Letter: “Unintended Consequences” and School Governance

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Visceral commentary after 2020 local elections (“Unintended Election Consequences,” Bill O’Hare, Indy, Nov. 12, 2020), taunted both winners and losers alike, even mocked supporters of candidates. But unintended consequences of political campaigns, like post-election armchair sophistry of spectators with 20/20 hindsight, mean little compared to unintended consequences of governance by those elected.

Case in point, low school governance standards we’re now enduring in 2021 are an unintended consequence of the Board’s 2010 appointment of Sherine Smith as superintendent. Over-delegation of governance powers to Smith by the Board, in abdication of its duties under state law, began erosion of board accountability to public.

That usurpation syndrome was repeated and escalated in 2016 by a Board afraid of its own shadow, leading to the saga of our current embittered superintendent. A pattern has emerged of political enmeshment and codependence between the Board and two embattled superintendents, each staying too long, lacking better job prospects, and overpaid to remain rather than confirm failed leadership by leaving. 

Some leading school establishment influencers blindly supported Smith even after forgiving local press couldn’t ignore abuse and incompetence (“Schools Accused of Bad Hiring Practices” Indy reporter Rita Robinson, June 26, 2013). My voice joined many concurring with Indy’s coverage (“School Board Must Clean House Now” Indy, July 11, 2013).

Far worse, the Board abandoned Joanne Culverhouse, widely admired principal of El Morro, TMS and LBHS, who earned but was denied in-district career advancement. Overtly jealous of Culverhouse’s credentials and stature, Smith drove from our community schools a gifted and proven high achiever seemingly destined to be the superintendent our children and parents deserved and needed (“Culverhouse is Huge Loss” Indy, August 24, 2014).

Prominent people also turned from support to punishment of at-risk families by marching lock step with Smith to demand trendy but unenforceable alcohol-only “Social Host Ordinance,” lowering relative consequences for higher risk opiate and prescription drug abuse. The 2013 school calendar and math curriculum fiascos came back to haunt us in 2018, and still do.

Impaired governance by our politically intoxicated board has persisted since 2010. The hangover lingers (“School Board Should Lead Not Follow” Indy, May 7, 2015; “What Would Dr. C Do?” Indy, Feb. 17, 2017; “Time for School Board ‘Open House’” Indy, May 30, 2019).

Any fool can see, unintended adverse outcomes of misguided governance are far more consequential than anomalous election campaigns.

Howard Hills, Laguna Beach

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