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Few school board members have children in district

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Terri Tomlin waited to serve the students of Jackson School District as a board member until she no longer had a student there herself.

"Up until my son graduated, I was pretty busy with his activities and my activities," said Tomlin, who has served on the Jackson board since 2002.

Tomlin is among the majority of other local school board members, few of whom have children in the school district in which they serve.

Each seven-member school board in Cape Girardeau, Jackson and Scott City has only two members who have children currently enrolled in those public school systems.

"It's always better when you have or have had children go through the district, but just because you don't have a child in school doesn't mean you don't have your ear to the ground," said Cape Girardeau School Board vice president Sharon Mueller. "I would be scared if people were just there for their own kids."

Mueller's daughter transferred from Central High School to Saxony Lutheran High School this year, making her the only Cape Girardeau board member with a child attending a parochial school.

"It's in no way a reflection of the quality of Cape public schools. It was a personal decision by my daughter," Mueller said. "And it doesn't make me any less passionate about the initiatives I've been working on for six years."

Administrators who work with the board members say there are a variety of reasons that so few have children in schools, including the amount of time required of a board member and the lack of pay.

"Diversity is an important aspect of any board or any organization. Our various strengths and perspectives fill the gaps missing in the strengths and perspectives of others," said Cape Girardeau superintendent Mark Bowles. "Further, every tax-paying community member has a vested interest in the education of the community's youth, who are the breadwinners and taxpayers who will be supporting and running the community of tomorrow."

Bowles said the most important trait for a board member is longevity.

"The school district needs board members who have enough exposure to school-related issues and the culture of the school as an organization to understand how schools need to respond to issues in order to best serve our kids and our community," Bowles said. "Learning this culture takes time, an open mind, integrity, a willingness to listen carefully, and a great deal of commitment."

Wayne Petitt didn't have any children in the Scott City School District when he first ran for election around 10 years ago, but he does now.

"There's always more contact when you have kids in the district," Petitt said. "But you always have to investigate issues because kids might not know everything about a situation."

Cape Girardeau board member Dr. Steve Trautwein agreed that having children in the district does provide an additional conduit for information.

"By being a parent, I probably have a better appreciation for the flavor of life at the two schools my daughters attend, but I don't know if it gives me an advantage or a disadvantage," Trautwein said.

Trautwein said having children in the district doesn't change his opinion because he's making decision about the district as a whole.

"I wish I could say having kids makes me a better school board member," Trautwein said. "But once you become a board member, you're inundated with the big picture."

cmiller@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 128

Board members with children in the districts they serve

Cape Girardeau

Laura Sparkman

Steve Trautwein

Jackson

Cathy Goodman

Brent Wills

Scott City

Sally Porch

Wayne Petitt


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