We recognize the enthusiasm bottled up inside each individual who decides to take on the added responsibility to represent his or her district. It seems we have people from all walks of life, each with varied experiences that can suggest they possess the aptitude for the job. Bankers, housewives, executives, lawyers — not one position is any more or less worthy of the job. As voters, however, we have our own logic behind each selection. One candidate approached us for an endorsement and we had to politely decline. Our paper doesn’t endorse candidates. But, that kind of energy and determination can be inspiring.
Though we don’t endorse candidates, we can share what we want to see in our ideal school board member. We simply want a humble, public servant.
Over the years, our strongest criticism towards school boards has been when they’ve fallen silent. This week should always serve as a reminder of not only why you’ve decided to run for the board but how you earned that privilege. Each board member serves as our community’s advocate. We are not just taxpayers. We are shop owners who support our students’ endeavors. We are families who trust our children will be safe in the hands of each person employed at the school. We meet with you each month to learn what you are doing for us and we approach you in those same meetings with our concerns.
These meetings are not just necessary, the transparency expected at these meetings is paramount to the obligation you have to those you represent. It’s important you appreciate the rules and needs for Open Meeting Law. These rules are often fumbled and can break our trust in you. One district explains executive session as ”sometimes necessary” and “may precede or follow regular meetings and are for the discussion of sensitive subjects such as personnel matters and employee contract negotiations.” This quote, taken from the district’s website, suggests a need for it to revisit Open Meeting Law.
An executive session should never “precede or follow” a regular meeting. It should take place within the start and conclusion of a regular meeting. And, though boards often make this mistake, “personnel matters” is not sufficient cause to push the public away. “Personnel matters” has too often been used to cover up bad behavior. Policies to remain quiet due to “personnel matters” can expose a district to future litigation. Conversely, the silence of another district can hide the potential danger our district could unwittingly inherit.
Be aware, we also take issue that in many of our local districts there is no clear way to contact members of the school board. A link is often provided where the information is deposited into a communal bin with the district itself. This is a conflict of interest as board members are not district employees. They serve on the board to oversee the district.
This is not a time to celebrate school pride. Board members are not on a school team. If you are on any team, you are on our team. You represent the community that surrounds the campus. You are our representative who we have elected to hold the district accountable for its actions. When something goes wrong, we expect an answer from you and not the district’s public relations office. Do this correctly and you have our endorsement. We appreciate and encourage the enthusiasm you have going into this important role. We will be watching.
Michael Hallisey is managing editor of Spotlight Newspapers.