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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Public Input: Where is the public?




Our school board had a public meeting last Monday, to gather input on our yearly goals.  We met at the local library, in a big, comfortable room. The library is new and attractive, warm and airy. It sits in the middle of town, with plenty of parking and accessible to most people simply by walking. Meeting notices had been emailed, posted and publicized.

We anticipated a good crowd.  Our district had just completed a consolidation, closing one school and moving students to another, and  major renovations putting Stimulus Moneys to work in our town.  Also, just a few weeks previously, there was an incident over a weekend  involving arson and theft at the high school that had the whole community buzzing.  Over $ 4,000 dollars were raised overnight by students and community to catch the perpetrators of such acts.  Our board of directors had been busy maintaining open communication on many fronts and felt that a public meeting would allow many people to ask questions, receive answers, and feel reassured about the future of our schools.  Our goal setting protocol had not been this elaborate in the past, I might add.

Working on goals with our community would have allowed us all to clear the air, concentrate on children's future, and face our challenges together.  The specialist from Oregon School Board Association that was invited to guide us, had been briefed on what our situation was and what we might expect. We had set aside a good four hours for this task.

The day was rainy. Nothing unusual about that. I walked to the event, a mere 1/2 mile from my house.

At meeting time, we counted two community members: a parent, and a volunteer.  The rest of the group was associated with the district in some capacity or other. We explored our strenghts and challenges, identified areas of need, outlined priorities. The group worked hard and left satisfied and united in their resolve to build strong schools.



Everyone leaves politics for the politicians.  That's not how democracy works. If we don't get into the conversations, how will anyone know what's on our minds, what our needs are?

You see, politics is about the good of the many.

34 comments:

RNSANE said...

How sad that there wasn't enthusiastic participation from your whole community! Especially since, as I gather, it isn't a huge place but one that could easily be close knit and very invested in its children, government, schools, politics, etc. Good that they have you, that's for sure!

Helen said...

Dear Rosaria,

I have just returned from a nine day trip (Ohio to visit my sister and Washington DC for a meeting.) Being in DC is always energizing and even more so as I was there the night of the House vote!

DC was abuzz with dialogue and debate. The entire country should be this engaged!

Bagman and Butler said...

People are too busy complaining to actually discuss anything. It is much easier to point to problems from a distance than it is to actually try and solve them.

Lianne said...

How disappointing. I agree with Bagman and Butler and here we call them armchair critics. Don't be discouraged as it only takes one really committed person.

Bogey said...

Sad...very sad. It's an epidemic. It is like closing your eyes to a crime. If it doesn't impact the individual directly, they want no involvement. But, Heaven forbid, it lands in their backyard, then I'll bet the fireworks won't look so pretty.

Elizabeth Bradley said...

People, despite their big mouths, are basically apathetic. It's a sad state of affairs how apathetic.

Brian Miller said...

if we dont use our voice, we often lose it...

Eva Gallant said...

Apathy abounds, apparently!

Matawheeze said...

I was a parent who seldom attended meetings. Officials go because required and would probably stay home after a day of work too if given the opportunity. Folks show up when they are most unhappy so it COULD be assumed the population is pretty much okay with how things are going. I'm sure the schools have email access that busy parents can utilize? And perhaps there is something to be glad in that they weren't picketing and protesting and screaming?
Just another perspective. It is easy to point, say apathy, and feel noble oneself. P.O. is a town where many parents are barely scraping by.

staceyjwarner said...

I think it has to do with the beauracracy (sp?)-my child goes to public school and when he started I was so excited to improve the school and make it better but to get anything done there is so much red tape it is defeating...

we are all still working away at it and change is happening little by little.

much love

Eddie Bluelights said...

It seems a universal problem Rosaria. People here are apathetic as well and rarely turn out in numbers for such meetings alas - and of course the absentees complain the loudest when a decision is made against their wishes and they were not there to voice their opinion.
I agree we all should participate in politics to a degree.

Fat, frumpy and fifty... said...

you got it right there....l think everyone is so disillusioned they cannot be bothered...shame but there it is...here anyway!

potsoc said...

For 20 years I sat on boards (Hospital and community groups). All our meetings were public and we always had an item: floot to the public...It was usually very short since, save in a few crisis situations or union negociations, nobody was in the room but us administrators and one or two curious employees wishing to see what we were up to.
We go public for transparency's sake but no one seems to wish for tranparency. Too engaging perhaps?

Oh My Goddess said...

I know alot of parents who complain to me about getting things changed. They complain to me because I am on the PTA board.
It somehow does not cross their minds to get on the board too.

Renee said...

That is disgraceful. Two people?

Dear friend, my father died last September and is now sitting on a park bench with Sheldon somewhere.

Love Renee xoxo

Rob-bear said...

I'm with staceyjwarner on this one. I think we have been well trained to believe that our voices are useless.

I've been before our municipal council on more than several occasions. I've come away feeling either patted on the head or kicked in the butt -- but totally disregarded. When people do this "speaking up" for a while, and see how useless it is, they quickly learn to shut up and just "let things happen." Unless they're "Bears" for punishment. Or absolutely refuse to roll over and die, and keep "Bear-ing up" despite all the "stuff." Like this Bear.

Kathleen said...

You make me proud. Thank you for contributing to the common good!

PurestGreen said...

How disappointing that only 2 people showed up. I used to cover school board meetings for a local paper and there was usually a strong turnout of parents at the meetings, or at least the leaders of many of the PTA organizations. I am glad the meeting was so postive all the same.

Fire Byrd said...

This reminds me of the last time I conducted a parents evening on the annual report at the school I'm Chair of Governors.
Two women turned up! And I knew them both as being activists and advocates for their children. Years before we'd all being together in a support group when the children were small. No -one else came. We now publish the report instead!
Apathy doesn't change the world.Or thinking someone else will do it!

xx

the walking man said...

But if I reserve my opinion during the debate, I can then castigate them who formulated the policy, when it doesn't deliver soon enough, strong results and not what I wanted.

♥ Braja said...

Rosaria, that heading and photo together is priceless.....:)))))
loved it....

Z said...

It doesn't sound as though your community takes no interest in what's going on. It could well be that they think you're doing a pretty good job. After all, if you're working to keep people informed, then they might feel that they need only come if they had objections or complaints, if they had positive suggestions to put forward or if they wanted to get involved. Having been to meetings as an observer and left with another (unpaid) job, I can see why they might be cautious.

Which isn't to say that I think the meetings shouldn't be held. And it seems to have been useful and purposeful.

Hilary said...

I spent years on my kids' school's parents association and that was pretty much par for the course. Only the active members (and we were always the same handful) were present.. plus a couple of others here and there.. and only if they had a personal grievance to air.

Reya Mellicker said...

I wish every American citizen would come live in DC for a year or two. Up close and personal as the political is here, there's no choice but to get involved.

Kat said...

Isn't that sad? Everyone is ready to complain but no one wants to help fix the problems. Ugh.
Glad that you are one making a difference! :)

Sniffles and Smiles said...

Rosaria,

It is really too bad...and the lack of involvement and apathy seems to be especially prevalent regarding our school systems...really tragic!! Great post! ~Janine XO

ellen abbott said...

We recently had a mayoral election. Our past mayor had reached his term limits. 20% of the population of the 4th largest city in the US voted. Pathetic.

Renee said...

I am sure your sons will be thrilled to have Mama's cooking.

oxoxoxo

NitWit1 said...

As a small town public official, I know exactly what you mean. The only time people show up at council meetings is when we try to enforce an ordinance that is disagreeable to them. Right now we are debating signs.

We have a planning authority from Little Rock scheduled to address our planning commission and any public, as well as council about signs. We'll be lucky if anyone shows up that is not involved in the dispute.

I hate governing by dispute to dispute. We do have a communication problem with no media in town. But we do have area media we notify of events.

I call it backyard syndrome. Everything is ok for everybody else, but not in my backyard, or front, or side, either.

Stephen Tremp said...

Power to the people, but only if they shout what's on their minds. Otherwise, they're mindless.

Stephen Tremp

ds said...

Two is the loneliest number. Sadly, people will come out in droves if the solutions you agreed upon raise their taxes...

lakeviewer said...

Thanks, everyone. I'm new at this game of politics. NAIVE. Politics is for folks who enjoy the limelight, the admiration. I call myself a work-horse, not a show horse. When I was a school administrator and saw how everyone else was fawning over the politicians, I felt sick to my stomach.

I want people to solve problems together, especially problems that will affect many.

In every organization this phenomenon takes place: meetings are dispised, and people in charge get the feeling that nobody cares, so they take action not knowing what the effect will be.

I'm not giving up. Working together is the solution to our understanding of roles and functions, and to our selection of priorities.

p.s. this was not about me. I have no value as one member of an organization. We only have value when we act together, when we speak in a chorus.

Rob-bear said...

Perhaps a small correction, Rosaris: "I have limited value as one member of an organization."

John Donne reminded us that none of us is an island; we are inter-dependent.

Merisi said...

I absolutely agree with you!
How depressing that there would not be more parents interested in the future of their community and schools! Let's hope this was only an unfortunate event and that your next meeting will be different.