We were told back in June that “none of this would have happened” if we, the citizens of Enterprise had been attending the school board meetings. We were then told by the same board member that “there were some things we didn’t know” and we just need to “trust them.” That seems rather contradictory to me. On one hand we are told we should have been there to watch the meetings so that “none of this” would have happened and on the other hand we just need to “trust them.”
I used a lot of “we’s” there. We, in this case refers to non-board members.
It is now mid-September and there are still things we do not know, so we have to assume or make educated guesses based on what we do know or believe to be true, and there is still a lack of trust between the school board and the citizens of the City of Enterprise.
I have never been one to just complain to hear myself complain. Don’t get me wrong. I have and do complain and expect that will not change in the future.
However, complaints only help identify the issue or problem, which is the first step in resolving any issue. In my career and in life when I have complained I have, when possible, tried to suggest possible solutions to help resolve whatever it is I was complaining about. If I determined, based on my judgment, no changes would be forthcoming, I had to choose to stay and make the best of a bad situation or leave the situation. I have done both.
For the issue at hand here, lack of trust, I do think there are actions that can be taken to re-establish and build trust. Some who read this will agree. Some will not. However, they do represent some steps or actions that will help in most similar situations and could help here too.
Respect and Trust
This slide appeared in my news feed in the last few days. It still amazes me how often I see something like this now and my thoughts immediately go to our current situation in Enterprise. This one seems to fit very well to me.
“~Respect and Trust~
The two easiest things in life for someone to lose and the hardest things to get back.”
Trust is very hard to regain once it has been lost. It can be done but it takes a concerted consistent effort to do so. I believe the two ingredients required are communication and time. We have had time pass, 3 months to the day, since this issue boiled over in June but not much communication or concerted effort from the school board to venture down the path to rebuild trust.
Communication, communication, communication
Anyone who has either sold real estate as a realtor or bought or sold it as a consumer has heard that the three most important factors to consider in this type of transaction is location, location, and location. Similarly, I believe the three most important actions to consider in anyone trying to build or rebuild trust are communication, communication, and communication.
Think about your relationships with friends and family. If someone breaks your trust and asks you to trust them going forward then avoids you or doesn’t make an effort to open up a dialogue and start trying to talk to you more regularly than they did when that trust was broken, where do your thoughts go? If they are like mine they would head right to assumptions such as, “There they go again. Nothing has changed. They are just doing what they want, heading down the same path again, not considering anyone else, and obviously did not mean what they said.”
On the other hand if that person were to come to you and say, “I want us to be able to trust each other again so I would like to have regular meetings and conversations so you can hold me accountable and know what my thoughts and motives are so you don’t have to assume the worst,” I would think you would be receptive to and welcome that if you wanted to rebuild that trust yourself.
You would likely be skeptical or cautious at first, and rightly so, but over time, if their actions matched their words trust would begin to grow.
Encouraged and Discouraged
I was both encouraged and discouraged last week when I attended the special school board meetings that included the budget hearings. There were handouts available for anyone who attended showing the budget information being presented. Many more than were needed were printed as the attendance at these two meetings was the lowest I have seen since June, which was a little discouraging to me. I know they were budget meetings and scheduled earlier than normal and one of them was on Wednesday night when many are at church so that made it harder for folks to get there. I just hope this is not a continuing trend.
I was encouraged because this proves that supplemental information can be provided by the board if they choose to do so.
Sharing information – communicating – is critical, in my estimation if this situation is to change. The information would not have to be printed but that is one option. Another would be to use the News sections of the School Board web site and post information there or the board or individual board members could start a blog and share information that way. If I can do it anyone can.
The method is not the critical issue but sharing information is.
What could be shared?
I know there are some things that are not shareable to the public. I am not talking about that type of information. I am talking about filling in some of the gaps that do not get addressed during the board meetings or are not explained adequately. I am sure that board members have thought, “I wish I had said…” after a meeting. I know that community members have had unanswered questions after board meetings. Updates for what is going on between the board meetings and maybe even some of the whys and methodology used to arrive at the decisions being made during the meetings could be shared also.
A couple of specific examples that come to mind for me are as follows.
There were questions about the salary difference between the interim superintendent and the former superintendent that have come up a couple of times in different meetings. I have been an independent contractor and understand the difference between that and a salaried employee. Many might not understand that difference.
“According to The Wall Street Journal, ICs are usually paid 20% to 40% more per hour than employees performing the same work. Hiring firms can afford to pay ICs more because they don’t have to pay Social Security taxes or unemployment compensation taxes, provide workers’ compensation coverage, or provide employee benefits like health insurance and sick leave.”
You can read more about that here if you are interested.
Mr. Barr said he made this calculation and there was only about a $1500 difference. That was understandable and enough for me. However, to make it clear to everyone the calculations he used to arrive at the $1500 could have been provided by one of the methods mentioned above as supplemental information to the meeting. That might have prevented future questions.
Another example would be the suggestion by the interim superintendent at the last regular board meeting that the board should enforce the policies already in place regarding speakers at board meetings. This will change how they have been handled in recent meetings where they have gone from allowing people to add their name to the list at the beginning of the meeting to now requiring they call the superintendent’s office prior to the meeting. Time limits for speakers were also mentioned.
This will be perceived as a form of censorship regardless of how it is handled if changes are made. However, if the board wanted to build goodwill or show they are trying to rebuild trust with the community they would announce and explain the new process prior to enforcing it. They may be planning to do this at the next meeting and then enforcing it for subsequent meetings. That would be the best way to handle it.
However, if they were to post the new process on the News page of the Board of Education web site ahead of the meeting this would indicate they are not planning to just spring it on those planning to speak at the next meeting. I suspect most will not agree with or like the new process but at least it would have been explained so those planning to speak would know the new rules and be able to prepare their comments accordingly.
Will this work in Enterprise? I don’t know. It has not been attempted so far.
If the board did start sharing more information would the people believe it?
No. I don’t think we would at first. However, over time, and I don’t know what that period of time is, if the communications and actions matched and are in sync with what is best for Enterprise City Schools I believe it would work.
Will it even be tried?
I don’t know. That is up to the Board of Education. If it isn’t then the board will be aware we will continue making assumptions based on what we believe to be true based on the information we have and will continue to have suspicions or doubts about any decisions made. The ball is in the board’s court on this.
What can we do?
If the attendance at board meetings continues to dwindle then the board will be the ones making assumptions. They will assume that everything is fine and we are satisfied with what they are doing and the issue has “blown over.” If that is not true then we cannot let that happen. The ball is in the citizens’ court here. Let’s not fumble the ball now. It IS football season so that just rolled out.
The next regular board meeting is next Tuesday at 6:00. I hope the attendance is more similar to the June meetings than the most recent meetings in September.
Until next time…
Originally posted on Peculiar Perspective on 9/19/2013