Public loses in Olympia School fiasco

July 1st, 2008 by Ken

The resignations of Russ Lehman and Bob Shirley from the Olympia School Board are a loss to public control of the local school system. 

The whole mess boils down to one question – – who controls the Olympia School District?  Is it the superintendent?  Is it the self-serving teachers union?  Or is it the parents and the public of the Olympia School District?  It’s obvious that the parents and the public have lost.

Shirley and Lehman have been at odds with other members of the Olympia School Board for nearly two years.  Both have asked for greater accountability from school officials and both have been on the losing end most of the time.

An election to determine who would fill a vacant seat on the school board boiled down to a fight between Lehman and Shirley against the rest of the school board.  They lost the battle when Frank Wilson won election.  They had backed his opponent.

A later resignation from the board found the two sides unable to agree on a replacement and ESD 113 had to step in and appoint someone to fill the vacancy.  Allen Miller was the chosen one.

All school board members are taught, from the day they’re elected, that school board members should stay out of the day to day operation of the school district and concentrate on long term goals and objectives.  They are taught that by several state educational associations which represent school administrators.

But the question has to be asked.  When is it alright for a school board member to object to an administrative decision?  Is it in private or should it be in public?  I’ve always favored discussion of public concern should take place in a public forum.  Others, like school administrators and school employee unions, would prefer the decision be made in private.

I’m not certain that Lehman and Shirley were always right.  I suspect that they were wrong on occasions.  But I do know that they wanted important decisions made by the school board and often questioned the decision-making process which left out parents and the public.

What’s ahead for the Olympia School District?  I think the appointment of Allen Miller was a great move by ESD 113.  I think Miller has the best interests of the public and the parents at heart.  And, being new, and not subject to indoctrination from school officials, Miller is still fresh and unspoiled.  His vote to lower the wage increase for district administrators was a demonstration of his ability to vote against the majority.

I also think the three remaining members, Miller, Wilson and Carolyn Barclift, will be able to appoint successors to fill the vacant positions.

But the process has to be done in public and the public must come away from the selection process feeling that the school board represents them, and not the special interests that abound in the school district.

Posted in Government, The Real News

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