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Don't Rush Me


Covering board meetings (again)


And, it sucks



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April 20, 2011 - Interesting week.

So, here it is the middle of April and as I sit and look out the window Monday morning, I watch the snow fall. I watch as it accumulates on the cars across the street. If it were April 1, I could take Mother Nature's joke. I ain't smiling now.

* * *

Last week I attended my first school board meeting as a reporter in, well, as I told the dude named Wes sitting next to me, in a "long" time. I then corrected myself, "When last I attended a meeting like this, nobody had a cell phone."

It was a Lake Orion Community Schools board of education meeting. Sometime after 10 p.m., the dude named Wes leaned to his left and asked me, "So, how was it the meeting, I mean?"

"It sucks."

I tend to be brutally honest at times when I should be more of the political animal. As hindsight is always pretty keen, I think I should have answered: "About the same as I remember."

* * *

The meeting kinda' blew for a number of reasons. The first was it was to start at 7 p.m.; I got there about 6:20 and sat in the front row, in the seat closest to the exit. Said meeting didn't start until about 7:25. By about 7:15 the natives and the outsider (that would be me) were getting restless. The temperatures were not like they were this week. It was actually warm outside I even had a little sunburn on my nose from being outside a few hours before the meeting. As the meeting went on, the sun dropped out of sight, and the temperatures inside started to rise.

* * *

That night the school board was to vote on a contract with the local teachers' union, Lake Orion Education Association. There were probably 40 people in the audience, about half were teachers. As the evening wore on and it came time to vote all those teachers behind me started to to grow quite. It was like an invisible force field had dropped around them. Were they holding their breath?

Each board member expressed love and admiration for local teachers before acknowledging their vote had nothing to do with their feelings.

After each board member spoke, the force field evaporated a little bit more. I could hear breathing. Then a few gasps. I didn't look, but I swear I could actually feel the air move as the folks behind me shook their heads with disdain.

A three-to-three vote caused the motion to accept a tentative contract the district administration had negotiated with the LOEA meant the motion failed (the seventh, and tie-breaking board member was absent from the meeting). Folks behind filed out right after the vote.

It was warm in there, but it felt cold.

* * *

I did not enjoy watching the board members explain themselves before voting. I could tell it was excruciatingly hard. They have kids in the district, they like the teachers, but . . . an impending $8.8 million deficit has a way of changing voting patterns.

* * *

Some question why the board brought the contract to a vote if it had no chance of being accepted. Wouldn't it had been better to continue negotiations until an agreement could have been reached, they reason. Negotiations, of course, are done without public eyeballs watching, so it's hard to say what went on behind closed doors.

* * *

Days after the meeting, I met with a Lake Orion graduate and now a parent in Lake Orion school district. He has attended a few "meet the school board candidate events", and came away with this observation: "Wow. I cannot believe how polarized this community is."

To which I commented, "Locally, just like nationally, we have become a society of 'you are either with me all the way or you are against me' types. We're all part of a red state or a blue state. There are no more purples."

Which, in a word, sucks.

* * *

Attended a community newspaper convention in East Lansing this weekend. One of the discussions was by an economist from the W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research. Interestingly, the economist said one way to improve the economy is to invest in education in particularly the pre-kindergarten years. Interesting, because, he also pointed out the return on investment (ROI for those in the know) isn't realized for about 35 years -- which isn't a factor that motivates politicians.

* * *

Talked to a Lake Orion teacher, again interesting. He was obviously fired up over the contract vote and then he said something about hindsight . . . maybe the Michigan Education Association should have made it more of a priority (years ago) to give its members (teachers) more input in curriculum and teaching and less on wages, pensions and benefits.

Like I said, interesting (and it is still snowing).

Don is Assistant Publisher for Sherman Publications, Inc. He has worked for the company since 1985. He has won numerous awards for column, editorial and feature writing as well as for photography. He has two, sons Shamus and Sean and resides in the area. To read archived copies of his columns, click on his name, just under his picture up top . . . He can be e-mailed at: don@dontrushmedon.com
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