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Transparency a must in working democracy

Where we stand

April 22, 2012
The Mining Journal

We observed a troubling development recently with the Marquette Area Public Schools board of education and administration.

School board member Rich Rossway picked up on it. So have, we understand, a fair number of district voters.

A couple of weeks ago, the board approved a one-year building and grade realignment plan that the public - specifically impacted parents and families - never had an opportunity to comment on prior to the vote.

On a 6-1 tally, with Rossway casting the lone nay vote, the board approved shuffling students from Superior Hills Elementary School to Bothwell Middle School in an effort to make room for the influx of kindergartners coming next year.

At the present time, Superior Hills is over its intended capacity, with some classroom instruction taking place in hallways as a result. The new configuration will use extra space at Cherry Creek Elementary School to alleviate some of the pressure inside Superior Hills.

Rossway was clearly uncomfortable with all of this, noting at length, "I would like to delay it (a vote). We talk about being a transparent district. I can't think of being less transparent than sending a letter to those fourth-grade parents stating, 'Oh, by the way, we didn't ask your opinion on this but this is what we're doing' ... If parents knew that we were talking about this today, and I'm assuming that most parents don't know that this conversation is taking place, I'm wondering how much public comment we would have tonight. I consider that valuable information ... I think we owe them that as a courtesy as we try to communicate better with our community."

Was this parental non-notification an oversight? Remarkably, no. In fact, Superintendent Deb Veiht said at the time the board and administration made a conscious decision to not inform parents to prevent anyone from getting upset prior to the vote. "Of course if we could include everyone we would. However, if we didn't like this configuration and had to go to plan 'E,' why create a firestorm when it's not going to be a positive?" Veiht said.

Folks, you just can't make this stuff up.

Simply put, the decision to not fully engage with impacted parents and families was a bad call. We sincerely hope it isn't repeated in the future. And the board will soon have another opportunity when it considers a long-term student and building realignment plan. Those discussions will likely take place next year.

A part of those discussions will likely be moving the seventh and eighth graders from Bothwell to the high school. Parents need to pay attention to this and ensure their voice is heard, prior to a vote. A committee that will be appointed by the school board and Veiht should help in the public information process.

Democracy is often a messy business that upsets people. That's the way it is. Period. The board and administration are spending the people's money and doing the people's business and that means democracy rules.




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