Forty-three days have passed since the resounding no confidence vote on the Manteca Unified School District board and they still don’t get it.
Two complete unknowns— including one who didn’t even bother to campaign — took out incumbents by a wide margin pulling almost the same exact number of votes and the school board continues on its merry way.
Teacher Leo Bennett-Cauchon’s suggestion that the board meet twice a month to try and increase public participation wasn’t made in a vacuum. Not everyone has a tin ear to the grumbling of many parents and the general public.
One trustee dismissed the suggestion in part by saying the same people always attend board meetings and that many parents can’t spare the time because they are in households where both parents work.
Another noted marathon meetings that push midnight and beyond due to heavy agendas are fine with everyone — read that the board and administrative staff — because they don’t have to meet twice a month.
For a board that proclaims to love transparency, they have a funny way of showing it.
First, simply splitting the current meeting format and meeting twice a month doesn’t do any good. Think out of the box.
Why not schedule a second meeting each month with the expressed purpose of hearing people out and searching out concerns before they translate into blind voting out of frustration at the ballot box?
In case trustees haven’t noticed the public often has to sit for hours to get to general comments from the audience. It’s definitely not a plus on school nights.
Yes, it is a meeting of the board and not the public. But if the board is really genuinely concerned about understanding the concerns of the public and parents beyond how the administration reads it, they might want to take the time and have a second meeting a month.
And unless there is some pressing routine school business, such meetings should focus on one issue with a general comment period. The second meeting a month should also be moved around.
If there were a second meeting in January, for example, the topic could be feedback and concerns from parents on Going Digital. There are a lot of folks out there getting conflicting answers from district and school site personnel. There are also a lot of rumors and frustration being voiced.
Having a meeting with the board advertised as being devoted to Going Digital concerns, comments and suggestions would go a long way with a lot of people.
Going Digital is the biggest singular undertaking since unification itself yet the district has chose to not pursue open forums with parents and the community although they did have a series of information meetings the first week of November.
Meeting could be devoted to other subjects as well. One, for example, could be Measure G. There are a lot of questions. One that pops up repeatedly is why if the district used the failure of fire alarms at East Union High as one of the main reasons why people should vote for the bond that it wasn’t even included in the first wave of health and safety projects?
Taking the second meeting a month on the road when the issue pertains to a specific part of the community makes sense.
Weston Ranch, without a doubt, doesn’t have the same exact set of issues, needs, and values that Manteca or Lathrop has.
When the board was discussing after school programs and what would work best in Weston Ranch, it would have made sense to meet in Weston Ranch to encourage the highest possible participation and input by the community that is directly impacted.
Sometimes administrators don’t read the community’s sentiments very well. For that matter, neither does the board as the Nov. 3 election proved.
The district has 23,000 students. That means there are as many as 46,000 parents. There are also almost 120,000 residents.
The goal should be to try and secure as much input from parents and the community as reasonably possible on key issues. Once-a-month meetings that are jammed with dozens upon dozens of agenda items aren’t exactly conducive to that goal.
And while the board meets to conduct board business, the bottom line is Manteca Unified School District belongs to 120,000 people and not seven that spend most of their time getting advice on what to do from a handful of administrators.
Don’t misunderstand. That doesn’t imply district administrators don’t know what they are doing, quite the contrary. But the district can’t operate separately from the community. The board is supposed to make sure that doesn’t happen.
But after Nov. 3 it is clear the board needs to make a bigger effort to engage the community.
A second meeting each month devoted to issues that concern parents and the community and not just the official list of business any district needs to conduct would be a step in the right direction.
This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 209.249.3519.