By now you probably have realized that we had yet another marathon board meeting Thursday night, on the big issue of the restructuring of the Montbello-area schools, with a 4-3 split on the vote.
Both Jeanne Kaplan and I spoke with Nate Easley at different times in the two weeks preceding the vote with a simple question, “on which points of the overall plan could there be a compromise?” What he said, in no uncertain terms, was that if we could support at least a part of the plan, he would be willing to break out the schools into separate votes, instead of voting for the whole plan in one single vote. We requested that break-out because we believe that each school community is different and needs separate consideration.
But that’s not what happened at all. In fact, what Easley told us at the board meeting was that he’d gotten some information that we were just asking for that to slow the whole process down. The other three members that comprise the rest of the board majority agreed with him. He never said how he’d gotten such information. He certainly never posed that question directly to us. If he had, we would have answered to the negative.
So I did what any self-respecting, Hobbesian-and-representative-government-minded elected official would do. I introduced amendments for four of the schools to be considered separately. Kaplan introduced two. Of course, the board majority voted them all down like clockwork. To be perfectly accurate, I withdrew my amendment for Ford Elementary, which would have given them instructions to conduct an all-stakeholder transformation plan instead of replacing it outright with a DCIS-type district run-school. Instead, the rest of the board voted to pull it out of the package and vote on it separately.
It was the only bone thrown that night.
This type of intransigence is par for the course for the corporate-driven education reform movement, and it’s completely counter-intuitive to the principles of good representative government. When people elect us, they expect us to respond to constituent requests, to vote according to the will of one’s constituency, to gather information from all perspectives of an issue, and to communicate openly on how one arrived at a certain decision. What I have seen in some of my colleagues is a dogged refusal to take in all the facts or to consider what stakeholders (or even fellow board members) have to say.
In addition, the rhetoric in which some of my colleagues engage, and the assumptions that they make about fellow board members, is astonishing. I’ve heard from good people’s lips, “we can’t leave things as they are,” as if that is our intent. Instead, we want to finally do right by Montbello after all their years of clamoring for educational justice, but we want to do it WITH community, not TO community. My colleagues say, “you just care about adults, not kids,” as if anyone could ignore the fact that we’re in the kid business in the first place. Easley’s accusation that we “just want to slow the process down” is rooted in the false assumption that Kaplan, Arturo Jimenez and I don’t want to see any change at all. His position seems to come from an idea that we are retrograde and obstructionist and irrationally consumed with pro-union sentiment (although he himself was supported by the teacher’s union).
What’s this lack of trust of one’s colleagues, or of their motivations, all about?
I understand that we don’t see eye-to-eye from a philosophical standpoint, but there still needs to be a space for compromise. After all, don’t we all express the same sentiment about wanting to make a difference for our students? Republicans and Democrats in legislatures do it all the time, as do other school boards around the country. I just want to ask out loud, “do you really think we’re all here because we don’t care about kids?” Why isn’t it possible for all parties to sit down, examine a plan and find where there’s agreement and just work from there? Are school board members somehow magically transported away from the concept of representative government at the oath of office?
I think not, and the only option I have at this moment is to keep pushing. To do otherwise would be to ignore the promises I made to you, the voters of Southwest Denver.