Q: How many board members does it take to change a lightbulb?
A: “WHAT!!?!?! CHANGE?” they gasp in horror
No one is going to win as long as there is a divide between the board and the community. It would be great if it were as easy as “we need to educate people,” or, “we need to reach more people,” to pass a referendum as Carol Carstensen has suggested. But that does not appear to be the case.
The issue is not educating, it is persuading people that the board’s strategies are the best options. That cannot be done until all options are on the table with accurate, verifiable, comparative costs and impacts presented so that people can join the board and the administration in supporting its strategies.
This has not happened and, based on the last school board election and the referendum votes, more mailings and radio ads with the same positions is not likely to get more support for the board or its choices.
Using committee meetings to denounce members of the board and citizens who care enough to come to meetings as enemies of public education is not a step forward, either. Particularly when the bashing is based on assumptions rather than fact, as in Juan Lopez’s decision to bash Barb Schrank. Apparently Mr. Lopez was unaware that Barb voted yes on all three questions AND openly urged others to do so. Just how does attacking her publicly win him support for his stated cause?
Similarly, militant speeches that take a tone that “people voted against the referendum so let’s punish them with draconian cuts” is pushing the supporters needed to pass the referendums away. Nor are hostile speeches advocating “close an East Side school” because the Leopold referendum didn’t pass going to build support for Leopold. Especially when the near East and near West sides voted heavily FOR Leopold. By this logic, why not punish Fitchburg, where the total votes were against – not for – the Leopold expansion?
As for the suggestion that we are complaining without giving the board clear options, the record will show that many of us HAVE come forward with clear, viable plans despite the current president’s statements to the contrary. And we have reminded the board that that is the case. In some instances those plans have clearly stated objectives and cost savings analyses. In others, the ideas are put forward as a request to consider with little or no response and certainly no follow up discussion.
At this point, many of us would settle for the board discussions ANY of the choices – theirs, mine, or others. To get a sense of what this statement means, go back and find the hard work on the budget and options for cuts/alternatives to referendum in board minutes and board committee minutes. If the discussions are happening, they are not happening in public. Either way, this is a loss for everyone.
Simply put, many people who support public education would like to see change that begins with meetings devoted to discussion of clear proposals – with costs and details included – rather than passive listening to administration power point presentations. When the board gets past speeches and down to the ideas and facts, they will have a chance at persuading voters that their strategies are viable.
Until we see a return to civility and issue-focused debate rather than character assassination, we will see the gap between board and voters grow rather than shrink.