By Ed Tillery
For the last decade as a school board member, the scenery in my rear-view mirror was more colorful and serene than the view in front of me. More school board meetings than I care to remember were spent discussing declining state appropriations for education and the inevitable budget cuts that followed.
As we look forward to 2019, I feel the need to say thank you to the school board members across Oklahoma who white-knuckled their way through the last decade. Whether you served through that time or only for a portion of it, thank you seems inadequate.
You made heart-wrenching decisions about student opportunity and school employees who live in your neighborhoods, attend your church and shop at the same stores as you and your family. The decisions you made hit home because you have children, grandchildren and nieces and nephews in your local schools.
You reluctantly said yes to larger class sizes and no to important opportunities like professional development for teachers and educational field trips and advanced coursework for students. You wondered when looking forward would be hopeful instead of painful.
I believe history will recognize 2018 as the year school board members across the state began to collectively to look forward in the belief that the best days are still ahead. That’s true for me.
This year’s historic investment in public education and the state’s largest-ever teacher pay raise will pay off for years to come. In the same way cuts have a detrimental cumulative effect, investment pays cumulative dividends, and I’m deeply grateful to our state’s legislators for this demonstration of their commitment to public education.
Each January, the Oklahoma State School Boards Association celebrates School Board Appreciation Month. We encourage local communities to celebrate and recognize their school board members for their willingness to serve and commitment to ensuring all children have access to a high-quality education.
Oklahoma has more than 2,700 locally elected school board members. OSSBA’s most recent membership survey indicated most school board members spend more than six hours a month on board member-related duties. More than one-quarter of board members who responded reported spending more than 11 hours a month.
I suspect the true commitment of school board members is even higher because of the joy board members experience while attending school and district events, including student performances and athletic activities. I also know an increasing number of board members who are spending more time visiting with legislators and with local community leaders about the importance of education investment.
As a fellow board member, I understand and appreciate the sacrifice you make to serve. On behalf of OSSBA, please accept my sincere thank you for your dedication to your local communities and the children of Oklahoma.
Tillery serves on the Whitebead Public Schools Board of Education. He was elected OSSBA president in August 2018 and serves as OSSBA Region 12 director.