District 95, Transparency, and Accountability
Before I began this post I knew it would be one of the most difficult I’ve written. It’s difficult because I don’t have much background knowledge on the school districts. I’ve followed the city council for over ten years, but I haven’t paid much attention to the school districts until recently. I’m going to do the best I can on this post because the school boards are important and they don’t get much coverage in the old media.
When people talk about the obstacles to Carbondale’s growth, there are a few items that are frequently mentioned. There is the claim that Carbondale is unfriendly to business, the perception that crime is high in Carbondale, the fact that taxes are higher in Jackson County than in Williamson. There is also another problem: the schools in Carbondale – especially the elementary schools – don’t perform as well as the rural school and the schools in surrounding towns.
District 95 first attracted my attention back in March when the city was considering providing funding for a summer reading and math program at the district. Although I didn’t cover it on the blog, I also noticed that there was an active campaign for a seat on the District 95 school district. More recently, I heard about some disparaging remarks made by an incumbent board member to newly elected member Amy Erickson at the April 28 meeting. And last week, a letter appeared in the Carbondale Times criticizing some of the board’s incumbents for their behavior at that meeting.
I learned last month that the disparaging remarks made at the April 28 school board meeting were not included in the minutes of that meeting. I decided to attend the June 23 meeting. It wasn’t as eventful as the last two meetings, but there was some controversy over the minutes of the May meeting. I’m still learning about this issue, but I want to offer some preliminary comments.
First, it’s important for public bodies to keep accurate records of their proceedings. When one official publicly berates another official, that behavior should be part of the record.
Second, public officials must respect the outcome of elections. Even when their preferred candidates aren’t elected, public officials have a duty to work together in an atmosphere of mutual respect. I’ve seen a transcript of the remarks made at the April 28 meeting, and they aren’t kind. It isn’t appropriate for public officials to behave that way toward one another. I’m not going to publish the transcript today, but I may post it in the future.
Third, all units of government, from Congress to the school board, should operate in the sunshine. There can be no accountability without transparency. I’m not alleging that the school board has violated the law; they haven’t. I have no information that would suggest that the school board has failed to publish the dates and times of its meetings or that the board hasn’t allowed the public to attend.
But sometimes it isn’t enough to do the minimum. It’s time for the school board to televise its meetings on channel 16. The city council and various city boards and commissions televise their meetings. District 95 should follow that example. Televising the meetings would enlarge the audience and it might encourage better behavior by the board members.
I’m going to continue to monitor District 95, and I’m going to continue to learn about the relevant issues. I expect to write more about this in the future.
Comments are welcome.