WENDY HART KEEP EDUCATION LOCAL

Transparency

"Whenever the people are well informed, they can be trusted with their own government; that whenever things get so far wrong as to attract their notice, they may be relied on to set them to rights."
― Thomas Jefferson

 

People act differently when they know they are being observed. Generally speaking, people act better when observed.  What is true for people is even more true for government.

 

Transparency provides a couple of very important benefits worth noting. First, it empowers the individual citizen. How can you know you are being properly represented without having access to the facts?  How can you verify the system is fair unless it is open to everyone? With open government procedures, the people can keep an eye on the government they created.

 

The second important benefit from a transparent government is the concept I first alluded to. Government officials perform better and act more honorably when they know they are being observed.  Course corrections from the citizens are needed less often because those in charge are behaving themselves more often.

 

Ever catch your dog sitting on the couch? You know that look he gives you as he sheepishly jumps off?  That's government when it is observed.  In my opinion, the more transparency, the better.

 

The Alpine School District does a great job with transparency. Certainly, the district isn't perfect, but any improvements would be in the "always looking for improvement" category and not in the "major attitude shift needed" category.

 

The school board on the other hand needs improvement. It reflexively adjourns to a closed session to discuss issues that should be openly discussed so board members are held accountable for their opinions.  Additionally, the "Public policy, aggressively and openly debated, creates better decisions and greater confidence in the resulting decisions."board needs to start informing the public about the general discussion which occurred in closed session, any action taken or better yet, reconvene the public board meeting for any vote or informal "board polling."  Also, giving an estimate of when the board is expected to come out of closed session would be appreciated by citizens wanting to attend board meetings.

 

Previous boards created a system, years ago, putting a premium on board unity at the cost of board representation.  The board code of conduct states board members should:

 

"Be accountable for policies and decisions made by the board."

"Support the Board and Staff once a decision is made."

 

Board training and the code emphasize once a decision is made, board members cede the right to maintain an opposing view to the public.  I am told once a decision is made, I should not tell you how I voted or what my concerns were. I am told I must endorse the will of the board above and beyond my own convictions as your representative.  How can you have confidence a differing perspective was ever considered if the discussions occur outside of the public eye, and board members refuse to discuss their own perspective.

 

Obviously I haven't followed the training and reject a code of conduct that violates a foundational principal of what I promised when I ran for office.  I answer to the people I represent, not a code put together years ago by unknown individuals.

 

The board is missing a great opportunity. Public policy, aggressively and openly debated, creates better decisions and greater confidence in the resulting decisions.  People understand there will be and should be opposition on big issues.  The minority viewpoint should know their perspective was championed.  If they lost this time, they can regroup and try again next time.  That is the essence of our political system. I don't mind being on the losing end of 4 to 3 votes.  I just find it unacceptable to be told I cannot tell my constituents I did my best to represent their view and give them examples of how the debate unfolded.

 

I believe discussion of the issues should be carried out in public and not in closed sessions or in small groups before a board meeting. I believe issues being voted on, should be available for the public to read and give input before board members vote. I believe the general attitude towards the public should be as welcoming and open as possible.  The Alpine School Board needs to be as committed to transparency as is the administration.

 

I have been on the board for four years.  In four years we have never been given the opportunity to discuss the mission statement that caused such a ruckus a few years ago, before I was elected.  You would think an issue causing hundreds of people to actually attend a board meeting might be addressed sometime. But, I'm not supposed to tell you about that.

 

Despite the fundamental changes caused by Common Core, the board never looked into Common Core nor debated it before voting on allocating to fund it. But, I'm not supposed to tell you about that.

 

Omnibus budgets are the mechanism of how all major changes are implemented without proper debate. Ideally, each of the bigger issues would be debated prior to the vote on the budget. How can you judge the responsibility of your board member if everything is lumped in together?  Omnibus budgets create cover for board members and remove transparency. But, I'm not supposed to tell you about that.

 

The Superintendent's salary is never debated in a public meeting.  Shouldn't the people who created the system hold the representatives accountable for their actions concerning the hiring, retention and pay of the head administrator?  How can you hold them responsible if you don't know who said what and why a specific decision was reached? But, I'm not supposed to tell you about that.

 

The problem of boards acting as monolithic rubber stamps has become so egregious the legislature (2014) passed HB 250 which establishes, "an elected member of a local school board serves and represents the residents of the local school board member's district, and that service and representation may not be restricted or impaired by the local school board member's membership on, or obligations to, the local school board."  It is nice the people weighed in via their state representatives, but the policy, training, and actions of local boards is what must change. Electing board members who reliably protect and promote your right to be in the loop is the only true solution to the problem.  Ultimately your vote will have the largest impact on this issue.

 

It is time to kick the dog off the couch.  Let us reassert parents establishing education policy. Public education can only be successful when local families are involved, informed and invited to participate on all levels affecting their children.  A local board must meet the highest standard of transparency to be effective in representing the will of the people.  Rubber stamp school boards hiding behind arcane policies must become a thing of the past.

 

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