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In Your Opinion: Shake It Off

By Bill Connell, Somerset. 

I have been wondering something all summer. What does a normal BOE look like anyway? When someone is on the losing end of a debate, do they still feel it was a healthy discussion?

Set-building is not nearly as sophisticated as a board of ed., but the process is similar. Creativity is great but at some point you need to stop talking and start working. You are presented with a problem or a goal, all your skill sets weigh in on how to resolve it, and then at some point someone has to make a decision.

I have seen many times when someone on the losing end of a discussion calls the board or any governing body stupid. Though true sometimes, the correct statement is the board took their best shot with the information they had.

Several times over the years I have heard people say we are a democracy. That is not true, we are a Republic. We defer our power to a handful of public officials based on the principle of trust. We know on a national level this system has been totally corrupted through the PAC system. On a local level, ego is the most corrupting influence. Over the years I have challenged public officials to explain themselves. It has led to many interesting discussions. At other times I’ve been met with a “who are you, to question me?” attitude, especially from the BOE. This is very disappointing and does not encourage participation.

Currently, I think Councilman Kramer is the best example of how the process should work. Several months after I challenged him on something, he called me out of the blue to give me a better answer. To my embarrassment, I had forgotten I even asked the question. He understands that in the course of debate the better solution may appear. Yet he constantly reminds me that at some point he has to make a decision. I can never criticize him for not listening.

We are really at a very interesting time with both the elected BOE and Administration and it’s time for self-reflection.

Role Confusion: The public and some of the board members need to be reminded of what a board’s authority really is. It has been discussed many times but never acted on, that the New Jersey School Boards Association give a presentation to the public about what a board does. The elected board and the paid administration are not the same thing; this role confusion is best represented by the Pine Grove principal discussion last year.

Privacy vs. Information control: The current elected board has a history of controlling information for fear of what the reaction will be. This tactic stunts healthy conversation and has a tendency to steer things in a predetermined direction. There are times this is needed, especially as it relates to personnel, but it is over used. A sample of this debate is during the August 28th meeting.

Public respect and participation: The public needs to understand that not all decisions are stupid. They are the best decision at the time. It is not logical or fair to think you can change policy by one over dramatic rant at the microphone.  If you care that much, you need to follow the discussion, participate in the discussion. Most discussion items that eventually come to board meetings are first discussed in the minutes of the committees. If you are surprised by a board discussion it means you were not using all the information posted on the board web site. As a matter of fact, the same applies to the Township.

The board can make simple cultural changes to make things better, but the public also needs to allow the board to make mistakes and participate in the adjustments. Not at the last minute, but way before they come to a vote. The vote is not the discussion. The vote represents the end of the discussion,

When I wonder what a normal Board looks like I realize I like debate. I like the back and forth. I do not want that to go away. It can be productive. How the board informs the public and shares information, and how the public participates is really what needs to be improved and defined.

In other news…..Mr. Bevere’s letter proves something. Despite the headwind of state and local politics, teachers do get out of bed to try to do the best for your children. The opportunity is there to learn, you just have take it.

Your Thoughts

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