School Board insists on consensus questions only

Publisher’s Note: It appears that the Buncombe County School Board is attempting to engage in Group Think and to stifle the responsibilities of each of the School Board members. Each member is elected by a district and is responsible to a district. He or she was never elected to somehow have his questions tempered to be those that are approved by some sort of majority thinking of a ‘Board.’ That flies in the face of reason.

When this Board, and in this case Rhinehart, says that under some sort of ‘code of ethics’ an individual member did not have the right “to require the superintendent and the administrative staff to spend significant time responding to an issue or idea that was not supported by the majority of the board,” he is engaging in pure chicanery.

First of all, the school administration is responsible to answer any questions from each of the members of the Board because each elected member has the individual responsibility to act on behalf of those who elected him. Otherwise the Board is simply trying to strip each member of his or her duly elected Constitutional obligation. That obligation cannot be legally negated by some sort of consensus ethics.

Secondly, the school “administration costs” exceed $15,000,000 per year, the superintendent costs exceed $185,000 per year, and his office totals exceed $485,000 per year. This is a lot of money and represents a lot of staff.

To say that no one Board member should ask a question because it may take a little time and effort to answer an inquiry is way beyond belief. $15,000,000 can answer a lot of questions from any one member of the school board. It belies any rational discussion of the problems the School Board faces to say otherwise. With a total budget of $218 million to oversee, it would seem appropriate for the Board to ask a few questions.

This policy should be overturned and thrown into the dustbin of unworthy ideas. It certainly does not help solve any significant problems, and serves only to stifle dissent and to break the light bulbs of transparency. The Board needs to welcome all the questions and inquiries that it can.


By Catherine Hunter –

Buncombe County Board of Education members adjourned the November meeting as member Lisa Baldwin attempted to make motions she has presented many times before. The exchange followed a motion offered by board chairman Bob Rhinehart regarding the directives to the board section which used to appear on the agenda.

“This is an effort to improve and shorten our meetings,” he said. “Under our code of ethics we delegate authority for the administration of the schools to the superintendent. We do not, and cannot micromanage the running of our school system.”

Rhinehart added as an individual board member he did not have the right to “…require the superintendent and the administration staff to spend significant time responding to an issue or idea that was not supported by the majority of the board.” In the motion he suggested, “all requests for information be directed to the superintendent rather than individual employees of the central office.”

Other main points in the motion included, that in order to be on the agenda, all board directives be submitted to the superintendent’s office seven days prior to a meeting, that the directive must be simply stated without detailed justifications and any directive which does not receive a majority vote would not be reasserted without a significant change.

Rhinehart added that board directives are defined as requests for the superintendent to review and research an issue and make recommendations to the board. He said this would hopefully allow the board members and the public to look at issues ahead of time.

In other issues the board voted five-to-two, to approve curriculum recognition of Religious Freedom Day on January 16 and the distribution of religious materials in a pilot program beginning next spring.

Accepting the suggestion of Superintendent Dr. Tony Baldwin (no relation to board member), the board decided BCS curriculums will take the nationally recognized day as an opportunity to instruct students about the history of religious freedom in the US, studies of different world cultures, social studies and language arts as pertaining to world religious beliefs.

In addition the board asked the superintendent to draft a policy creating a pilot program which allows religious material to be actively distributed during an already existing community event such as a school open house.

“I think we’re opening a Pandora’s Box,” said board member Pat Bryant who voted against the motion. Board member Chip Craig also voted against the motion, saying he thought it would add work to an already overburdened staff.

The board debated whether to make the distribution a policy or to allow school principals to determine whether to participate.

“We were elected to make decisions,” said board member Steve Sizemore, who was attending his last board meeting. “Either make the policy or don’t, but don’t put the burden on the principals.”

“I think this fits with our mission of educating the whole child,” she said board member Lisa Baldwin who suggested the idea of using an already existing event for the distribution of material.

Public comment regarding the distribution of religious materials included concerns regarding the impact of the orderliness of the schools, fears that students will be offended and adding to the burden of teachers and principals.

The board also passed the 2012-2013 budget of $218 million and several members thanked Sizemore for his service.

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