February 25, 2005

Blog is good for democratic decision-making

I'm volunteering with a conservation group in Mexico, so I don't have a lot of time to write a post. Nonetheless, I feel compelled to take a few minutes to respond to (Madson School Board Member) Juan Lopez who said of www.schoolinfosystem.org, "I think this kind of forum is destructive." See the story in the Wisconsin State Journal

I respectfully disagree.

A healthy democracy requires healthy debate. The tradition dates back to the Roman forums where citizens debated freely, and support for the necessity of public debate runs through the writing of our country's founders and our constitution.

Mr. Lopez and other board members might sense an unusual flurry of spirited commentary on this forum, because the board may not have provided a forum for the honest exchange of ideas. Suddenly, this blog provides the opportunity. Granted, the board holds public hearings, but they are rarely discussions. Instead, people speak and the board listens. It is most unusual from my experience when the board engages the speaker in a real discussion.

I encourage Mr. Lopez and the other members of the board to debate issues vigorously at board meetings, as well as post on this blog, which represents the best of what democracy offers for free and open debate.

Ulimately, the exchange of ideas on any pending school district decison will produce a better outcome than a decision without debate.

Ed Blume

The comments section is open on this post. Please feel free to agree or disagree. I welcome any comments.

Posted by Ed Blume at February 25, 2005 04:56 PM | TrackBack

Of course you are right, but I can see Juan Lopez's point also. Debate is good but how the debate is conducted is also important. For example, I happen to agree with many of Ruth Robarts' positions, but I must admit she sometimes comes across (to me) like a tattletale all too eager to do an end run around her colleagues to spill the beans to the public. Perhaps she has no other recourse because the board's majority bloc is intransigent, but one would hope that the school board could resolve their differences amongst themselves without airing their dirty laundry in public. In short, I wish the school board and other concerned parties would debate the issues in a way that does not undermine public confidence in the school board's fiscal stewardship. Perhaps that's not possible, but debate that *unnecessarily* sows dissension and undermines public confidence is indeed destructive, IMO.

Posted by: C.L. McGhee at February 25, 2005 09:36 PM

Below is a letter sent to the entire Board:

To: comments@madison.k12.wi.us
Subject: Mr. Lopez' comments

Dear Members of the Board,

In the 2/23/05 Wisconsin State Journal, I noticed the following quote:

"I think this kind of forum [www.schoolinformationsystem.org] is
destructive," Lopez said of the Web site, which is run by private
individuals and is often critical of the School Board and

Perhaps Mr. Lopez doesn't fully understand what is taking place
through this open forum. Many parents and community members have put a great deal of thought and energy into this new organization. It is a wonderful resource for the unfettered exchange of information on school district governance and education issues. This site allows for a fuller exposition and ventilation of ideas and opinions,unconstrained by meeting times or deadlines. None of us expect to find unanimity of opinion in the forum, but then again, board members might find it useful to hear and to offer a variety of opinions in a setting that allows for deeper examination of issues and broader public

Thus, I would encourage all of you to post your positions on this
website as Ruth Robarts has so generously done. There is only so much time at a board meeting and only so much space for newspaper coverage, after all.


Joan M. Knoebel

Posted by: Joan Knoebel at February 26, 2005 07:24 AM

To C.L. McGhee

Thanks for your feedback. I hope that Ruth reads your comments and considers them seriously.

I agree with you; it is difficult to discuss and disagree on vital issues while maintaining respect and good will among all parties. Yet, we must exchange ideas, disagree, and then come to a decision without ruining relationships among individuals or relationships between the MMSD and the larger community.

Unfortunately, I often feel that members of the board of education believe that any exchange of ideas is unhealthy; when people disagree with the board, the board feels the people are harming the district. I have heard board members say many, many times, "We must be united, or we will not accomplish what we set out to do."

I'd argue, on the other hand, that forced unity undermines success, because all parties have not had the opportunity to air their points of view and understand other points of view. Consequently, it appears that the administration makes a decision and the board unites behind it and defends it without ever consulting anyone. Whatever the decision, it may or may not go to a public hearing. If the board holds a hearing, citizens (and Ruth Robarts) ask questions and offer suggestions, both of which are interpreted by the board members as damaging, and the board then votes for what the administration initally proposed. This process fuels the recent calls for a more "transparent" decision making process by the board and the administration. As it is, the lack of transparency makes people feel that decisions are made behind closed doors, defended rigidly, and then shoved down their collective throats.

The lack of transparency also denies the board and administration access to the valuable (and perhaps better) ideas and insights of the larger community.

Again, I believe that healthy and respectful debate produces a better outcome supported by more people than decisons made without debate.

Ed Blume

Posted by: Ed Blume at February 26, 2005 01:34 PM

I find this site rewarding and the exchange to better our schools and community an evolution of the technological future. We no longer hang at the diner or the front porch swing. This is our porch swing. We just happen to speak to many neighbors at once.
Ruth Robarts is unpopular with the other members because she shakes thinks up. When you have a project due and everyone at your company or job is working to complete the task, very few stop and say, "Is this the right direction, decision, product for the time". Ms. Robarts is able to stop and ask, to the dismay of those around her. After attending many Board meetings it amazes me that any progress occurs. The "contract" stops most progressive ideas. The "we always intended" creates poor decisions for the long term decisions and the smallest public out cry can derail a good idea. The board gives of its time and countless meetings, but the difference between the board and the administration melts together where the children and families loss a voice. This is our voice.

Posted by: Mary Kay Battaglia at February 26, 2005 10:58 PM

I just want to say thank you, and keep the faith!

Some folks react similarly to our blog on local politics here in Orange County, North Carolina. But if we weren't stirring things up, we'd be doing something wrong. Some people are always going to be uncomfortable with change.

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