Today’s Special: Meeting Merry-Go-Round

With an overall grade of B and three schools within the district earning A’s, the Fairfield County School District certainly has one or two things to crow about; and given the beatings this school district has taken in the media in recent years, crow they should. Still, with a B, a C, a D and even an F among their school grades, it is clear that there is still plenty of room for improvement.

What is even more apparent, however, is that the area that requires the most improvement within the school district is its governing body, the Fairfield County School Board. In spite of any strides, major or minor, made since the last election, recent meetings have only reinforced the perception that the greatest impediment to progress in the District is the Board itself. The Board’s July 31 meeting – a “Special Called” meeting with an agenda so bloated it crested the four-hour mark – hadn’t even gotten off the ground before degenerating into an all-out farce of parliamentary procedures. Apparently, the new policy is to keep calling for a vote until the Chairwoman receives her desired results.

But this Board has never fretted too much about procedures, or policies, or rules, which the July 31 “Special Called” meeting only affirmed. Special Called meetings are just that, if not by the letter of the law then certainly by the spirit, and should only be called to address matters of a pressing, time-sensitive nature. Thus, the only truly “Special” thing on the July 31 agenda was an executive session to discuss the Board’s position on whether or not to appeal a Circuit Court Judge’s ruling in the Mitford case. Everything else on that agenda was no more “special” than a brand new Wal-Mart, and could have – and should have – been placed on the agenda for the next regularly scheduled meeting.

But at least the Board got the whole Mitford issue out of the way, right?

Wrong.

After a meeting that literally dragged on into the wee hours of Aug. 1, the Chairwoman failed to call for a vote on the one most pressing, time-sensitive, urgent issue for which they had all been summoned the evening before. After nearly five hours, who can be expected to remember every pesky little detail?

The result, of course, is another “Special” meeting, which the Board held Tuesday night – which means another round of per diems and mileage for Board members, by the way. And don’t forget dinner. It is, after all, a well-documented fact that there are members of this Board who can’t even bump into one another in a hallway without ordering dinner from three or more different places – at taxpayers’ expense.

Never short on ideas for an encore, the Board this week released its meeting schedule for the 2012-2013 school year. While on the surface, it appears a gallant attempt at limiting the Board’s ability to gum up the works of the School District by scheduling only one meeting per month for the next 12 months (consult your local odds makers for the likelihood that this will actually happen), in reality the public may want to brace themselves for more four-plus-hour meetings. But the real kicker is not how many meetings are on the books for the coming year, but where these meeting will be held: in schools all over the District.

The necessity for this escapes even the broadest of intellects and appears as nothing more than an attempt to outrun public oversight by holding a meeting in a different venue each month. Beyond being wholly divorced from the spirit of the law, this meeting schedule constitutes nothing more than the proverbial middle finger from the Board to the public, in essence saying, “Catch us if you can.”

Such ‘duck and dodge’ tactics, in fact, bring to mind this passage from a rather well-known historical document:

“He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.”

That is from the Declaration of Independence and is the fourth complaint levied against the King by the rebelling colonists. It was a fairly popular document in its time and some consider it of significance even today. Perhaps our local school board, and particularly our Board Chairwoman, should give it a review.