Our district is in dire straits. The implications of a structural budget deficit and the clean-up of the oil well continue to loom over our heads. Seemingly never-ending litigation and a high administrative turnover rate have sapped our energy. An evolving relationship with the city, following the recent tense negotiations over the Joint Powers Agreement, remains to be tested. All the while, the future generations of BHUSD students will be shaped during this pivotal time, complete with reconfiguration and construction.
These issues are in the hands of those on the Board of Education, those elected by the people who represent our interests, set policy and shape the direction of the district.
What we need now more than ever from those we have entrusted and empowered is stability, leadership and solidarity. Instead, unfortunately, we have turmoil, mismanagement and petty infighting. The reality of the situation has already spilled out onto the public stage.
Instead of being united, the board is fractured and factioned. The most recent additions to the body, Mel Spitz and Isabel Hacker, ran and won on platforms that lambasted the district’s fiscal path. Their mindset, however, has often put them at odds with incumbents: Howard Goldstein, Lisa Korbatov and Noah Margo.
While diversity of opinion is not necessarily negative, having two competing blocks runs the risk of inhibiting the board’s business. This divide was evident in the recent election of vice president, when a contested interpretation of the board’s by-laws by the incumbents led them to vote in Margo over the objections of Hacker and Spitz, who were under the impression Hacker was the rightful pick.
Regardless, if this decision was politically motivated or resulted from a confusion over precedent and procedure, the board needs to be more habituated to communicating with each other. Now is the time for the board to reconcile its differences and adhere to professional etiquette in the boardroom.
Protocol states that the president meets with the superintendent to create the board agendas for meetings. This power has the potential of being manipulated, however. Last month, former president Spitz inserted Agenda Item XII, “Reponses by Mr. Spitz to Mr. Goldstein’s Emails,” to air out his grievances over an email Goldstein had sent. A visibly contentious discussion, thinly veiled by civility, ensued.
Though the position is granted to every member via a rotation, the responsibilities of the board president should be revered and upheld responsibly. S/he who occupies the presidency should be more focused on furthering the public agenda than furthering their private schedule.
Another unfortunate concern is that of the commitment of the members. The meeting minutes of the 2016-17 school year show that members are repeatedly absent or late. It also isn’t uncommon to see members duck out during meetings to take calls, leave early or arrive late.
We are incredibly grateful that this group of people are willing to dedicate so much of their time for a part-time, non-salaried position, and we understand that sometimes life gets in the way of this obligation. However, we are concerned that chronic absenteeism affects judgement and does not reflect well on the ditchers’ commitment, just as it would for students.
The members of the board should do more for the people in the district that are being directly affected by your decisions. Get more input from students and teachers on issues pertaining to their education and jobs. Those in the classroom actually know best about what is needed for success in the classroom.
We understand that these public officials ran their campaigns on certain promises, but we ask that they make an effort to reach cross the “aisle” and show solidarity in dealing with the current state of the district, if not for their sanity, for the well-being of the district.