A long-expected proposal from Columbia Countys legislative delegation does nothing more than ask voters their opinion about how the chairman of the school board is chosen.
Based on reactions from some trustees, though, youd think the lawmakers were threatening board members power.
Well, maybe they are. After all, if voters countywide are allowed to elect their chairman, rather than allowing elected trustees to pick their own, voters rightly would feel that their chairman has more authority than other single-district trustees.
Still, its hardly the affront that the current board seems to portray. In a recent letter, trustee Lee Muns takes a how-dare-they attitude toward state Rep. Ben Harbin and other local lawmakers. The delegation, Muns says, didnt first hold a suitable dialogue with the board before putting the chairmanship question on Novembers ballot.
Come now; this board, which avoids public discussions with voters like a vampire avoids sunlight, is in no position to chastise other elected officials for a lack of dialogue before performing their duties. Muns, of all people, certainly understands this point; he recently held his own forum on a hot topic when the public clamored for it and the rest of the board was slow to deliver.
In his defense, then, maybe Muns is just echoing comments from other trustees. In a December session with lawmakers, they made no secret of the fact that they were turning up their noses at the idea of voters picking the chairman.
But it isnt the trustees decision. The voters who put them in office also elect the lawmakers, and in a similar straw poll in 2000, those voters overwhelmingly approved the concept of electing the chairman of the County Commission. Harbins newest bill simply allows voters to likewise have a say on the School Boards leadership.
Sure, trustees like things just the way they are. Why wouldnt they? The burden of crafting and enforcing policy falls almost entirely to the superintendent, with little heavy lifting required from the board. When things are going fine, they look like statesmen; when problems arise, they can hide behind the hired superintendent.
An elected chairman would shake up this mix because he or she would serve all the countys voters, with a greater awareness of the peoples will than a district-elected trustee - and with greater accountability.
Obviously, too, the trustees are leery of Harbins bill because they know the proposal likely will pass. And as Harbin and his fellow lawmakers proved with the Commission chairmanship, the delegation can be counted on to follow voters wishes - for better or worse.
The trustees understandably oppose changes to the current school board. Fine. But do they really want to be seen as trying to keep voters from offering their opinion?
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