Lap Dogs Or Policy Setters?


Rubber stamps?

Lap dogs?

Public servants?

Bold policy setters?

Which seems like the best description of the Payson School Board?

The school board pondered its public image during a recent retreat, fretting about public perceptions and legal realities.

Board member Barbara Shepherd, for one, worried that too often in the past the school board has asked all its questions in private and kept mum during the public meetings — leaving the public to wonder whether they’re either striking deals in secret or simply rubber stamping the recommendations of Superintendent Casey O’Brien.

Certainly, the current school board has faced a dispiriting succession of no-win choices. The state Legislature’s abandonment of our public schools has made Arizona 48th in per-student funding and forced the Payson School Board to make painful choices — like closing Frontier Elementary School, increasing elementary school class sizes, cutting off budget support for extracurricular programs and laying off teachers.

By and large, the school board members have struggled with these choices and made the hard decisions, acting with maturity, restraint and responsibility. That said, the board could do a lot more to involve the public, explain its actions and make available key reports and figures.

At minimum, the district should imitate Payson’s system of webcasting all its meetings and posting reports, documents and recommendations on its Web site attached to the meeting agendas.

The school district has more employees and far more people deeply concerned with its actions. than the town. The board should insist on a webcast of the meeting and a Web site that allows parents and teachers to download and examine memos, reports and recommendations from the superintendent and other key administrators.

Beyond that simple embrace of transparency, the school board members should ask more of their questions in public — so the voters, parents, students and teachers can all listen to the answers in public.

All too often, the board president reads some oblique resolution, and the board listens to a few sentences of explanation from the superintendent and then casts an immediate, unanimous vote. Most issues flash past with barely a turn signal, leaving the public feeling bypassed and uninvolved.

Often, this involves minor issues that probably don’t require much discussion. But it also too often applied to momentous issues like closing Frontier, dramatically increasing elementary school class sizes, imposing big fees on sports and other extracurricular activities, consolidating grades at the elementary school level, and the criteria for teacher layoffs.

So we applaud the board’s effort to grapple with both public perceptions and board realities.

We don’t doubt they’re public servants. We just hope they’ll be bold policy setters, to ensure the public understands that they’re nobody’s rubber-stamping lap dogs.

Feeling downright bipolar

Alas, we’re feeling a little bipolar. Probably comes from reading too many economic tea leaves.

So Rim Country’s unemployment rate drops by a full percentage point — and local sales tax collections rise a heartening 12 percent from last year. Oh. Joy. Oh. Joy. Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition: Our long regional nightmare is over. Yeah. Well. Maybe.

Didn’t we say that last year? Maybe the year before? Wasn’t the university going to break ground by now, turning our brackish water into sweet wine?

But it’s better? Right?

But then the food bank’s out of food and the number of homeless kids has risen and we’re still laying off teachers and everything’s on fire. Oh my, oh my, oh my.

But forget that: It’s better. We’re doing better, maybe, hopefully. Gotta get better sometime — doesn’t it?

Then again, if you need solid grounds for hope and redemption just page through today’s paper.

You’ll find the story about an 88-year-old man looking for sponsors so he can walk miles raising money to battle cancer. You’ll find news about the Knights of Columbus’ $800 donation to the St. Vincent de Paul Food Bank. You’ll find a little feature on the brilliant success of the weekend’s Garden Tour. You’ll find a story about two local women who organized an afternoon tea to raise money to help rescue battered women.

So whenever you feel a loss of faith coming on, just flip through the inside pages for news about what your wonderful, good-hearted neighbors have been up to.

That’s what we did. And it calmed us right down: Heck, we may not even need our medications today.


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