Park City School Board’s lame ducks remain committed
November 4, 2014
When asked how his lame-duck status as an outgoing member of the Park City Board of Education will affect his decision making until his replacement takes over in January, Michael Boyle was succinct.
"It won’t," he said without hesitation. For Boyle, it’s a matter of principle. The public elected him to serve an entire term, and he intends to do just that.
"I still have the responsibility to represent the district, to represent my constituents — not just in my precinct, but in the entire district," said Boyle, who represents District 5 and is the board’s vice president. "Absolutely I’ll use my experience and attempt to make the best decision possible. If we have a decision before us that can’t be or shouldn’t be deferred, then we’ll go ahead and proceed."
Charles Cunningham, who represents District 4, is the other board member who is set to be replaced in January, when the new members will be sworn in. He echoed Boyle’s comments, saying his approach to serving will not change just because he is in his final months on the job.
"I don’t know what would change just because you’re a lame duck," he said. "I don’t think anybody serving on the board would take a position different than they otherwise would. The school board has one thing in mind — it’s the interest of the Park City students."
Maurice Hickey, the board’s president, acknowledged that some may have concerns about a lame-duck member trying to push through a personal agenda before leaving. However, he doesn’t expect that to be a factor with Boyle and Cunningham, who he said have always prioritized students above all else.
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"In the case of Park City, I’ve seen transitions, and I’ve never seen that," he said. "I don’t believe that’s ever been an issue."
Hickey did acknowledge that he has seen boards with lame-duck members pass controversial issues on to an incoming board. But he said there isn’t anything currently on the horizon that would warrant that type of treatment.
The board will, however, delay the beginning of teacher salary negotiations until the new members are in place. But that’s just to ensure continuity throughout what he anticipates to be a delicate process, Hickey said.
"I think that’s fair," he said. "The worst thing is to start a process and then have to change it. Especially something as sensitive as negotiations."
J.J. Ehlers, who is set to take over for Cunningham in District 4 after running unopposed — Doug Payne and Julie Eihuasen squared off in Tuesday’s election for Boyle’s District 5 seat, but results were not available as of press time — said it has been difficult to watch the board make decisions she’ll have to deal with when she joins it in January.
For that reason, she encouraged the board to take the fact new members are coming soon into account. Still, she understands that Boyle and Cunningham have a constituency they must continue to represent.
"I would hope that after the election, (the board) wouldn’t make any decisions that we wouldn’t be OK with," Ehlers said. "I also understand that you can’t just shut down and not do anything. You have a job to do, and I expect them to do that job. I would think that in a community like this, we’re all looking at what’s best for the kids."
While remaining adamant that he will vote with his conscience during the last two months of his tenure, Boyle acknowledged Ehlers’ concerns. But he said the larger issue may be the steep learning curve incoming members face in trying to make informed decisions — even ones who have closely followed the board.
"I know that’s what I experienced when I first came on the Board, is trying to learn as much as possible in the first months, so I could make good decisions," said Boyle, who has served on the board for seven years. "The tougher challenge is for the new folks, not the old ones."
Cunningham said there is another factor that can complicate things when members join the board: ego. He admitted to being guilty of thinking he had all the answers when he was new, a trap he said it’s easy to fall into. But that attitude can’t persist if a board is to be successful.
"When you get on the school board, you recognize that you’re not as smart as you thought you were when you got elected," he said. "There really is reasoning behind the way things are. Change takes time, and you really have to fit in in the sense that to be an effective school board, you have to find areas of commonality and try to collectively advance interest of the district. And that’s very hard to do if you come on the board and think you know exactly how things ought to be done."
Even though new members face challenges, Cunningham and Boyle said they are excited to see the direction the board takes when their replacements are sworn in. They said an infusion of new faces will have a positive effect.
"I think there are some real advantages to having fresh ideas — new blood, if you will — on any board or in any elected office," Boyle said. "Each of them brings a unique perspective. I think they will do a fine job and will bring a different perspective than I had."