11th Commandment Mandates Brevity



Every job seems to come with at least one hateful task that has to be performed on a regular basis.

For the education writers of newspapers large and small, that task is attending school board meetings. It is a fate roughly akin to giving birth to a rhinoceros.

Town council meetings may be tedious. Planning and zoning meetings wearisome. But school board meetings, which often last hours on end, take stark-raving boredom to a new level.

In all of recorded history no newspaper reporter has ever managed to stay until the end of a school board meeting. At some point, we cannot take another minute and run from the room into the parking lot screaming, "Arrrrrggggghhhhh!!!!!"

Some of us are even beginning to question whether school board meetings ever end, because no matter what time you arrive, the meeting has already "started."

But hope springs eternal in the human breast, so it was with renewed spirit that I walked into the Nov. 10 meeting of the board of your Payson Unified School District. It had, of course, already begun.

Eagerly I perused the five-page, single-spaced agenda looking for that magical point when nothing more of substance was scheduled to be discussed -- that moment when I could make a graceful exit. I decided that would be after the discussion of the proposed school calendars for the next two years.

Little did I know that your school board had chosen this item as the one they would use to attempt to break the Guinness World Record for "Longest Time Discussing a Single Item at a School Board Meeting." I mean, how many ways can you say, "We need to shorten the spring break to one week."

Anyway, the matter was finally resolved and I began to make my discreet exit. Unfortunately, sitting right behind me was Payson High School Principal Sue Myers who, in a stage whisper, bellowed, "Chicken!"

Here we must push the "pause" button while I tell you something else you really don't need to know about your local school board meetings. For many years, the agenda has contained an item called Principals' Reports.

What this means is that the district's six principals walk sequentially to the podium and engage in Show-and-Tell sessions about their respective schools. Remember, boys and girls, these are the very people who invented Show-and-Tell, and nobody, but nobody, does it better -- or longer.

A conservative estimate would have the Principals' Reports adding about three hours to the average school board meeting.

Imagine, then, my surprise and delight when this item was not listed on the agenda.

Now we can resume our story. Since Myers had already stopped me in my tracks by hissing, "Chicken!," I decided to discreetly ask her what happened to the Principals' Reports.

I am not making up what you are about to read. Myers said, "We learned that it's illegal to tell them something they already know."

At least that's what I think she said. At least that's the way I heard it.

Later I was told by School Board President Viki Holmes that Principals' Reports were discontinued to avoid a violation of the open meeting law. The random items principals bring up could lead to discussion of an item not on the agenda -- an open meeting law no-no.

But as I drove home, Myers' explanation kept resonating in my head.

Once there, I wrote down what I remembered Myers saying. I did so because I believe it comprises one of the truly great pieces of wisdom available to humankind.

In fact, I propose that the Payson Town Council adopt a new ordinance, to wit: "It is illegal to tell people something they already know." I also think we should add a variation to the Bill of Rights ("All men have the right to not be told something they already know.") and, eventually, make it the 11th Commandment ("Thou shalt not tell people something they already knoweth.")

Such an edict would eliminate about 90 percent of human communication.

Tell your spouse he needs to lose a few pounds? Don't even go there. He knows it.

Tell the kids they should eat their vegetables? I don't think so.

Say 1,000 times we need to shorten spring break to one week? According to law, you can only say it once and then everybody knows it.

In a world grown way too complex, think of how much simpler life will become. And they say school board meetings are boring.

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