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Retirement Tribute                             Online Exclusive

 

Sniffing Down the Money

Trail

 

BY KARI ARFSTROM

Kari Arfstrom

"Follow the money” was Bruce Hunter’s instructions whenever we would be assigned a legislative bill to review. Whether a reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act or a new piece of legislation, such as the E-Rate program or the rural education program, Bruce would have Nick Penning and me follow the money trail. How it flowed from the U.S. Education Department to the state education agencies to the local education agencies, Bruce wanted to know. By formula or grant, he had to know. Only then would he have his directions on what we’d advocate to change and what to maintain.

Many D.C.-based membership organizations lobbied in a vacuum, but not AASA. Bruce and his team, carefully working with local and regional superintendents, crafted a set of policies that dictated what issues would be monitored for that congressional season and what positions would be taken. If we deviated from the plan it was done in close concert with the AASA Legislative Corps, those superintendents most committed to influencing the federal picture. This group met twice a year — first in January to set the course of action and then in the fall before the appropriations, or funding bills, were finalized. AASA is one of the few professional education groups that met in the fall when the money issues are addressed — again always following the money!

Bruce kept all of the various federal funding formulas locked away in his head. Because he assisted in the writing of many of them over his storied 30-year career, he could distinctly recall why something was written one way and not another. Often, he was called up to the Hill to brief congressional staffers, in particular new staff, on the various funding formulas. He was the keeper of that institutional knowledge.

Bruce made it a habit to not carry anything with him into meetings. I’d lug around my purse, briefcase, copies of documents, etc., and Bruce would walk in, maybe with a pen. Again, he kept it all upstairs! Not that he wasn’t willing to share; he was more than willing to impart strategy, antidotes, theories and history with whomever asked. His memory was infallible, sometimes to my chagrin.

Bruce practiced the leadership theory of management by walking around, a practice he did in the office and on Capitol Hill, always ferreting out bits of information for a fuller understanding of what was really going on. He never just sat at his desk, but would haunt the halls at the old office on North Moore Street in Arlington, Va., or in the Rayburn House Office Building. You could always count on Bruce to know the story behind the story and the formula.

Kari Arfstrom, a former member of the AASA public policy staff, is executive director of the Flipped Learning Network in Arlington, Va. E-mail: karfstrom@gmail.com

 

 

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