In 1939, Paddy Bauler, a Chicago saloonkeeper/alderman, defeated a reform-minded candidate. When asked to explain his victory, Bauler responded with the classic line, “Chicago ain’t ready for reform.” In 2013, the Manatee School Board has been asked to reform itself. After being challenged by fiscal activist, Linda Schaich and others to remedy dozens of inaccuracies and half-truths presented in its budgets dating back to at least 2006, the Manatee School Board narrowly restricted its response to a forensic audit of one budget year, 2011-12.
The board’s take on reform is that a little bit is enough and a strong dose might be more than the citizenry can bear. A highly skeptical public is being asked to settle for far less than it deserves. The board has soft-pedaled and slow-walked this audit in an apparent effort to limit its scope and dilute its findings.
On January 10, the board held a workshop to prepare for the much anticipated forensic audit presentation on January 14. Newly minted board member Dave Watchdog Miner suggested that the presentation be delayed so that the board rule of seven days to review materials (200 pages in this case) be observed.
Rather than welcoming Miner into the fold by implementing his reasonable suggestion, the other four agreed to accept copies of the audit on Monday, without opportunity for review. Doing the right thing is a lonely pursuit at the MCSB.
Miner was told illogically that the presenters can always come back to answer any questions. Board chair Karen Carpenter capped the evening by conceding that the board had not considered how the public is to make sense of this presentation without prior review of the audit document. It is curious that a board which claims to value education highly would opt to attend a meeting unprepared. Again, our board will be back on its heels, an all-too-familiar posture.
County residents are bound to be insulted by the board’s short-sighted approach. On the basis of their handling of this audit, the Manatee School Board is not ready for reform.
A retired educator with two earned doctorates, Richard Jackson has taught from sixth grade through graduate school. He has extensive experience as a grants writer, school administrator, columnist and lobbyist. He has written more than 300 columns over the past three years on the state of the Manatee School District for the Tampa Examiner.