By Steve Gunn
SILVERDALE, Wash. – It’s no wonder that taxpayers know so little about that happens in their public schools.
School board members, who are supposedly elected to govern their districts, are frequently told to keep their thoughts to themselves, or express them in private, when something is bothering them.
That means the public is frequently fooled into believing that everything is fine in local school districts when that’s not the case.
Two citizens of the Central Kitsap school district in Washington state recently filed written complaints against two school board members, suggesting that they may have violated state law and board policy by criticizing the district superintendent in public meetings, according to the Kitsap Sun.
The school board is scheduled to discuss the complaints Dec. 12 – in a closed meeting, of course.
In June, board member Eric Greene publicly questioned whether the board was properly advised of potential problems with a grant application, according to the news report. The same month board member Christy Cathcart complained about the manner in which the board was advised of the loss of some type of federal aid.
Carl Johnson, one of the citizens who complained about Greene and Cathcart, said the two members may have violated state law, the superintendent’s contract and the board’s operating principles by airing their concerns in public.
He said board members pledge every year to contact the superintendent with questions they might have before board meetings.
“When that’s not done it puts the superintendent and staff in an embarrassing situation,” Johnson was quoted as saying. “They’ve not had an opportunity to prepare an appropriate answer. As soon as they do that it gives the appearance that they don’t know what they’re doing.”
Maybe they don’t. If that’s the case, the public certainly deserves to know about it.
It’s certainly not good when school board members go out of their way to embarrass the superintendent they hired to manage the district on a day-to-day basis. On the other hand, it’s unfair to taxpayers – the people who pay the bills – to have their elected representatives muzzled about problems facing the district.
Another complainer, Robert Ramsey, cited his experienced on non-elected boards where “dysfunction was not tolerated.” In his letter he said that board members airing their differences in public could lead to a loss of public trust, which could lead to defeats for future tax proposals.
In other words, Ramsey believes the school board should hide its dirty laundry from the public so voters will be more likely to approve more taxes.
What a pile of garbage. Taxpayers do not elect school board members to keep them in the dark.
Sometimes public schools are badly managed, or there is simply a difference of philosophy between administrators and school board members. The public has a right to know all of that. Whether those disagreements lead to a lack of public trust and a lack of tax revenue is irrelevant.
The people own the schools and have a right to know how they’re being managed and why things happen the way they do.
There should be very few business items that occur behind closed doors, and elected school board members should be free to speak their minds during public meetings. That’s what democratic government is all about.