Splits show strength

By Richard Greene | Published Saturday, March 3, 2018

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Sitting at the back of the Northwest ISD boardroom Monday night, I was stunned watching the hands rise for the vote on proposed attendance boundaries – three for, and then three against.

What? A split vote?

And even more astonishing, this was the second split vote I’ve witnessed in the past month. Boyd trustees splintered just weeks earlier on the contract extension for Boyd High School Principal Susan Foster.

Richard Greene

Richard Greene

Tie votes are rare, mainly due to there usually being seven trustees present, meaning one side will prevail on an issue. But in the case of Northwest, they are currently one person short on the board after the resignation of Mel Fuller following his arrest in October. At Boyd, a trustee just happened to be absent that night.

With no opinion on the subject of the vote, I will say the split vote is not bad. In fact, it’s refreshing to see.

In my 19th year of covering education and attending school board meetings, I’ve been fortunate to work with many great trustees, who elect to take on this civic duty for no compensation. I’ve sat with them during some long meetings that dragged into the wee hours of the morning after long discussions on various topics.

But some of those discussions in recent years have disappeared. More and more often, school boards zip through agendas with little or no discussion among trustees, and they give unanimous votes on item after item. Even after spending considerable time behind closed doors, trustees will emerge and turn in quick, unanimous votes.

While it may not necessarily be the case, the perception is the boards are just going along with administration’s recommendations. As my sophomore reporting professor said way back in the day, “perception is reality.”

That perception is reinforced with the ever popular buzz phrase “team of eight.” The State Board of Education requires school boards to go through at least three hours of team-building training annually, and they can earn commendations for completing eight hours. This is on top of other continuing education requirements.

I fully support a cordial, cooperative relationship between superintendents and trustees. Also, I can appreciate that a superintendent is similar to a CEO and is on the job daily and knows the district best. But that doesn’t mean they can’t be questioned or there’s anything wrong with extending a discussion during a meeting to make sure the public knows what’s happening.

I believe some questioning and even a little dissension will not only make the team stronger but also better serves the community. It shows the voting public that every item is not just rubber-stamped through and that trustees are willing and able to consider items independently.

In the end, it will possibly get more people involved in the process – a win-win for everyone.

Richard Greene is editor of the Messenger.

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