Unwanted: Word from the public

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This guest commentary was published in today's print editions of The Press. Do you agree with the writer that the Coeur d'Alene School Board is being too restrictive?

By DUNCAN KOLER/Special to The Press

Our School District 271 Board is operating at its Machiavellian best, silencing opposition voices in a manner befitting the Soviet Politburo.

The Press' Oct. 16 headline announces the school board has shut down public input at their meetings, unless such input relates specifically to one of their agenda items. For years the school board has allowed citizens to be heard during monthly public meetings, granting 3 minutes per citizen who wishes to speak. No questions to the board were permitted, just comments, while board members stifle yawns, massage their temples or stare at the large 3 minute timer on the wall, waiting to cut off any opposition taxpayer who goes over 3 minutes.

The board used to allow 5 minutes, but when that proved too tedious for them, they cut it to 3 minutes. Citizen comments were heard roughly in the middle of the 2-3 hour board meetings, which are always held at 5 p.m., a time most citizens with school age children find it difficult to attend. Toward the end of last school year, the board changed their meeting procedure so citizen comments were heard at the end of the meeting. In other words, you had to sit through 2-3 hours of board meeting to get your 3 minutes of comment. I guess the board wasn't pleased that people still came to voice their opposition to various board actions - such as teacher collaboration, "Schools of Choice" and IB. Hence the new policy: censorship of public comment.

In the Oct. 16 Press article, Superintendent Bauman attempts to justify the board's action by noting that the meetings are televised and the board is tired of hearing the same comments. So, the board concedes that they do not want the larger public viewing audience to hear what citizens are saying at the meetings. If I were in their shoes (with their agenda) I wouldn't want the truth to come out either. This is heavy-handed government censorship. This board wants to control and shape public perception for their own ends.

Ms. Bauman argues that citizens keep saying the same thing. She is accurate in one sense, inaccurate in another. What many citizens have uniformly been saying is they disagree with board actions. They disagree with bringing U.N. linked education to our schools without public discussion, they disagree with the board hijacking Hayden Meadows, a neighborhood elementary school and making it an ideological test tube under the double-speak name "School of Choice." They disagree with turning family and local business logistics upside-down by instituting the latest public education craze - "teacher collaboration." They disagree with paying for an expensive, failed "advanced learning program" while many of our graduating seniors have to take remedial math and English at NIC, and while also discussing terminating school bus routes to save money during a certified Financial Emergency. However, every month concerned citizens have brought new and different perspectives and facts to the board's attention regarding these and other issues. In other words, the board sees our lips moving, but all they hear (by choice) is, "blah, blah, blah."

The board has also prohibited citizens' audio or video recordings at the meetings. Ms. Bauman finds it intimidating, despite the fact all meetings are recorded by the district for their own purposes. Ms. Bauman falsely asserts she is intimidated because citizens "stick a microphone" in her face. That is baloney, since Ms. Bauman and the rest of the board sit up front and above the level of the public at the monthly meetings, many feet separating them.

Ms. Bauman says the public can watch the meetings on Time-Warner Cable, but many of us do not have cable TV, and feel it's important to accurately document what the board says, so that we can accurately inform others.

The board's recording ban is ironic and even galling, given the board's recent conduct. We attended the district's "Schools of Choice Workshop" on May 17, 2010, at the LCHS auditorium. Halfway through the meeting, we discovered that board trustee Vern Newby was secretly videotaping specific members of the public who were opposed to IB. I confronted Mr. Newby about this, while he was surrounded by other trustees, including Edie Brooks, Diane Zipperer and Bill Hemenway. Not only did Mr. Newby stridently refuse to stop video recording, but when confronted with what Mr. Newby was doing, the rest of the board trustees condoned Mr. Newby's outrageous behavior. I guess it's OK for the board to secretly videotape members of the public who disagree with them, but can't tolerate the taxpayers recording them openly. Predictably, the board refused to produce a copy of their secret videotape.

What we have here is an elitist school board hell-bent on running our school district any way they want, avoiding at all cost any "messy" citizen involvement. We desperately need a more responsive and civil board.

Duncan Koler is a Hayden Lake resident.

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