The Case For School Board Transparency

Transparency Trust PigAs of late, this blog has covered a number of articles recently on the topic of Smyth County School Board, their operations and the case for more transparency based upon those operations. These recent articles and the basis for more transparency have centered around a September 2014 sudden renegotiation of the Superintendent’s contract. With the news of this sudden renegotiation and very little information to support such a sudden action by our school board, the case for transparency just got a big push forward. Here’s some good reasons why.

Through the years, Smyth County School Board has operated as though school board members are still appointed, not elected; in a “good ole boys” fashion with the seemingly obvious ongoing philosophy “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours.” To put things in perspective, the school board has an ongoing unanimous voting record that spans years and years across a variety of topics. The board has 7 members. All 7 members cannot possibly unanimously agree on every vote all the time unless it is intentional.

The case for transparency arises whenever there’s question to this habit of unanimous voting and answers are not produced by elected school board members when asked. A majority of the time, when an elected school board member is asked to provide information, that inquiry is redirected to the Superintendent rather than answered by an elected official. At this point, the obligation to answer the question and how to answer it is at the sole discretion of the Superintendent who is not an elected official but an employee of the school board.  (hence “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.”) In these cases, information becomes a bit more difficult to procure and more often than not, the extent of information produced is minimal.

The continued case for transparency is only pushed forward when clarification cannot be obtained from either the school board or Superintendent on a matter that was brought to a vote (yet another unanimous vote). When actions of typewritten minutes are so vague that they are misleading, bring about speculation or are not clear enough to determine what actually happened, an update and improvement is in order and owed to tax payers.

We exist in a time where technology is literally everywhere. Information is readily accessible and is free for the asking. Local governments have been using audio visual for years and supplementing their typewritten minutes for tax payers by adding availability of meeting videos. The school board, on the other hand, tends to run screaming and kicking in the opposite direction when this suggestion is made for the purpose of enhancing their public meetings. We all know why they are resisting and that does not warrant discussion, it’s a futile issue. What should be discussed is how more transparency benefits organizations and tax payers that these organizations serve.

Elements of transparencyPictured here is a chart showing some elements of transparency and for our purposes today, we will plug some of these principles to our case for transparency.

  1. Motivation– Elected officials should be motivated to act in a manner that is ethical, honest and consistent with the interest of the tax payers they are representing as well as the schools they are representing.
  2. Disclosure– Information that is available should be shared publicly whether it is positive or negative. By doing so, the door for two-way communication is open. Disclosure also reinforces honesty, ethics and consistency.
  3. Stakeholder Participation– The stakeholders in this case are tax payers and schools. Those groups need to be engaged in the activities and impact of those activities where the school board is concerned meaning that public input is to be taken seriously.
  4. Relevance– Elected officials should bring information to the table that stakeholders (tax payers and schools) deem relevant so that all sides of the issue can be considered and reviewed in such way so as not to be one sided or ill-informed.
  5. Clarity– Information should be shared in a way that is easily understood, concise and presented in the best way possible. Information should thus be detailed enough to ascertain the main purpose and desired outcome.
  6. Credibility– Share both positive and negative information that supports informed stakeholder decision making and operations with integrity.
  7. Accuracy– Share information that is truthful, objective, reliable and complete. Completeness could be a supplemental video of board meetings in our case.

If these 7 points were followed and implimented by the school board along with supplemental audio visual accessible by the citizens of Smyth County, the functionality of the school board would improve by great bounds, the budget would be better managed because there would be more accountability and less gray area for the board and Superintendent to take advantage of and we may see a complete turn around in our public school system here in Smyth County because there would actually be money available for teacher’s raises and other necessities where we fail in competitiveness.

By being more transparent, the door for constructive criticism is wide open. More often than not, when constructive criticism is considered and applied, the result is an improvement. Transparency would give the tax paying citizens of Smyth County that opportunity.

So you like this idea of more transparency for the school board?
If you agree that the school board needs to work toward a more transparent future by making information more readily available to the tax paying citizens of Smyth County, please take the opportunity to stop in at a school board meeting in the future and let them know about this concern and that you are supporting or advocating for more transparency. Additionally, it’s important that you let your school board member know that this is important and should be an important issue at election time. Sometimes all we need to do in order to bring about change is exercise our most basic rights and make our voices heard. The next school board meeting is December 8 at 5 PM.

One thought on “The Case For School Board Transparency

  1. Pingback: Follow Up: Superintendent’s Contract Renegotiation | Sugar Grove Virginia

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