I have read with surprise and interest the articles in The Times regarding Rep. Carl Rogers' bill to hold a nonbinding referendum on the question as to whether the chairman of the Gainesville Board of Education should be elected citywide. I currently serve as chairman of the Gainesville Board of Education, and as you would expect, this issue is very much of interest to me.
I am writing this article due to the fact that I would like to express some concerns regarding this proposal. I have had friends say to me, "what is the harm in a nonbinding referendum," and ask if the stakeholders of the Gainesville City School System shouldn't have a chance to say how they feel the Board of Education should be constituted?
I am in full agreement that the people of Gainesville should have a say in how the Board of Education is constituted. However, a concern that I have is that often referendum results are dependent upon how the question is phrased.
The concerns I have are that the devil is often in the details, and the law of unintended consequences will certainly come into play. I therefore wanted to express some concerns in order for our community to think about the pros and cons of this proposal, and not just make a knee-jerk decision.
The first concern I have is that the referendum provides no clear guidance as to exactly what we are voting for. If the referendum passes, then the composition of the Board of Education would change.
Therefore, I do not know if I am voting for an additional person to be added to the board as a chairman, and with the current five districts to remain the same, or whether I am voting for a chairman who is elected at-large and four board members who would be elected by district. The probable result is the second option, which could drag the school system into litigation over the redrawing of district lines.
The next concern that I have is that no one has been able to express yet how this proposal will help us educate our children. Our current Board of Education tries to be guided by the principle that the decisions we make should have a result that helps to educate all of our children.
The explanation for the proposal is that the school board needs more leadership. However, all school systems in Georgia are designed to be lead by a knowledgeable and professional educator, the superintendent, and merely guided by the Board of Education, which consists of lay persons.
Further, service on the Board of Education should not be about the members, but instead should be about educating our children. If the current board does not always "toot our horn," it is because we believe highlighting the accomplishments of our children and our teachers is more important.
Further, the only concrete example given as to a lack of leadership is the very public struggle that the board had in 2008 whether to change the professional leadership of the school system. This decision involved many complicated factors with benefits and detriments possible, and was not a decision lightly made by the board or easily derived.
I would submit that the board did show leadership in that situation, in that we considered the various factors in a very public fashion, listening to all sides, and ultimately making what I believe to be the right decision.
The fact that we had a public display of the struggle is not an indication of weakness, but one strength, in that the board had faith in ourselves, in our community and in our school system, which allowed the entire process to be done in as a public way as possible.
When you consider this proposal as asking whether we need to interject more politics into the school board, then I have concerns as to whether it is the best decision for educating our children. I will support the proposal if I'm convinced the change will advance student achievement.
However, I do not know whether I oppose this proposal or am for it, in that I do not know exactly what I am voting for, and how it will help educate children. Before we blindly change our Board of Education, I think that the community should have a chance to fully discuss the proposal, know exactly what the proposal is, know exactly how the board will be composed, have some idea as to the impact on ward lines, and have some idea as to exactly how the proposal will help educate our children.
These are not small issues, or readily answered, and I hope our community will consider all of the ramifications of this proposal in coming to a decision to support or reject this proposal.
Thank you for allowing me to express some concerns regarding this proposal and thank you for your support of the Gainesville City School System.