Answering misconceptions about city’s School Board

Published 8:49 am Wednesday, July 22, 2009

I am writing to note the multiple inaccuracies in the “Your Turn” column written by guest columnist Chuck Lilley (“Wanted: School Board talent,” Sunday, July 19). While I applaud Mr. Lilley’s interest in local government and appreciate his love of our Franklin community, I cannot sit quietly and watch additional misdirected blame be shoveled upon my fellow School Board members who work so diligently to improve the lives of children in our fair city.

Mr. Lilley’s comments would have readers believe that several recently publicized city snafus were the fault of the Franklin City School Board when nothing could be further from the truth. While I want to make it perfectly clear that I write this letter personally and only of my own accord, I hope that it serves to help the community realize that the fault which Mr. Lilley attempts to lay at the feet of the School Board is totally unwarranted.

First, Mr. Lilley writes that he believes I should have recused myself for a three-year period before allowing another appointment by the City Council to serve on the School Board. He suggests that my previous reappointment was only made possible “because the apparently imprecise bylaws of the Franklin School Board” allowed it. In fact, it is the City Council that sets the term lengths for its appointees to the School Board. City Council has deemed that any citizen can serve on the School Board for a period of up to nine years (a maximum of three consecutive three-year appointments made by the City Council). At the end of a nine-year run, the City Council has mandated that an appointee must step down and can only be appointed again after a break in service. Nowhere, to my knowledge, is the necessary length of this time away from the board stipulated. Everyone needs to understand clearly that the School Board has no hand in the City Council’s appointment process.

As was required, once my third term was completed, I cycled off the School Board. This was during a very difficult administrative period in the life of our schools. After being away from the board for a period of a year and a half, I was reappointed to the School Board (by City Council) to fill out the unexpired term of Richard Thomas, who had moved away from Franklin following a job change. When this temporary appointment expired and the at-large seat which I had filled out for Mr. Thomas was again open for a new, three-year appointment, I was asked by people in the community to allow my name to be considered. Before allowing my nomination to take place, I confirmed the statutes with the city attorney, who advised that nothing precluded me from being seated to a new three-year term. He confirmed that I had satisfied the “break in service” requirement as mandated by the council. Neither I, nor the School Board, did anything wrong in this regard.

Mr. Lilley has apparently confused not only which entity’s bylaws allowed my appointment to an unexpired term but also which body’s record keeping has put us in this current position. Mr. Lilley states that there are five School Board positions open for appointment “because of woeful School Board record-keeping”, when, in fact, it was the sitting School Board members who highlighted the problem and urged the city attorney to review the matter. Let me restate that it is the City Council, and only the City Council, that decides the seating and term lengths of members of our local School Board. The City Council has seated people on the School Board on a 2-2-3 rotation cycle for many years.

After reviewing minutes from City Council meetings as well as copies of letters (found in School Board files) mailed by the previous city manager to new School Board appointees, the error made by council was uncovered. It was discovered by city staff that the council had mistakenly voted to appoint two School Board members to new, three-year terms when, in fact, they should have only been appointed to fill out the remainder of an unexpired partial term for a seated member (I would like to note that neither of these two erroneously made appointments involved me). Hence, the 2-2-3 rotation schedule became scrambled. The city attorney’s diligence in unraveling this problem (which it should be noted came about before his tenure with the city) is commendable. He presented his findings to the council recently during an open session meeting of same, the details of which were published by this newspaper. Again, the School Board had no hand in creating the problem but assisted city staff in recognizing the errors made by the Council in the appointment process.

Mr. Lilley writes, “This imbalance occurring at any one time is a disservice to our children and reeks of discontinuity and instability, until the logical 2-2-3 cycle can be restored.” While I applaud this comment (albeit misdirected), for Mr. Lilley to write further that this “is an unfair burden that was thrust on our City Council by our School Board” is completely and utterly false. City Council made an honest, unfortunate error. I think everyone would agree on that point. There was no hidden agenda to appoint people to longer terms than was technically intended. What is potentially more unfortunate, however, is the misconception that continues to build in this community about our schools and their operations. It appears that people are now trying to use “term limits” for School Board members as a means to an end rather than acknowledging the truth — the whole truth — of what has brought us to this place.

I serve on the School Board to help children. I strongly encourage others in our community to stop using these innocents as political pawns in the current deal-brokering that we read has been going on behind closed doors. Children deserve better treatment than this from those of us pledged to their care. Fellow members of the Franklin community, please remember these are the same elected officials who were recently swept into office on a pledge of open government and fair dealings for all. Well, I’d like to ask the Franklin community: Where are we now, folks?