Tuesday, December 3, 2013

So you want to speak to the Joplin R-8 Board of Education- good luck with that

(From Aug. 3, 2013) In a recent post, I wrote about the three methods used by Joplin R-8 Administration to control the message and keep dissenting points of view away from the Board of Education and the general public.

One method is through the publicity machine that has been set in motion by administration- one person after another has been hired whose sole purpose is to make Administration look good in the eyes of the public. Not only have jobs have been added, but the administration has had websites created, dived wholeheartedly into social media, and issued one news release after another.

A second method is the co-opting of the area's newspaper of record, the Joplin Globe. At the same time that a couple of hundred teachers have left the school district (and reportedly after weeks of avoiding the story, the Globe will finally address the issue in its Sunday edition) and administration has been conducting a reign of terror and creating a culture of fear among those who remain, the Globe has run one story after another highlighting "triumphs" of administration and avoiding anything that smacks of reality about the other side of the coin. The few investigative pieces the Globe has attempted have been superficial, at best.

Administration's third method of controlling the message has been its successful effort to prevent the Board of Education from hearing anything that is contrary to the message Superintendent C. J. Huff and Assistant Superintendent Angie Besendorfer want to convey.

That third method starts with cutting off the public's access to the board and to board meetings. The subject is addressed in the latest blog post by the high school students who are running Joplin Schools Watch:

In 2006 the Board of Education approved a policy that dampened public opinion, and requires the patrons to submit written requests in order to give their opinion in front of the board. All items that could be spoken on have to be on the board agenda, once you get approval to address the board you have three minutes. However, issues that are not on the agenda cannot be addressed at Board Meetings. Thus, parents and students have difficulty discussing issues to the board.
According to current Board President Jeff Flowers the process sometimes can be difficult, “the Superintendent, President and Vice President have to agree that it needs to be an agenda item.”

Let's examine just what a person has to do in order to be able to speak to his or her elected representatives:

1. You have to sign a written request in advance.

2. You are limited to topics that have already been placed on the agenda and are up for a vote. And it is a sure bet that nothing that really needs to be discussed in going to be done in front of Jet 14's cameras.

3. You still may not get put on the agenda if C. J. Huff and the president and vice president of the board do not want you there.

4. If you pass those barriers, you have no more than three minutes to say what you need to say (and having seen some of these board meetings, I can tell you that people are constantly reminded of that fact in a manner that comes across as intimidating).

At some point, somewhere along the line, Joplin R-8 Administration and the Board of Education lost track of one thing- this is not their meeting; it belongs to the patrons of the R-8 District and if they are truly concerned about the education young people are receiving, the board needs to be open and aboveboard in their dealings with the public.

Limiting access to the board meetings assuredly makes them run more smoothly and provides for a much prettier infomercial on Jet 14, but our representative system of government is not designed to make life easier for school board members or for those who administer the day-to-day operations of the school district.

If allowing the public time to speak at meetings adds another hour or two, so what? Administration constantly talks about how important it is for parents to be involved in their children's education. Apparently, that sentiment translates to "it is important for parents to be involved as long they do not disagree with administration."

In the past 36 years, I have attended more than 1,000 school board meetings. Until I arrived in Joplin, I never saw a board of education put up so many hurdles to keep the public from addressing the people who were elected to deal with their concerns.

The Joplin Schools Watch bloggers have created an online petition asking that these barriers to public access be removed. You can find it at this link.



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