New faces on school board will help
In her Feb. 18 editorial, Ms. Fortier seems to be arguing for the status quo when she equates change on the school board with chaos. She does not accept the reality that the incumbent school board members were soundly defeated, nor does she understand why there were more than 5,000 votes for the new school board members. There are many who see the change that Ms. Fortier bemoans as a relief and very healthy for our community.
Does Ms. Fortier realize that she is referring to the majority of voters in the prior election when she calls critics of the previous board “detractors?” When she asks who is in charge, she demonstrates little faith in our democratic process. The community elected caring, capable people to the school board because they want them to be in charge, not the old guard.
She attributes far more power to our district’s school teachers than they have. There are fewer than 300 teachers in our district. By simple calculation, it is clear that they account for a small portion of the vote. Parents and other community members also desired a change in the school board leadership. They are deeply concerned about educational issues and believe that the previous board was unwilling to address many of the issues and was incapable of solving them. Some reasons the voters replaced the incumbents are these:
n Parents believe that it is not only unfair that our teachers are inadequately paid, but that poorly paid teachers are not in the best interests of our children.
n Parents are alarmed because teachers, the previous school board and district administration were unsuccessful in salary negotiations; it was widely perceived by parents that some board members and administrators contributed to the polarization and distrust that was growing.
n Many parents did not feel welcome at school board meetings, nor did they feel that school board members were interested in listening to their concerns.
n There was not a demonstrated commitment to the best interests of our students.
n An “us” vs. “them” attitude developed toward anyone who disagreed with the board.
n Many parents were upset about the failure of the previous board to advertise the superintendent’s position outside of South Lake Tahoe.
The new school board members were elected because the voters believe that they have the ability and knowledge to see the big picture, to address complex issues effectively and fairly, willingness to listen to all sides, and gather data before making decisions. They understand the scope of issues before them and that they will have to make some difficult decisions; in fact, they stated before the election that they will not be able to please everyone.
Ms. Fortier goes on to express concern about the relative lack of experience of the new school board members in the workings of community boards. She ignores the wealth of experience these people bring to the job. Some of them have more school experience than our superintendent. They have served on site councils, as officers, on district budget committees, accreditation committees, the Family Life Committee, as community roundtable chair, and more. Some of them have had or do have children in our schools. That alone should be considered an important base of experience. They were elected in large part because of this extensive and broad experience.
It is an insult to these people and to the voters to assume that they will allow teachers to dictate policy. I’m sure our teachers’ union wishes they had the power you attribute to them. They too want decisions that benefit the entire community. The bottom line is the quality of our schools. Our teachers are the foundation upon which our educational system is built. Without them, our schools are nothing.
While salary issues were the catalyst for change, there are many issues that parents, teachers, and other members of the community believe should be addressed. Salary parity needs to be a priority so that the community can move on to other important matters such as the racial imbalance in our schools and the focus on test score “targets” rather than meaningful, effective learning processes. The new board members were elected to create a climate of openness, to reestablish trust with teachers and parents, and to hold district administrators accountable to a higher standard of care and effectiveness than did the prior board.
The voters have spoken. It serves no constructive purpose to denigrate the voters’ choices. We have yet to see the newly elected school board members publicly welcomed by the Tahoe Daily Tribune. It’s time to do this and to offer support and assistance for the challenge they face. Let’s show our gratitude to our new school board members for their willingness to serve and the gifts each one brings to the table and get to work. It’s vitally important that parents and other members of the community attend school board meetings, ask questions, and share their ideas. The health of our community depends upon our mutual commitment to a high quality, inclusive, and caring educational environment.
– Harriet Goldman is a South Lake Tahoe resident.
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