Beth Ann Rosica wrote a compelling article, published here in Broad + Liberty, in which she explains why 9–0 school boards are suboptimal.

Dr. Rosica’s supposition is that a school district might not be best served by a school board made up entirely of nine Democrats or nine Republicans. It’s hard to argue this premise and easy to find reasons this would be true. Dr. Rosica contends that a more balanced board will result in more diverse viewpoints.

Let’s see whether this is really true in 2023.

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Think of the times you’ve tried to come up with an idea, plan a multi-faceted event, or solve a problem at work or at home. When you’re alone, you come up with one or two ideas (sometimes none!). Think of those times when you’ve spoken to two or three other people and a bunch of ideas are floated. Now imagine nine people working together. The diversity of thoughts and ideas among nine people is nearly brilliant and yet still manageable. (Imagine 100 people serving a school board — no longer manageable.) 

The point of this is that nine people with diverse views will come up with many ideas. But nine people will not cooperate if they are too far divided in ideology.

Take the Perkiomen Valley School Board, for example. It’s made up of a 5–4 board, which is as balanced as you can get politically. Yet some of the Democrat board members won’t stand for the Pledge of Allegiance. That is their right, of course, but it probably has not occurred to those board members that the Pledge is not a pledge to the government — it’s a pledge of our commitment to the Constitution. The Pledge is a chance to take a deep breath and start from a place of neutrality.

Sure, you’ve studied topics in advance and you have your “going in” positions, but the entire point of a nine-person board is that you’re going to listen to eight other people. You’ll reset your baseline for the meeting, you’ll take in everyone’s commentary, and you’ll determine which views were presented factually and objectively and incorporate those views back into your original position and thinking. After all, that is what critical thinking is: listening not just to affirm your own views, but to see if any evidence refutes your views. Critical thinking is the job you are elected to do on a school board. 

School board directors take an oath to uphold the Constitution. Protesting the Pledge, while in your official government capacity, signifies you aren’t starting off the meeting open-minded with all animosity set aside. Instead, you’re starting off the meeting by saying, “We’re not going to cooperate.” And that is precisely what happens in practice with those directors who protest the Pledge at board meetings. 

If you review and observe every Perkiomen Valley School Board meeting since this balanced yet divided board was formed here in November 2021, you’ll notice a pattern. The pattern is contention and a complete inability to listen and compromise. All actions, positions, and votes from those members refusing to stand for the pledge are purely along party lines. How is the balanced board working? Not very cooperatively.

Since November 2021, there’s been just one instance where this balanced board came close to agreeing on a policy, and that’s just because the teachers’ union supported the policy. 

Teachers want to teach American history, warts and all, and letting them do so is really the path to reducing teachers’ and parents’ frustration.

Dr. Rosica’s premise might be true if our political ideologies were closer together. Bill Clinton is considered by many historians a “conservative” Democrat president. He and the Republican-controlled Congress agreed on many legislative topics (before he was impeached for lying about his extramarital affair).

There was a time when moderates existed on both sides of the aisle, but today, the modern Democratic Party has shifted further progressive than it ever has, with many calling it more socialist than liberal according to a recent Quinnipiac University poll (and that was conducted before the pandemic. We know things have shifted even more since).

In contrast, the poll found most believe the Republican Party has not shifted too far right. I suspect Dr. Rosica’s perspective is probably coming from her observations of the Philadelphia School District, which has been run almost entirely by Democrats for decades (Philadelphia School Board members are appointed by the Mayor — the only district in Pennsylvania to do so), where she blames the teachers’ union for not prioritizing kids.

That’s where Dr. Rosica got it right and nailed the problem. PSEA devotes only somewhere between fourteen and nineteen percent of its expenditures on “representational activities.” Local PSEA leaders work very hard, but almost no funding is allocated toward local interests and local leaders to help them advocate for teachers.

As is certainly true in Philadelphia, failing school districts are almost always failing, in large part, because of Democrat-led boards, which can’t resist the continuous expansion of bureaucracy, and the ill-functioning teachers’ unions, whose nearly sole purpose is to collect dues which are then funneled back to Democrat candidates (partisan) and never toward teacher advancement and student interests. 

Dr. Rosica got it half right. It would seem advisable to avoid an all-Democrat school board given the priorities and agenda of Democrat leaders today, including an emphasis on increasing administrative staff (while teaching positions remain largely flat), advocating for fundamental curriculum changes that insert revisionist history even into classes that are not history-related (instead of focusing on core history, mathematics, science, and reading/writing), asking kids their preferred name and pronouns as early as elementary school, advocacy of gender identification changes of children without parental involvement (why are teachers or schools involved in this at all?), advocacy for allowing drag queen story hours when the entire nation is not supportive, advocacy for permitting biological boys in girls’ locker rooms (meaning seventeen-year-old boys can shower with fourteen-year-old girls), and advocacy for assigning sexualized books to reading lists (e.g., NEA educator reading list) some of which contain pages that can’t be reprinted here.

On the other hand, a school board led by a strong Republican majority would bring a diversity of moderate to conservative voices to a school district. (I concede that there are moderate and honorable Democrats and one or two on a school board would add diverse opinions.) For example, Republican board members and candidates in the Perkiomen Valley School District have shown that they don’t religiously vote along party lines and that they can debate vigorously but respectfully. Any district looking to focus on students’ outcomes, improve academic performance, and critically question every spending decision would be well served to vote for Republican majorities, at least until the divisive issues and rhetoric settle.

Teachers want to teach American history, warts and all, and letting them do so is really the path to reducing teachers’ and parents’ frustration. Republican candidates’ diversity of ideas more closely focuses on what matters most: students learning! 

After reading this letter, I wonder if Dr. Rosica herself would agree with me.

Russ Larson is running for school board director in the Perkiomen Valley School District.

4 thoughts on “Russ Larson: Balanced school boards?”

  1. This should have “paid for by Russ Larsen”
    at the end. It’s an ad for Mr Larsen’s candidacy and nothing more. Also he must be a mind reader when it comes to why some chose not to stand for the pledge.

  2. Thanks for posting your comment. The letter is more than you describe it (an ad and nothing more), it’s thought provoking and it’s true. I don’t assert things without empirical evidence or sources, and that’s true for everything said in the letter.
    As for being a mind reader, two things: 1. I didn’t state why they choose not to stand, rather I am implying that they patently misunderstand the purpose of standing for the Pledge, especially in the context of their roles as state/public officials and their protest taking place while in that official capacity. I support their right to not stand but suggest they should do it on personal time such as at a sporting event or some other venue to make their protest known, whereas in their official role, they are bound (swore an oath) to support and protect the Constitution and that includes the process for deliberating with a very open mind. I suggest you re-read that passage in the letter because it is logical; and 2. I don’t have to be a mind reader, because those board members made their reasons quite clear. If you review the video of Perk Valley school board meetings, you’ll see they spoke about this and revealed their thoughts.
    By the way, I’d love to get aligned with you, so feel free to reach out to Vote 5 for PV via email (on our Facebook or website) and ask to touch base with me. I’d welcome a 1:1 conversation/meeting with you (a back and forth in the comments section where you won’t reveal your name is not the way to go).

  3. Very well said. Logical and fair. I think it would be helpful for voters to attend or watch several school board meetings to have the direct experience of what happens. And listen with an open mind and really wanting to understand all sides. I have done this and have learned by listening. Keep
    calm. Take steps to have your school district focus on education.

  4. This was a terribly biased and uninformed article. The contention spoken of at the meetings has been orchestrated by outside groups with an agenda and no students actually in our school. The radical hate group, “M.F.L.” was allowed on our campus when parents were told to stay away. This was NOT the Democratic board members doing no matter how you want to spin this. This is a plan to create discourse, interrupt education and push an agenda. Teachers that align with this political radical agenda are NOT treating students or their protected jobs with integrity as been demonstrated. AT least be honest in your assessments, your bias harms children.

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