Friday, October 27, 2006

Public School business must be public

The Metro Nashville Public Schools Board of Education is suggesting to the Tennessee School Boards Association that they pursue legislation that would allow more of the BOE business to be conducted away from public accountability. This must not happen.

Today's City Paper quotes former BOE Chair Pam Garret as saying:

“There are some things that I felt like, and I think we all agree, would be better off in private, like the hiring of the director, the evaluation of the director,” Garrett said. “For some districts the issue of purchasing property would be considered something that would be better off to be confidential.”

The board is asking to exempt meetings to consider employee dismissal, compensation, discipline or performance, as well as collective bargaining matters, from the law. This could effect certain aspects of union negotiations.
All of the above are decisions that are vital to the running of the district. These decisions will commit the district to paths that will have long term and far reaching impact and absolutely must be conducted with full accountability to the public that is paying for the system, the parents with children in the system and to the voters that determine who will oversee the system. To take make this information private is completely wrong and mocks the term "public education".

I understand that some of these issues are delicate. I understand what it's like to have people discuss you and your performance with little regard to the fact that you can hear them and that may scare a few potential employees off. I know that we may pay a bit more for land because someone was paying attention to the proceedings and realized the value of their property. Disciplinary proceedings are very difficult but we don't need to have secret trials determining whether people come or go. The public is owed the information about the conduct of it's employees and employees are owed the safety of a public proceeding. Going secret with these discussions comes at too high a price.

Part of the problem is the attitude that our board meetings must be sedate, polite and entirely business-like, that there should be no public disagreement or fireworks. Policy Governance rules and demands order in the interpretation of some--perhaps at the cost of legitimate in depth discussion. Somewhere we bought into the lie that healthy disagreement and airing of views is shameful. It's only so if the participants lower themselves to personal attacks and not the facts of the matter.

It's my opinion that the BOE and MNPS are still doing a poor job of communicating exactly what they are about to do and have done as it is. They don't need more hiding places for the people's business.

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