For the past month our school board (especially three members of it) have been drug over the coals for the mishandling of the superintendent’s termination. If they are recalled, that’s fair; it’s politics. People get angry over bad choices by elected boards.
But at some point and in some cases, the endless cascade of personal insults against them goes too far. A history of our school board over the past decade shows this virtual tar-and-feathering is nothing new. Well-meaning people get elected, then everybody gets mad at them and they either get voted out or choose to not seek re-election. Back in the 1990s the school board released a statement about hiring a superintendent saying this may be the most important task they do and they expect public criticism over it, no matter what they do. Not much has changed.
We are by no means suggesting that people shouldn’t voice their opinions. Political discourse is what makes a democracy work. We say let your opinions be heard. Voice your discontent. But it doesn’t have to be personal – in other words let’s keep the worst vitriol aimed at the issue, not the person.
Or to borrow from an old Christian adage, maybe we need to hate the decision, not the decider.
During a recent school board meeting’s executive session, one of the public conversations while the board was away was how people must be crazy to want to serve on the school board. One person said they had thought about it, but was talked out of it, partly over the time it takes and partly because board members wind up bogged down in political fights. One person said they had shied away from running as they didn’t want to damage their professional life here.
What if this trend of good people avoiding public service keeps going and growing. We’ve already seen sheriff deputies have to provide extra security at a school board meeting this year - not exactly inviting to future candidates
What if it gets worse and we do finally reach a point when everyone says no thank you to serving on the mostly volunteer board posts for school board or other bodies? Heck, we’ve seen people go borderline ballistic because a non-profit, free event doesn’t meet their expectations, lashing out at people standing out in the cold, trying to provide something for the community.
We saw someone post on Facebook about taking the “jobs” of the school board members. According to school records, the average board member pay in FY20 was $3,900 and the average in FY19 was $2,860. The only benefit expense is FICA/Medicare and workers compensation, which are required. They are paid for their meetings, but are expected to field phone calls and Facebook messages any time, and to come to the meetings well-versed and attend school programs throughout the year. It’s clearly not the path to riches.
Low pay, high stress, plenty of in-fighting and at the end of four-years a sizeable number of parents and community members dislike you more than when you took office, all for about $3,400 a year.
We’d ask the community to remain active, vigilant and vocal, but maybe some times, offer a word of encouragement to the community servants who sit on boards or run for local office.
A simple, “I disagree wholeheartedly, but appreciate the fact you’ll show up every month and will keep showing up when this hullabaloo dies down and we are back to long and boring meetings.”
These board members are not the career politicians of Washington. Even if you want to disagree or recall them, let’s do it with respect.