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Students, not board, are the focus

May 17, 2008|By WAYNE D. RIDENOUR

I always enjoy Tim Rowland's columns and find them informative and thought-provoking as well as humorous. The most recent commentary regarding the plaque issue was no exception.

As an aside, I hope many will find the following historic information interesting. The practice of placing information on a public building goes back at least to Roman times.

Every public Roman building had placed on it the following: S.P.Q.R., which in Latin is Senatus Populusque Romanus (The Roman Senate and People). Also included was the A.U.C., Ab Urbe Condita (meaning from the founding of the city, which dated the building to the year Rome was founded, 753 BC in our terms). The last items included were the consuls' names at the time of construction.

I am certain readers may or may not be fascinated by this trivia, but the bottom line is that information placed on buildings has occurred for a very long time and the purpose has always been, as Rowland noted, for historic purposes. As a lover of history, I am happy the Romans and others provided this information. It has made the jobs of historians and archaeologists much easier.

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Plaques are removed from schools to be demolished and stored by the Board of Education facilities department and are still available for anyone to see. Are they necessary? No.

Do they provide a glimpse of our past? Of course. The big question is: Do we wish to provide that glimpse? That is the question for the Board of Education and the community to ponder in the future.

As far as the debate regarding the plaques is concerned, I believe it goes beyond whose name is or is not included. The policy as it reads at this time states:

"A plaque, approved by the Board of Education, will be prominently displayed in each school building near the entrance. Names of board members, the superintendent of schools, and the board of county commissioners holding office at the time of the construction contract award will be represented on the plaque.

"A separate plaque, for each state- funded school construction project, shall be displayed per IAC procedures with the names of the governor, state comptroller and state treasurer."

In my opinion, the policy is specific as to the names to be included. Additional names would require an additional plaque. In the greater scheme of things, the names are irrelevant. What is relevant is that a policy is in place now, was in place when a previous board voted and it should be followed.

The policy can be changed, but we cannot and should not operate ex post facto. Any changes should follow the proper procedures and be applied to future projects. Roxanne Ober was quoted by The Herald-Mail as saying she is not sure why the decision on plaques is causing a problem. I agree, but Mrs. Ober, as chair of the Policy Committee, should have used her leadership to end the issue by pushing for support of the established policy and not support for an amendment.

Upon reading Donna Brightman's letter to the editor and hearing her recent arguments, I am dismayed by some of her accusations, specifically the accusation that "cheap shots" were being taken toward her. I am puzzled as to what these "shots" are or were. How can staff, following an established policy, be considered to be firing a "cheap shot"?

Brightman further complains that there is a concerted effort to discount her service on the board and that she is facing "push back" for her challenges to the status quo. The words speak volumes to what I believe to be the problem. Let me elaborate. Everyone, I am certain, is aware that the Washington County Public School System is a multi-million dollar corporation.

The elected board acts much like a board of directors. By law, the BOE's responsibilities are to hire a superintendent, evaluate the superintendent, set policy and present a budget. These duties must be crafted through the corporate body, not through any one individual.

The day-to-day operations, by law, are the responsibility of the superintendent as the CEO. Individual members who interfere in the day-to- day operations are operating outside the scope of their legally mandated authority. When I was a teacher, we called this "micro-managing."

If Brightman wishes to challenge the status quo, she needs to do it as part of the corporate body and not as an individual. If her efforts occur as an individual or infringe upon the legal authority of the CEO, I believe she has to expect "push back" and should not be surprised nor should she offer a public complaint.

The Washington County School System has become one of the most respected systems in the state. Our staff, administrators, teachers and support personnel carry out a Herculean task and deserve all the credit.

Our job, in my opinion, should not be to nitpick but to offer as much support as possible. Again, in my opinion, our first responsibility is to the students in our system. To carry out this responsibility, we should always be vigilant, ask questions and support the mission to provide a quality education for the children, but we must also trust the professionals we hire to carry out this most important task.

When we as board members, and not the students, become the news, something is seriously amiss.

Wayne D. Ridenour is a member of the Washington County School Board

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