School board members need to get heads out of the clouds

It isn’t the perception of the public that should cause the Youngstown Board of Education to worry — after the latest stunt pulled by five of the seven members. With each passing day, the state commission overseeing the school district’s academic and fiscal recovery moves closer to rendering the elected board null and void. Yes, state law permits such drastic action.

The chairwoman of the Youngstown Schools Academic Distress Commission let it be known recently that board members are skating on thin ice because of their failure to extend Superintendent Connie Hathorn’s contract, which expires in 2014. Chairwoman Andrienne O’Neill sent an e-mail to he colleagues noting that they have the authority to appoint an academic monitor who would, in effect, replace the school board.

Given this clear threat, you would think school board members would walk the straight and narrow and do whatever is necessary to ingratiate themselves with O’Neill and the distress commission.

But, as the front page story in Friday’s Vindicator showed, the school board seems to have a death wish.

Faced with a projected $48 million operating budget shortfall, five of the seven board members made a decision that could only be described as asinine.

Last Tuesday, board President Richard Atkinson and members Lock P. Beachum Sr., Marcia Haire-Ellis, Brenda Kimble and Michael Murphy voted for a resolution permitting them to attend the National School Boards Association’s 73rd annual conference. Members Rachel Hanni and Andrea Mahone chose not to attend.

The price tag: $11,862. The money would have come out of the school district’s operating fund.

Fortunately, the fiscal monitor appointed by the commission to put the district’s financial house in order denied the expenditure of taxpayer dollars to send the five members on the West Coast jaunt.

James Reinhard said in a letter to the board that the “potential controversy” generated by the trip outweighs the benefits of the members attending the San Diego conference.

Reinhard also said there is a public perception that government officials are wasting taxpayers’ money when they attend conferences on the public’s tab.

“As wrong as this perception may be, it is still the perception of many people,” the fiscal monitor wrote.

As we said at the outset, the public’s view of the board is the least of members’ worries. The school district is in such dire academic and fiscal straits that whatever is done becomes magnified.

Blind to reality

Beyond that, the decision by five of the seven members to attend the conference in California shows just how blind they are to the reality that is the troubled urban school system.

They obviously didn’t see anything wrong with spending close to $12,000 — at a time when the district’s financial condition is so precarious that a restructuring of the system is being implemented. Their action confirms the belief of many in the community that the school board is incapable of doing the right thing.

We have long argued that having more than one member of a governing body attend the same conference at a faraway place is a waste of time and money. The one person who goes should be required to submit a written report to the executive and legislative branches and the press.

As for the rest, they can get the information they desire about governments at all levels from the Internet.

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