Here’s the problem in a nutshell: The democratic process is broken in our school district. School board trustees are elected to represent the public, yet once again they are ignoring their constituents in order to carry out the superintendent’s wishes.
Once again, an irate public is clamoring to the Blaine County School District board of trustees as loudly as possible. They are writing letters to the trustees, to the editor, speaking at board meetings, circulating petitions; in an urgent effort to wake up the board to the fact that their constituents are strongly opposed to many of their decisions.
This time the uproar is about the school calendar and the board’s decision, despite large public protest, to adopt the preference of the superintendent—a start date two weeks before summer’s end. A teenager who cannot work through Labor Day may find his summer job opportunities limited by this. So, this early start affects both youth employability and the staffing of local businesses, which creates a negative economic impact in the community. The trustees need to remember that we all live in a resort community, with different priorities and needs than most other areas of the state.
Over the past several years, the public has protested a number of BCSD issues, among them concerns about administrative bloat, possible financial mismanagement, a surprise extension (twice) of the superintendent’s contract and a public records request that required a lawsuit to resolve. (Note regarding the lawsuit: No wonder Superintendent GwenCarol Holmes and three board members fought so hard to prevent the release of her cell phone records. The records revealed that there were communications about the lawsuit between district administrators and trustees, but did not include two trustees in these communications. The threat and then the fact of the lawsuit was never officially brought before the board for discussion or decision. Two board members were unaware of the threatened lawsuit, until it was announced to the public. After spending nearly $20,000 on legal fees, the district lost in court on all three counts.)
Our current board of trustees is very inexperienced. Three of the five were not elected but were appointed by other trustees. The longest-serving member (five years) is now the chairman. Others have served much less time.
Dr. Holmes is the only superintendent they’ve ever worked with. Her perspective was made crystal clear in her comment about this current uproar over the school schedule. “You want to know what people are thinking, but this is a board of trustees, not a democracy,” she said about a district survey regarding the calendar. “Ultimately, it’s the board’s decision.”
We need trustees who understand that they are elected to represent the views of their constituents. That is how democracy works. It’s supposed to be a government of the people, by the people and for the people.
Next November, there will be three school board members up for re-election. Let’s find candidates who understand that trustees are elected to represent the public, not the superintendent. We need candidates who will focus spending on children and classrooms, not administrators and public relations; candidates who will honor parents’ repeated requests for healthy, locally prepared school meals; candidates who will commit to finding a superintendent who embraces, rather than opposes, the importance of running a district democratically.
It’s time to return the BCSD dictatorship back to a democracy, for the sake of our children, their teachers and the whole community.
Pamela Plowman lives in Hailey.