I think there is something wrong going on at the school. Transparency! Give me transparency! I want to know what’s really going on!
These are the cries that we heard the last time that we had a school board election. It was claimed or at least hinted at that the school district and current board members were hiding something. Playing favorites. Mis-educating our children. Allowing inappropriate actions of teachers to go unpublicized, or even worse -- misusing school funds.
Laura Martin, and to some degree John Beckett and Jim Besancenez, ran on the ticket that they were going to bring “sunshine” into the darkened and sinister halls of the Camdenton School District.
The Sunshine Law, which as a newspaper we are well aware of and use often, refers to the rights that we have to access information about government programs. It allows us the right to access government budgets, policies, internal communication within government entities, and to some extent, personnel issues. It is essential in keeping our government on the up and up. Take it away and we pave a path to greed and corruption. Naturally, I’m a big fan of the Sunshine Law.
In the last election Martin, Beckett and Besancenez questioned the “secret” executive meetings of the board. They inferred that the budget was kept away from the public and that – with such a large amount of money flowing into the schools with so little oversight – some graft, overspending or misuse must be occurring as result.
They pointed to unanimous votes as proof that these secret meetings must be happening out of public eye or that the superintendent was the puppeteer of the school board. The school administration and board must be held accountable – something had to be done.
I don’t think there have been so many accusations with so little facts behind them since the '50s when Joseph McCarthy was calling everyone a communist.
Let me tell you that we have never had any problem communicating with school administrators and school board members Nancy Masterson, Selynn Barbour, Jackie Schulte and Chris McElyea. Sometimes they’ve been less than pleased to talk to us when something negative happened at the school. Sometimes they will decline to talk about a subject because the matter is a personnel issue or a student name that they cannot legally release. But we’ve never felt that they were not willing to give us whatever information we asked for – no matter how painful.
Laura Martin, John Beckett and Jim Besancenez are the exception to that rule. Only when they are running for office will they respond to our questions. We have asked for comments on stories a number of times. In fact, the ongoing joke in the newsroom is that we can write the story with a Martin, Beckett and Besancenez "no comment” already in place before we even ask.
Page 2 of 2 - In fact, we and another news website not affiliated with us, have resorted to having to go to Martin or Besancenez’s blog to get quotes from what they’ve written there (we don’t like to have to resort to this as we can’t prove that it is their writing, but they leave us little choice). How transparent is a person if they will only speak to the handful of individuals who visit their website? It seems a rather one-sided dialogue with a fairly small audience.
Now these three fall into the “we don’t need to be questioned because we’re righteous, but everyone else should be a suspect” category.
If we were turning the tables and asking as they would: Why wouldn’t a board member want to get their viewpoint out to the largest read newspaper and website in the county? What are they worried about us asking? Or are they worried they won’t be able to answer? What are they trying to hide?
It’s been two years since these board members said they would shed the great light on our school system and board – show what wrongs have been done, what secrets have been kept.
That seems like ample time to make progress on those goals – so my question is this: Other than run off two competent school administrators, attempt to micro manage members of the staff and make the school board vote a little less lopsided than in the past – what have you done? What wrongs have you found and righted? What have you brought into the sunshine?