During the budget hearing on June 18, the Board Room was filled to capacity with people who wanted to comment on the budget and on Common Core. My guess is around 100 people attended. I also received many emails from those who were unable to come. The meeting lasted a record 3.5 hours, with most of that time devoted to public comments. (Incidentally, board meetings usually last about an hour.)
Although, the budget passed, as proposed, despite the objections of all commenters, I consider it a success, and I can't thank you enough.
I realize those of you who took so much time out of your lives, only to see the budget passed against your wishes feel your involvement wasn't beneficial. However, I'd like to speak to you because it makes a difference in ways that are not readily apparent. Please, bear with me, as I make this case.
First, it is important to understand that public officials are just the tip of the spear. To give any of us leverage, we need the public behind us. I have been told many times, "It's a good thing you're there." But, if I don't receive emails supporting my position, if you aren't willing to speak in public hearings, then my opinion can be easily dismissed as just being out of the mainstream. I can try to make my case, but, in the end, without your input, it is easy to out-vote me on many issues. I have seen several instances where an email from a consituent changes opinions or buys more time to debate an issue. And perhaps, more importantly, we are not experts in all areas. Your particular area of expertise or experience may prove very beneficial in informing our debate.
Second, like it or not, our governmental structure was not designed to work quickly. Changing the direction of any governmental agency is like moving the Titanic. We are also not designed to be a democracy, where the majority vote of the people wins. The reason for this is the need to protect inalienable rights with checks and balances, as well as to have time to deliberate. Dr. Larry Arne of Hillsdale College says,
Representative government places ultimate authority outside the government, which restrains both the government and the governed. In such a system, citizens have endless opportunity to talk, but they may act only on certain occasions....The same restraints operate inside the government to encourage statesmen and citizens to the same habits [thinking, talking, and deliberating before acting]. (The Founders' Key)
Your participation and comments showed our board there are concerns with tax increases, the budget, and Common Core, not just from a few people or from a few elected representatives. As people become more aware and informed, they will require more input and accountability from their elected officials.
Third, there is a definite difference in the feeling of a meeting when the public is present--not just in theory, but in practice. Even though every meeting is recorded, there is something different about actually seeing faces, sensing reactions, and hearing comments. As a representative, I feel more responsible to fulfill my duty to those who elected me. I might choose my words more carefully. And I certainly appreciate the time and effort it takes for those who come. It is one thing for me to set aside time to attend board meetings. It's quite another for you to do it. I am obligated. You are not. So, if you are willing to come, it must mean it's important. I need to pay close attention to that.
Finally, power abhors a vacuum. In almost all instances, we have no one attend Board Meetings. We get no emails or communications about our dealings. In effect, the lack of public comment, attendance, and involvement says, "Go ahead. Do what you're doing. We are okay with it." So, one meeting will not make a difference when compared with every other meeting or issue. Also, it is common knowledge that people might get involved for the short-term, but very rarely does anyone stay involved over a long period of time. There's a reason for that. We want to have lives.
So, what's the answer? How do we hold our elected officials accountable without giving up our entire lives? Many hands make light work.
A few years ago, some neighbors of mine decided to start going to City Council meetings. We had about 12 people who were involved, initially. We realized, we needed to attend only two meetings every year. A few hours on two days out of every 365. If there were a budget hearing or some other major issue, then those few people could be available to comment, write emails, and contact their neighbors. It was just a little more involvement that paid huge dividends, in fiscal responsibility, in community involvement, in accountability. (It was pretty easy deciding who to re-elect and who to vote out.)
Interestingly enough, about a month ago, I received an email that pointed me to this website to form the Alpine Parent Society. http://alpineparentsociety.wordpress.com/ I would encourage you to sign up. Managing a group like this doesn't take a lot of time, especially in this day and age with internet groups, mass emails, and blogs. Is one or two evenings a year too much to ask for you to get back in charge of your government?
In the end, education is supposed to be about each parent deciding what is best for his or her child. Our district is there to support you in your decisions. As board members, we can only reflect your wishes if:
a) you know what we are wrestling with and
b) we know what you would like us to do on your behalf.
Too many top-down education initiatives have been put in place because parents have been told to trust the system. It is our duty, as parents and taxpayers, to not abdicate that responsibility. You shouldn't abdicate it to me or to anyone else.
For those who came on June 18, I say, "Thank you!" For you and for everyone else, I say, "Please come. Please email. Please take your role as the ultimate authority for our district seriously, and weigh in." Board members, parents, and taxpayers can do more together than we, as a Board, ever could without you.