percent veterans), while veterans are more likely to say state mandates and/or lack of funding (43.4 percent new; 62.3 percent veterans).

In identifying the major obstacles to good education in their districts, both new members and veterans agree that lack of money is the single biggest obstacle (37.7 percent new; 46.6 percent veterans). Both groups also often mention too many state regulations (23.4 percent new; 43.2 percent veterans) and too many social problems (28.7 percent new; 28.7 percent veterans) that kids bring to school. Beyond that, new members are more likely to mention lack of leadership (17.2 percent new; 5.1 percent veterans) and veterans more likely to mention unionized teachers (7.4 percent new; 13.7 percent veterans).

Undoubtedly because they were at workshops when they responded to the surveys, new board members are far more likely than veterans to say that board members need a lot of training for the job (67.2 percent new; 34.5 percent veterans). Only a very small percentage of either group says board member training is not essential (0.8 percent new; 1.3 percent veterans).

By the same token, new board members are much more likely to say they would drive 100 miles and stay overnight to attend a workshop (29.9 percent new; 4.8 percent veterans) and also more likely to say they would take part in a workshop delivered via the Internet (18.0 percent new; 11.6 percent veterans). Veterans and rookies are both very likely to say they would attend a workshop offered at the Joint Annual Conference (47.5 percent new; 50.0 percent veterans), but fewer would attend one if offered in the local district (35.7 percent new; 25.7 percent veterans).

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