No one decides to run for school board with the idea that before the year is over, they are going to be distrusted and accused of misleading the community; however, often times, thatís exactly what happens.
Being on a school board, a village, town or city board can be a thankless job. Thatís probably one of the many reasons that more people donít choose to run. In this job, I have the benefit of observing a lot of boards from an outside perspective. I get to see town and school board meetings that have virtually no impact on me, as I donít live in those areas, and it gives me an idea of why some seem to have great relationships with the community, while others donít.
Last night, I attended a particularly painful meeting in Oxford. The Oxford Board of Education met for the first time after extending the contract of Superintendent Randall Squier, a step that the community and I thought they had put off during their last meeting. That was not the case. During the last meeting, there was confusion. Things were said that seemed to imply a decision wouldnít be made at that time, and then a few minutes later, that decision was made in executive session.
Community members were outraged and accused the board of being deceitful. The board members looked tired and frustrated, and Iím sure after the four and a half hour meeting was over, more than one member was questioning why they ever got involved in the first place. People yelled at them, swore at them and some even seemed near tears as they addressed the board.
As an outsider, I can sympathize with both sides. When I heard that Squierís contract had been renewed, after hearing what sounded like a confirmation that no action would be taken, I felt like I had been intentionally tricked. I was furious, and Iím not one of the people who lives in the district, voted for the board members and has a stake in the community. For those people, Iím sure the boardís approval seemed like a slap in the face.
That said, I can also sympathize with the board to some extent. The individuals are trying to do whatís best for their community. Theyíve dedicated their time and their efforts and for that, theyíre being accused of lies and deceit. I know I wouldnít want to be in their position.
I donít know what the best solution to the issue is, but I do know that the board and the Oxford community need to come together instead of fighting amongst themselves, and the best way to do that is through better communication. (This isnít a new suggestion. In fact the board discussed it Tuesday night.)
From my perspective, Iíve worked with many boards, and those that work best with the community are the ones which are the most open about the steps they are taking. It doesnít surprise me when other board presidents, board members or school administrators call me before or after a meeting to fill me in on whatís going on. Is it their responsibility? Not at all, but it does show that they want residents in their areas to be clear on all the facets of an issue.
The Oxford School Board expressed concerns that people might take things they read in the paper the wrong way or misinterpret the boardís motivation for speaking out. That is a concern, but I think youíre more likely to have miscommunication and confusion when you say nothing at all.