Let’s make a change

~by J.B. Hinote of Jefferson

In hearing of the recent resignation of another school board member I have a few thoughts. First of all, I am not surprised. It is a thankless job, that of a school board member. On one hand you are fighting as hard as you can to make sure that the decisions made by the administration, and the school board are in the best interests of the students of the district. On the other hand, the people you are fighting for are yelling and screaming, demanding action for their particular issue, and in the process you are being castigated as a sellout, or bigot, or whatever name they choose at the time. You tell me which of you would sign up for that job. So it should come as no surprise that people eventually throw their hands in the air and or thrust them into the proverbial sink to “wash their hands of it”. In our current climate, they can’t win.

I would submit to you that in the Greene County School District we have taken what we have seen from our federal and state officials and created a carbon copy on a smaller scale. What do I mean by that? On one side we have an authoritative body who is made up mostly of people who, for many different reasons, none of them I believe are malicious or intentional, who are out of touch with most of the people they represent. On the other side are the people they represent who, have elected said body of officials but have since felt betrayed and often deceived by the people that represent them. What this creates is an ever widening gap between these two groups. Resentment sets in. And all of a sudden instead of coming up with meaningful solutions, we entertain thoughts like “because I disagree with them on a particular issue that must mean that every idea they have is bad”. This is a sad state.

Fortunately, things don’t have to stay this way. We can decide, as a group of people, that just because someone else acts in a particular way, I will not. This is called changing the culture. I am not interested in changing every possible policy that is on the school website. I am interested in changing the general attitude, and direction of the conversation. In order to do this, both sides of this argument will have to take a long hard look at themselves and admit a couple of things. The following are a few things that I think both sides will have to acknowledge if there is going to be any real change in how the school is run.

The School Board

  1. The school board will have to admit that the people do not trust them. The implications to this statement are many but here are a few
    1. In every policy there needs to be safeguards put in place to protect students, parents, and staff from possible over reaches, negligence, or downright disregard from the board or the administration.
    2. The idea of completely closing a school board meeting to any comment from parents, or citizens creates the illusion that they are hiding something and should not be trusted. This practice should be reviewed and if possible discontinued. I also understand the legal constraints of discussing things not on the agenda. The public should be educated on how to get things on the school board meeting agenda.
    3. In the vein of transparency, all possible conflicts of interest should be disclosed to the people. In the event that such conflicts of interest do arise the board members should recuse themselves from any votes that may benefit them in any way, primarily financially.
  2. The school board will have to admit that as elected officials they are ultimately responsible to the people of Greene County, not to the administration of the school.
  3. The school board will have to admit that the administration of the school is responsible to them and in the event of not fully discharging the duties that they have been charged with outline and act on disciplinary procedures.

The Electors of Greene County

  1. The electors of Greene County will have to admit that the board answers to Greene County electors as a whole and not a single voter or small group of voters. This has many implications but let me name a few.
    1. Back door meetings, and conspiracies to strong arm the board into removing staff are not productive, fundamentally dishonest, not adherent to the most fundamental of human experiences (ie… do unto others as you would have them do unto you), and I would argue, are not constructive and poison the relationship further.
    2. Because a policy works to harm one student does not mean in essence that the whole policy is bad and in need of complete revision. No policy can allow for all contingencies. The school board must do what is right for the district, not what is right for one student. What is actually needed is a mechanism to allow exceptions to the rule fairly, and a functional unbiased review process in the event that actual harm is done. This ensures the protection of students unaffected by the rule but allowing for one of circumstances that may arise.
  2. The electors of Greene County will have to admit that the laws of mathematics apply across the board and the school board cannot invent ways to manipulate the budgeting process to pay for things otherwise prohibited by law.
    1. I agree that the budgeting process set up by the state is flawed, outdated, and completely inadequate.
    2. This however does not change the fact that it is the system that we have to work with.
    3. The board simply cannot just decide to move money from one area to another area in need like most businesses can. They have to work with the constraints set up by law.
  3. The electors of Greene County will have to admit that though we disagree on many issues, what we cannot do is be disagreeable. We need to stop personally insulting people just because they differ in opinion with us.

These are just a few ideas of things that culturally I believe need to change. Once we start addressing the culture we can start coming up with meaningful solutions. In order to do this, we should start by using the resources that we have available. I think the best resource we have that is largely underutilized is our teachers. Teachers are smart. Not only do they know stuff, they can impart that knowledge to other people. My sister-in-law is a teacher. She and I disagree on many issues. In fact, many Sunday afternoons are filled with our discussions (some of them heated) on things we disagree on. But I respect her opinion greatly and we should value our teachers’ opinions on these matters greatly.

I think we can also learn a lot from business owners and leaders in the area. They have a great deal of knowledge about the world we live in. Perhaps they have creative ways to address the institutional, and financial difficulties we face

We can do many constructive things. But not until we are honest with ourselves first and do away with the things that bring us down.

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