Clarkston News editorial from editor Phil Custodio.
Vote for school board reform
October 31, 2012 - Clarkston needs a new kind of school board, and we think incumbents Susan Boatman and Joan Patterson, and challengers Betty Reilly and Craig Hamilton can provide it.
This year's election is critical. Seven candidates are running for four open seats. People are concerned about what's happening on the board. It's great to have the participation of candidates who are involved and knowledgeable about the issues. We need their continued support in this community.
The school district is the Clarkston area's largest employer with the biggest budget. We depend on it to educate residents' children. Its reputation bears on the reputation of the entire area. The board decides who gets hired, promoted, disciplined, fired, where money goes, what gets bought, who teaches what.
To make the best decisions, we want them to have all the information they could possible want.
That's not happening now.
A presentation to the school board last February made crystal clear what is expected of them. They are not allowed to talk to each other, residents, school staff, or students about anything that might help them make good decisions on the board. They've even been told not to visit their own schools.
To do so, they were told, violates operational and communications processes. Everything must be done collectively at the board table. The individual must be suppressed. They were elected only to be part of a collective.
We don't see it that way. Focusing on process and collectivity makes them dependent on information provided by administration and thus vulnerable to "group think" and "closed-mindedness."
We see them as representatives of the public, just like congressional representatives, senators, and other elected officials. Some board members and administrators may look down at such a notion as lowbrow and crass, but we see it as the beauty of representative democracy.
Members of the school board are the only links in the school district chain directly hired by residents. They are our eyes and ears in the running of the school district.
So, we need to trust that school board members can do their job free and unfettered. We need people to ask questions to their neighbors, not those who are afraid of their answers.
The consequences of current policy are made clear in the failed $20 million school bond drive earlier this year.
Board members were foiled in their requests for information, and were limited in their ability to talk to residents, school officials, and students about it.
As a result of this and other missteps, the district moved forward with the drive, set a May special election at a cost of $35,000, and lost two-to-one.
If information was allowed to flow as it should, perhaps the district would have realized the public's opposition to borrowing more when already maxed out on debt.
Process is not what we need. This November, we need to elect free-thinking board members devoted to independent leadership, not process, consensus, and image.
Incumbent trustees Susan Boatman and Joan R. Patterson have demonstrated their willingness for reform. Challenger Betty Reilly led an effort opposing the bond, and challenger Craig Hamilton expressed a desire for more transparency. They deserve your vote.
(Phil Custodio, editor of the Clarkston News)