Schools should turn critics into alliesPublished 10:17am Friday, June 21, 2013
It was an odd sight, a former superintendent scolding the current superintendent and Dowagiac Board of Education.
On the one hand, Ron Jones guided the school district during the 1990s and led the way for four bond issues for first a new high school and, ultimately, the 2005 middle school voters approved after 9/11 in November 2001 under Larry Crandall.
His expertise affords insights and credibility unmatched by an average citizen taking a beef before the school board.
“He’s got some good points,” even Supt. Dr. Mark Daniel acknowledged afterward.
On the other, the sight of professional educators on opposite sides show the chasm last summer’s $19.9 million proposal for a new high school adjacent to DMS and technology upgrades district wide carved before failing by a more than three-to-one margin.
Silence down the homestretch was like watching a slow-motion train wreck, but we noted a different aspect to the “transparency” than Jones.
Early on, school officials were very open, but each alteration of plans made the board look indecisive and disorganized rather than transparent.
It became obvious there was considerable sentiment for buildings and strong opposition to major restructuring.
When you lack staff support, it’s a hard sell even in a vibrant economy, so they pulled back until too late, then counted on social media.
Jones came to City Hall June 17 to question Daniel’s three-year contract.
“If you do nothing by April 2, it automatically adds a year by state regulation. The board didn’t announce what it did or didn’t do. Is the superintendent going to be here for 2014-2015?”
“You have 180 days before it ends, roughly Dec. 31, to make your decision,” Daniel said.
“We’re looking at making it 90 days; 180 days was in previous superintendent contracts,” Board President Michelle Helmuth-Charles said. “The evaluation tool was not complete because we included the new process for all administrators to include student data.”
“The bond issue was supposed to be important,” Jones said. “I heard no one — board member or superintendent — say, ‘Let’s get together and see what we could have done differently.’ And I’ve heard nothing since the bond issue failed miserably. What else did you expect? Within a couple of years you’re going to have to ask voters for millage.
“Unless you sit down and figure out how to run a campaign and draw on people we have on staff like Dawn (Conner, deputy superintendent), Mr. Crandall, myself or your architect and bond agent, because if you win, they win. You can’t push it aside because you got beat. You deserved to get beat with so little advertising. This is coming down the pike, so get prepared for how to get people on your side and how to explain it.”
Beth Davis, who joined the board with Larry Schmidt and Ruth Ausra since the fateful August primary, solicited Jones’ assistance.
That seems the right gesture because Jones makes a better ally than adversary in providing Dowagiac students with the best education possible.