President’s Corner

Reciprocal Agreement With You

by John R. Lawrence

The lingering winter winds are still howling as I write this month’s column. We shouldn’t wish our life away, but I have had about enough of the winter of 2003. I’m glad the warmer winds of spring will soon be blowing on the landscape and hopeful we will soon be a nation at peace.

More than a year ago I helped to select AASA’s 2002-2003 theme, “Leadership in Changing Times.” With no disrespect, I doubt the word crafters realized how prophetic the theme would become.

As I write this, the nation had just gone to war with Iraq. The global economic downturn has crippled the spirits of many and I need not tell you about the challenges of No Child Left Behind. You and I live it everyday. Moreover, state funding to our nation’s schools has been reduced in 48 states while school leaders face the dichotomy of significantly heightened accountability for student learning and significantly fewer resources to deliver it.

These conditions burden me as a school superintendent. They are further troublesome in the context of AASA and my responsibilities as president. Regretfully, in the economic trickle-down of the globe to the nation to the states to the schools, professional associations are often last on the food chain. Fortunately, AASA’s elected and employed leadership has recognized that business as usual in unusual times will not get it done.

It is easy to understand why nonprofit organizations struggle in poor economies. Individuals and agencies that support nonprofit sectors in good times are not always able to stretch their dollars beyond essential needs when money is tight. Further, as school funds are reduced, joining a professional association, even a pre-eminent one like AASA, is a difficult call. This is particularly so in light of today’s elevated public scrutiny where relatively small dollar amounts spent for professional dues and/or travel can be politically large in terms of consequences.

Another of AASA’s revenue concerns is a “trend break” in corporate support. Exhibitors at our national conference and endorsement contributions from our corporate affiliations are curtailed as the economy slows. Even our closest corporate friends have the need to realize a return on their investment. In good times corporate subsidies to AASA are important. In lesser times their financial support is critical.

All that said, the impact of today’s economy on our schools and association is pretty depressing if you let it be. That is where you and I come in for this is a message of hope and assurance and not despair. Twenty years from now the American Association of School Administrators will be alive and flourishing, but it requires fulfilling our respective responsibilities.

To that end you have a right to expect those of us in positions of AASA leadership to critically review our programs and services to ensure mission alignment. You should insist that we are good stewards of our association’s funds while being open-minded to new ideas related to membership and the face of the National Conference on Education.

Reciprocally, AASA now more than ever needs your continued membership. We invite you to attend our summer and national conferences and be active in these theatres. In Washington today AASA is frequently the lone voice standing up for public education, but we can’t do it without you.

I started this column with a reference to the cold winds of the past winter and my eagerness for the arrival of warmer days. The effect of today’s economy on our schools and our association is equally chilling, but stay with us, warmer days are just around the corner.

John Lawrence is president of AASA.