Editorial: What is happening behind closed doors?Published 10:45pm Wednesday, July 27, 2011
The citizens of Niles — as taxpayers — help fund Niles Community Schools as well as vote for its board of education officials. Therefore, it would seem puzzling that few residents attend school board meetings, even during the school year, and particularly when important decisions are going be made.
Or maybe not.
Longtime board trustee Michael Dreher unexpectedly announced his resignation this week, citing the reason for his decision in part to be because he did not agree with the board’s decision to borrow $2 million for various projects in the district.
Yet, he voted yes on that decision, claiming that the rest of the board members were going to vote yes anyway. This is not out of character for the board, which seldom debates issues and unanimously votes the same way on most matters.
As usual, few people were in attendance at that particular meeting, but the few who were surely had noted that the matter was not discussed at length. This was an enormously important decision for the district, particularly when it — like most school districts — is facing financial hardship due to a lack of state revenue.
Both Dreher and board president Jeff Curry have openly admitted and defended the board’s practice of discussing district matters away from the eyes of the public.
“…What we’ve done in the past is just kind of talk about it ahead of time and if you agree or disagree … when you vote for it, you vote to support the board and the superintendent…” Dreher said in an interview this week.
Though they claim their discussions are not within a quorum — which would be illegal — they believe this prevents the public from witnessing conflict within the board.
That is the very purpose of a school board — to discuss important issues and make important decisions, bad or good, controversial or not.
The board members are not perfect, and do not agree on everything. They are not supposed to.
They should be making decisions based on what they believe is the best choice for the district and its students — and not worry about how it will look to the public or their fellow board members.
Dissenting board members are not bad ones. It means they simply don’t share the same opinions as the other members.
How many decisions have been made with some board members wanting to vote no, yet voting yes to keep up appearances? How many decisions would have went a different way if they had been discussed and debated in a public setting?
We may never know, and that’s the way they want it.
We encourage citizens to contact Niles school board members and ask them to publicly defend their opinions on school issues.
A transparent school board benefits both the district and the citizens who support it.