The Superintendent's Political Balancing Act

Many superintendents who achieve improvement at scale view themselves as the primary person responsible in their district for mediating or balancing things that impact their district's ability to improve, but which are outside of their locus of control. Superintendents believe that stewardship and an appropriate amount of financial resources are absolutely critical to the improvement of their system. However, school districts are governed within a federal system, in which the power to govern is divided up among local, state, and national domains. Thus, because their districts' financial resources are influenced by local, state, and federal agencies (and by extension the politics and programmatic decisions at those levels), they see themselves in roles that can be described as political. This in large part relates back to financial resources because they find themselves needing to advocate (to extent permitted by law) for more or adequate funding in order to improve various aspects of the system. Advocating in this way can occur either at the local level (e.g., bonds and levies) or the state level (e.g., the state legislature's budget). Without this political advocacy, they believe the work of improvement would be hindered for lack of resources. On the one hand, political success, such as that achieved by getting a bond or levy passed, is seen as approval by the community and support for the work that is being done. On the other hand, the politics represent a dilemma, especially in relation to the state domain where the largest portions of the districts? budgets are set via formula allocations.

Therefore, higher performing superintendents often see themselves as responsible for advocating and educating the political agencies that directly impact their ability to serve students. This includes meeting informally with state senators and representatives on their personal time, inviting civic and state leaders to their local school board meetings or other events, and working with representatives from the community to educate them on the impact of various decisions at the state and local level. And, while one might contend that the need for such activities is amplified during economic downturns, it would seem to be just as important during normal economic conditions. Either way, the superintendents will oftentimes have to negotiate balance in the realm of politics, especially as it relates to financial resources. This political balancing act is critical to their district?s ability to succeed for it impacts the ability to broker the right kinds of resources for the decisions that are made.

Connections & Resources

The following indicator in the WISE Tool (Idaho's online planning tool) would make for natural connections for superintendents who are considering making plans related to this topic.

IA01 The district includes municipal and civic leaders in district and school improvement planning and maintains regular communication with them. PDF Icon CLICK HERE Link