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Speaker’s Corner

Good Schools Deserve Good Management

By Howard Hills

By Howard Hills

Let’s be clear, in civic affairs it is positive to point out negatives that need to be addressed to preserve overall positive outcomes.  Concomitantly, it is negative to be positive but in denial about negatives impeding optimal results.

So it is positive that people are questioning the school board’s recent decision to use school personnel and resources, not to mention thousands of taxpayer dollars, to buy a glossy eight page full color paid media advertisement (an insert in the June 20 edition of the Indy) touting its embattled senior administrative appointees.

One e-mail making the rounds is from a parent whose child’s classroom and teacher appeared in the paid ad, telling us “They hijacked the annual community newsletter to use our children and teachers as window dressing for a taxpayer funded public relations stunt, in an election year no less.”

It is the school board not its critics who linked the positive images and reassuring narrative of this year’s Community Newsletter in such a pronounced way with senior administrators mired in decidedly negative controversy.  As such the taxpayer funded ad is a hollow gesture pretending to be about open and effective communication, at the same time the school district stonewalls in the face of community appeals for open information and transparency about contracting, personnel and budget issues.

Incredibly, the school board used public funds to produce a virtual Facebook page featuring head-shots of a senior staff team whose performance, salaries and ethics are the focus of credible doubt due to the chronic follies and failures of the school board and its administrative appointees. The superintendent’s clichés in the ad about educating students in the “knowledge age” to succeed in a “flat world” was new thinking 10 years ago.

What would be really new for the superintendent would be to provide the breakdown requested by the public on the budget for consultants, contractors and lawyers needed to train, coach and defend overpaid and under-qualified senior administrative appointees, when proven unable to perform the duties for which they were hired.

The message from the superintendent and her cohorts emphasizes technology and the information age, but despite years of complaints from parents and taxpayers school board meetings still are recorded on an unreliable and outdated audio system that malfunctions regularly.  Why does the school district buy eight full-page public relations ads but refuse to invest in a modern communications system so the public can access video podcasts of school board meetings or other public school events on the Internet?

Another e-mail on the topic notes that in her laughably self-congratulating and redundant message the Superintendent “repeats herself three times in two paragraphs…talking about how we integrate communication into learning.”  When does this exaltation of mediocrity end?

The buck stops with the school board, which has failed to manage its managers. Nationwide studies show that school boards need to find the right balance between micro-managing too much or being so hands-off that responsibility for effective oversight is abdicated.  The cronyism that was exposed this year shows a pattern of failure by the school board to achieve anything close to the right balance that serves students and the community as well as we deserve.

In small towns it may seem unduly harsh to acknowledge that good people we know, and who sometimes have done much good, have let us down once too often. Yet, it sadly can be said fairly that we have good schools despite rather than because of our school board’s performance in recent years.

If voters fall for the incumbents or their surrogates in the next election they will get what they deserve. Our kids, families and taxpayers won’t.

Howard Hills is former president of the LBHS Alumni Association and president of Laguna Beach Republicans.

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