Academic journal article Rural Educator

Unique Rural District Politics

Academic journal article Rural Educator

Unique Rural District Politics

Article excerpt

The politics of rural educational leadership are both intense and concentrated. Rural educational leaders need to be savvy and politically skilled if they are to inspire educational stakeholders and accomplish organizational objectives. The local school system is an organization with a political culture that can be characterized as a competitive environment in which various groups from both within and without are competing for power and limited resources. Local school systems are entrusted with both children and tax dollars, two precious resources. Coupled with such entrustment is political input from all points within the political continuum. Schools and politics are inseparable.

Introduction

"Today, education is perhaps the most important function of state and local governments (Brown v. Board of Education, 1954)." These reverberating words written so long ago in die landmark desegregation case still resonate today. Because of the importance of public education, it is subject to continual political scrutiny. The local school system is an organization with a political culture that can be characterized as a competitive environment in which various groups from both within and outside education are competing for power and limited resources. Local school systems are entrusted with both children and tax dollars, two precious resources. Coupled witii such entrustment is political input from all points wimin the political continuum. Local education agencies and politics are inseparable. Piltch and Fredericks (2005) found, "As a principal, it is impossible to avoid situations where political considerations affect your decision-making" (p. 11). Rural educational leaders are not immune to such political pressures. Expecting such political considerations and proactively building collaborative partnerships are hallmarks of effective rural district leadership.

This article identifies many of the common political challenges faced by educational leaders in the rural district setting and provides recommendations for effectively accomplishing organizational objectives within a political environment. The major topics include the politics of finance, national mandates and dieir affect on rural schools, special interest groups, and trends toward privatization. The article concludes widi a section dedicated to effectively navigating rural politics. The autiior seeks to assist rural educational leaders with the identification of potential political obstacles and equip such leaders with an enhanced ability to effectively lead within the politically charged context of the rural school district setting.

Politics of Finance

Rural districts face unique financial challenges that many urban districts do not face. For example, the large geographic size and lower population density of many rural districts increases transportation expenses. Urban districts often have the advantage of the economies of scale associated wim dense populations. Additionally, while the small class sizes that some rural districts enjoy may lead to enhanced student achievement, it also leads to increased labor costs. Furthermore, rural districts have more limited abilities than urban districts to form financial partnerships with major corporations. Some rural districts face these challenges while simultaneously experiencing a declining enrollment. Collectively, these factors create funding challenges that are unique to the rural setting. Limited resources create varying degrees of funding ability for rural school systems. This in turn creates a culture in which competition for existing resources is necessary. Special interest groups from both within and without compete for existing resources. Funding priorities become the object of political debate at the local, state and national levels.

Who should pay for public education and at what level? Such questions evoke political responses. According to Stout, Tallerico, and Scribner (1994), "Excellence is given symbolic prominence, but not sustained financial support" (p. …

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