Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Highs and Lows of a WCASD School Board Meeting

High: Three gentlemen from our three high schools speaking articulately about the programs students participate in and the charities they support.

Low: School board members not being able to speak at all. I.e. Every time a question is asked, it seems the question must be asked multiple times before an answer is given -- if an answer is given. (I am not just talking about board meetings; it seems difficult to get an answer via email either.)

High: Fifth graders from Penn Wood standing in front of a large audience and leading them in the Pledge of Allegiance, without hardly a stammer between the two.

Low: Mr. Carpenter and Mr. Murphy interrupting a member of the audience while he was speaking, suggesting he was being disrespectful even though he was basically reading from another board member’s note (see further down). I am confused: Isn’t the board supposed to advocate for the tax payers and how can they if they don’t want to listen? Shouldn't our school board allow for "provocative discussions with the community where controversial issues are debated...." (How to Choose a School Board Candidate.) By the way, whatever happened to freedom of speech?

High: Students from Fugett Middle School presenting their robotics program, the success of which is taking them to a regional contest this weekend.

Low: Misinformation/lack of clarification over several items, including lighting project for Rustin, the best way to communicate with board members and get real answers, and how much parochial schools save our public school district, supposedly millions. Fact, the public school supports $5 million in busing of parochial students, effectively spending $1,200 on each parochial student, while approximately $400 is spent on busing for each public school child. And busing is not the only service provided to parochial schools. Don’t get me wrong, I do not begrudge the schools these services, I just wonder how do these numbers equate to savings?

But by far, the lowest of the low was when a member of the audience stood up and read a forwarded note from school board member Mrs. Snook (who was not in attendance). In her letter, she pleaded for “representation from the community at large and not just a couple special interest groups” to attend the board meetings. (These special interests groups, as far as I can tell, are those parents and teachers who are concerned for our children’s education.) The note noted that “Big issues of spending, taxes, collective bargaining, strikes, pensions, are on our table.” According to last month’s meeting, the board hasn’t even talked with the teachers yet, so it is a mystery to me how Mrs. Snook knows of an impending strike. Anyway, she called for each municipality in the district to try and cover one month and asked if they could “then send notes around to all of us? We Republican school board members need help from you, our constituents!” Shocker: I thought it was a board representing all members of the community, Republicans, Democrats, Independents and even special interest groups alike. School boards are nonpartisan. I can't say it better than "At the heart of it all, members of a district's board of education must believe, unequivocally, in the value of public education. They must be dedicated to serving and teaching all children. They must believe in the democratic process and understand that their role is to act strategically, in line with the interests of the entire school community." (How to Choose a School Board Candidate.)

Oh, and I almost forgot, another high. The members of the school board were thanked for their hard work on the board because January is “Stand Up for Public Schools” month. Each member was presented with gifts from each of the 16 schools in our district, including a piece of artwork--all strikingly beautiful—created by different students.

Upon review, the highest point of the night was the first half of the board meeting: uplifting and entertaining and effectively run by our young students. Maybe they should be the ones thanked for standing up and supporting public schools?

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