Sheehan

Board needs openness and civility

Staff WriterDecember 3, 2009 

Well, you asked for it. And you got it.

Now what are we going to do with it? Because we can't return it.

I'm not talking about that Christmas sweater that looked so good on the hanger but doesn't fit quite right. I'm talking about the Wake County school board's new commando majority, which thundered into office Tuesday guns blazing, taking no prisoners.

That includes you and me.

On one level, I guess, it's no surprise. The four new board members promised change.

And on Tuesday night, they delivered.

The new members came in like Desert Storm. Talk about shock and awe:

BOOM, a new chairman.

BOOM, Wacky Wednesdays gone.

BOOM, BOOM, BOOM ... six more proposals, including one that would upend the county's controversial student assignment policy to remove all mention of the word diversity from its goals.

All of which landed in front of the board's veteran members moments before they were asked to vote.

That's no way to formulate policy that affects the lives of almost 140,000 children and their families. It's certainly no way to build consensus, much less good will.

As it turns out, the new members have been meeting since the election, working out their agenda, drawing up resolutions and action items so they'd all march in step at their big debut.

In the name of the state's sunshine laws, I hope they don't make that a habit now that they're in office.

I also hope they remember that in addition to promising change, the new majority also promised to be more inclusive.

They promised to listen to opponents as well as supporters.

They promised to be responsive.

No review, no debate

Instead, they came in with their fully formed battle plan and their five-vote majority and started to cram through major policy initiatives without giving opponents a chance to review, research or rebut.

Parents and teachers stormed out of the meeting in protest.

I'm sure Superintendent Del Burns would have loved to join them. Instead, he sat watching the new majority take the meeting by storm with a look of grim resignation. I predict he'll request early retirement before the year is out.

Just to get notice?

The new board members said after the meeting they don't plan to pull the storm-trooper impersonation every time they gather. They showed their muscle this first time just to get everyone's attention.

But the damage, I suspect, may be lasting. Tuesday night's meeting was a blow, if not to the integrity of the board then at the very least to its civility.

Serving on the school board has never been for sissies. But here in the South, manners and decorum are still expected and appreciated.

Those at least can be returned.

ruth.sheehan@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4828

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