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Updated 11:00 AM March 15, 2004



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New U-M-Dearborn program assists school board members

More than 120 school board members from approximately 60 school districts in southeastern Michigan attended the inauguration of a new program last week at U-M-Dearborn.

The program, called the Institute for Local Government, will offer a yearlong series of classes and seminars to help school board members learn their roles and better serve the educational needs of increasingly diverse communities. In the future, the institute plans to expand its offerings to other local elected officials in the region.
“The classes and seminars are designed to support new school board members as they make the transition from private citizen to public policymaker.”—Former State Rep. Pan Godchaux

"Local school boards are under fire and local municipal governments are under siege," said Edward Bagale, vice chancellor for government relations at U-M-Dearborn and one of the coordinators of the program. "A variety of circumstances are conspiring to make the task of governing increasingly difficult and confusing, and many fear that fewer citizens will aspire to public office. And those who do serve will find themselves unprepared to deal with the increasingly complex and contentious issues facing local government."

The institute has been designed to develop educational programs that are customized for local elected officials in southeast Michigan. "We believe that increasing the level of interaction and communication among elected officials in a nonpartisan educational setting will foster better regional thinking and problem solving," Bagale said.

The opening session featured a presentation by Earl Ryan, president of the Citizens Research Council of Michigan, who has studied the roles school board members must play and the challenges they face. Ryan was joined by a panel of state and local school leaders.

More programs are planned during the next year, covering school finances and budgets, school law, and strategies for effective policy development.

"The classes and seminars are designed to support new school board members as they make the transition from private citizen to public policymaker," said former state Rep. Pan Godchaux, who has helped develop the program.

There are more than 650 elected school board members in more than 80 school districts in the region. The U-M-Dearborn program is supported by the Michigan Association of School Boards (MASB), which will grant credit toward the certification program for board members who complete the classes.

"The mission of the Institute for Local Government is to increase the participation and capacity of citizens participating in local government within the tri-county area of southeastern Michigan," Godchaux said. "As the problems local government is asked to solve become more complex and economic times tighter, those serving in local government need more skills than most bring to office with them."

The response to the first session indicates programs like this can be beneficial to the metropolitan area, said John Poster, dean of the U-M-Dearborn School of Education.

"The turnout shows that school board members, especially new board members, need this sort of program, and we are very encouraged that, with support from the MASB, we will be able to meet this need."

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