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Wednesday, March 12, 2008

is appointed government good government?

My friend and housemate is running for school board. The district is heavily minority because white parents are not inclined to send their kids to the public schools. The voters of the district are split - black and white. The question being raised around town is whether it would be better to have an appointed rather than an elected school board. The question is being posed by the white, corporate, civic leaders who are tired of seeing the district perform poorly, not educate children well, and watch the board spend more time bickering than making good decisions. No doubt, the school district has been and is a mess. The current adjective used to describe the school board is "dysfunctional."

While there is some truth to this situation as posed - the district does perform poorly and the board does not manage the district or itself very well - a good bit of the controversy is related to the white civic community being frustrated with a minority dominated school district that does not pay attention to what white leaders are telling them they ought to do. A case of classic power struggle between black and white, majority and minority, oppressor and oppressed, old style and new style politics.

An appointed board is a shortcut to get an easy fix to the problem. If all it took to do a good job was to appoint the board, I think we would have done that years ago. The problem is that most of the board is not in relationship with most of the residents of the school district or the personnel. The problem is that the school board is not in relationship with key neighborhoods in the district and, therefore, has no ability to create a coalition or consensus that will withstand criticism. The problem is that the civic leaders and their suggestions have been rebuffed by the board and instead of pursuing, the leaders have just given up.

An appointed board will likely generate consensus - but will be unable to carry that forward as a mandate to the community. So while the board will function, it will not have any respect in the community of residents and parents. The only way to fix this over the long term is to develop relationships, which leads to understanding, which results in consensus. This is called the heavy lifting, which is eschewed by too many politicians. An appointed board requires no heavy lifting.

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