In a June letter to the Tri-Town Times, Hampstead resident, Jorge Mesa-Tejada, complained about “…the continuing, growing pattern of information control over anything related to schools…” He wrote the following:
I grew up in a country where dictators were commonplace. Their biggest weapon against the citizens was not the army or the police but ignorance: they controlled all information which, in turn, begat fear and intimidation.
Let me tell you what information control I have experienced since becoming a school board representative of the people of Sandown.
- Having to obtain fundamental financial reporting via Right to Know requests and being charged for them – information that other boards get on a monthly basis and some districts even post on their websites. Those are the districts for whom transparency isn’t rhetoric, it’s committed practice.
- Not being given copies of letters from lawyers with legal opinions on issues that affect the district. (I am permitted to read them only, under supervision, when it is convenient for the SAU, with no notes.) These are letters the taxpayers have paid for. On Monday, June 30th, I requested to view a lawyer’s letter on the necessity of a public hearing to accept the LGC refund of insurance premiums, a topic I had brought up at a board meeting. I was neither informed that a lawyer’s opinion was being sought nor was I permitted to read this letter when other board members were so privileged. It is now July 7th and I’m still waiting , so great is the respect for Sandown residents and their elected representatives.
- Not being permitted to obtain information directly from Timberlane staff due to a new school board policy (which I stupidly voted for because it came bundled with a bunch of other re-written rules that entrenched my right to speak to the press and blog).
- Not being permitted to pick up a textbook without prior approval of the Superintendent (I would be “disruptive to classes” by picking up a textbook at the high school front office. Flattering but flatly false.)
- Being chastised for contacting vendors to seek information on issues affecting the district. (All information requests I’m told must go through the school board chair – even when the chair is ineffectual in providing answers.)
In an email exchange between me and the school board chairman, Mrs. Steenson, she wrote this:
“Dr. Metzler provides information directly to chairs and vice chairs of all three boards as appropriate.”
I then replied testily, calling Dr. Metzler “the dispenser of all knowledge.” You can clearly see the chair is completely comfortable with Dr. Metzler dispensing knowledge to the elected body at his discretion. The SAU is driving the car while the elected oversight body sits in a rear booster seat, turning a toy wheel. At least I’m beeping the little red horn.
People get the government they deserve. If you are happy with these restrictions on your elected representatives, then I suggest you simply dissolve the school board because it does nothing but cost you money. In fact, it does worse: it delegates its authority and decision-making responsibilities to the superintendent. Watch one school board meeting, no, half a school board meeting and you’ll see what I mean.
Some school board costs:
- $9,000 for annual member stipends
- school board training by two lawyers: approx. $4,000
- $800 for 10 yearbooks as member gifts
- assorted catered meals: estimated $500
- photocopying and minutes preparation: priceless