Boise trustee resigns, says board behavior is ‘inappropriate’

Boise School District trustee Joan Boren resigned Friday, saying the seven-member board is “not an independent, governing body and instead serves at the pleasure of district administration.”

The move caught Boise superintendent Don Coberly off-guard — and drew fire from several current and former trustees. One said the timing of Boren’s announcement was politically motivated.

Joan Boren
Joan Boren

“I am no longer willing to be a part of a board that surrenders its responsibilities to provide oversight and governance on behalf of citizens and taxpayers,” Boren wrote in her resignation letter. (The full text is published below).

Boren was elected in 2010 for a six-year term.

“I was surprised,” said Coberly after reading the letter. “That’s her take on it. Joan has a different perspective than others.”

Present and current trustees were more critical.

“She has said these things previously but I was hoping we would be moving forward,” Board President Nancy Gregory said. “Her perspective is certainly different than mine. Our relationship with the superintendency is one of the strengths of our governing structure. I’m sorry to see this happen.”

Said board Vice President Maria Greeley: “We haven’t seen eye-to-eye. I am so impressed by the level of collaboration between our board and the administration.”

Boise trustees
Boise trustees

Gregory was elected board president this summer, succeeding longtime president  A.J. Balukoff, who stepped down to focus on his bid to unseat Gov. Butch Otter.

Rory Jones, a 26-year Boise School Board member who served with Boren for 28 months, said he thinks the resignation was timed around Tuesday’s general election.

“Although it’s not very smart since the debates are over,” Jones said. “Of all of the people I have served with, she understood the role of the board the least. Huge efforts were made to try and help her and they were all apparently unsuccessful.”

In her letter, Boren accuses the board of having the “chain of authority backwards in a way that is wholly inappropriate.” She said she is concerned about the lack of fairness in hiring and evaluation practices, and says Coberly is not held accountable to measurable goals.

She also writes that public debate and transparency are discouraged.

“I have never experienced the list of items she listed in her letter,” said Bev Harad, an 18-year Boise School Board member who served with five different superintendents.

“She always believed her result was the right result and if six others disagreed then they must be pawns of the administration,” Jones said. “The whole thing is ludicrous.”

Here is the full text of Joan Boren’s resignation letter for the Boise School District’s Board of Trustees:

I was elected to the Boise School Board in 2010.  As a graduate of the Boise School District, a former teacher, the parent of three Boise High graduates, and a holder of a master’s degree in biology with a teaching emphasis, I believed that I could contribute by serving on the board. There are many good things in the Boise School District and I am a huge champion of its students, its teachers, its employees and its parents.

However, in my four years of service I have come to realize that the board is not an independent, governing body and instead serves at the pleasure of District administration.  As a board member I have worked without success to return the board to its proper role. I am no longer willing to be a part of a board that surrenders its responsibilities to provide oversight and governance on behalf of citizens and taxpayers. I hereby submit my resignation, effective immediately.

Local school boards were established to oversee the operation of a tax-funded organization and to ensure that the organization provides appropriate value to the constituents who fund its operation and receive the services it provides. A board is expected to fulfill these responsibilities through its appointment and direct oversight of the superintendent of schools and the administrative team. Board members are not elected to trust the system, but to ensure that decisions are thoroughly vetted, to provide insight and advice, and to evaluate the administration and hold it accountable to the taxpayers, parents and students it serves.

In practice, the Boise School Board has the chain of authority backwards in a way that is wholly inappropriate:

  • Each Boise School Board member is asked to agree to a Code of Ethics stating that the board will trust the administration.
  • The board has delegated to the administration all authority for hiring, and does not require that an open hiring policy is followed or that fair and impartial evaluation of all employees is ensured.
  • The board does not hold the superintendent accountable to measureable goals.
  • The board does not have policies in place that would ensure the independent operation of and objectivity of the board.
  • Differing opinions of members of the Board are discouraged and muted.
  • Public debate, engagement of constituents and general transparency are discouraged.

The community of Boise would benefit from the district engaging education experts and outside opinions when decisions are made. We would benefit from an open, robust process for hiring and evaluating the superintendent. We would benefit from decisions that are strengthened by discussions that ensure divergent opinions are heard. We would benefit from a board that engaged the taxpayers appropriately in the decision making process. We would benefit from board members being active participants in many organizations in the community and being open to the variety of opinions and knowledge that make this community such a desirable place to live.

I would give such a board my wholehearted support and hope to have that opportunity in the future. I wish the best to the district and hope to see the board develop the true transparency and accountability that our district, its employees, its teachers, its parents and our students deserve.