By Ramiro Zuniga, Ed.D.
Unfortunately, school district politics are alive and well and impacting many lives. Pick up any local newspaper or access any news website, and you will likely find instances. Walk into any school building, and you are bound to find someone discussing the latest in the hallways.
Whether related to actions of the school board, superintendent, or other district employees or contained within a single department, politics are a reality. In this post, I discuss some of the more common effects of school district politics on individuals. In Part 2, I discuss how to evaluate whether an affected individual should consider taking action and will help you understand the possible consequences of such action.
In the most severe cases, individuals lose their livelihood. At best, dysfunction and resentment linger long after a situation arises and negatively impacts performance.
So how do you avoid school district politics? Truthfully, you may not be able to. In fact, many people are caught completely by surprise. Is this, then, a hopeless situation? In a word: No.
The best advice that I have given to many is to simply worry about doing your job to the best of your abilities. Discussing politics with others is never a good idea. From what I have seen over the years, following this advice works out well most of the time. Unfortunately, this advice does not provide any guarantees.
For the most part, school district politics result in:
- Uneven workloads among employees
- Unequal pay for similar duties
- Reassignment of personnel
- Suspension/placement on administrative leave of personnel
- Termination of personnel
Anyone suspecting that they are a victim of politics should document their situation to the extent possible. As difficult as it may be, it is critical that the individual stay professional and calm at all times. Outbursts can be seen as unprofessional behavior and become a cause for dismissal. It is okay to ask questions but care should be taken to ensure that the questions are seen as attempts to reach clarity and not as insubordination.
Individuals affected by politics should review policies and protocols for dealing with such instances. It is important for any individual affected to gain a thorough understanding of protocols, timelines, and remedies. Print a hardcopy or save such policies electronically for future reference.
I always encourage individuals affected by politics to consider their actions and reactions very carefully before acting. Once an action is taken, it is very hard to dismiss. I suggest that individuals evaluate whether they can actually, and positively, affect their situation. The catch phrase I often use is, “Worry only about what you can affect.”