Our Kids, Our Schools

Folks in Edmond are “fightin’ mad,” to use my grandmother’s old phrase. Boundaries are changing inside the Edmond school district, and residents (code word for moms and dads) are not getting answers. The superintendent seems to be the only person willing to answer questions, and the school board is remaining silent (and hidden in the audience, I am told.)

A few years ago, Edmond voters approved a school bond to build a new middle school – and now that middle school needs students. That was the catalyst for what has now become the center of much disagreement. A task force was appointed, along with a hired consultant, and this group has proposed the new boundaries. If the new plan is approved, far north Edmond, reaching all the way to Oak Tree, could literally be driving past one high school to get to Edmond Memorial. Students who would have gone to a closer middle school will now become part of the traffic problem in central Edmond, as their parents drive past two middle schools to get to Central.

Frankly, the proposal might not be so disturbing if someone other than the superintendent “sacrificial lamb” were answering questions and entering into dialog with parents. Rightly, the school district scheduled two public meetings, on February 11 and February 18, to get public comment. At the first meeting, the school board members did not answer any questions. In fact, they did not even sit up front or open themselves up to questions. A few of them were present in the audience, and remained silent the entire meeting. Friends have called me to say that even the gentlest of emails have been met with near hostility from a few of the school board members. In the second meeting, with more than 200 parents present and frustrated, the hired consultant spoke, and a former school board member spoke – but again, the elected boards members were either absent or stayed mum.

The vote on these boundary changes was scheduled for Monday.

Transparency should be one of the top goals in a process like this. Complete honesty with constituents, with elected officials being the ones to give the answers. Several years ago, my sons’ elementary school faced a boundary change. Everyone from the principal to the chairman of the school board was available to listen, to answer questions, and to address concerns. The outcome was not what our school’s parents had hoped for, but the process was open and inviting. Such is not the case in the present proposal.

Remember two years ago when Common Core curriculum was the center of a heated battle. Several of us were outspoken – we wanted local control over our schools, and wanted decisions to be made by local elected school board officials. Why? Because these elected school board members answer directly to the voting parents in the Edmond School District. But our argument against Common Core, and for local control, only works if our local school board actually steps up and takes control. The idea of local control hinges on responsive school boards who meet with constituents, who answer concerns, and who do not use the shield of “plausible deniability” by blaming unpleasantness on an unelected task force and consultant.

As mayor, I was called on to make controversial votes. I was called on to discuss unpleasant topics, and frankly on more than one occasion, was the subject of threats. I am not condoning bad behavior by citizens, especially those that are threatening. But elected officials have a duty to step up. My city council colleagues met with people, and sat up front on the dias to answer questions. We always opened the floor for public comments and concerns at every city council meeting. That is what we were elected to do. Likewise, it is the responsibility of the school board members to do the same.

 

 

Patrice publishes a regular column in Edmond Life & Leisure which covers everything from politics and culture to family.  She is also a regular guest host on KWTV’s Flash Point.