Bored of the Board: Why the BOE Needs New Perspectives

Imagine what America would be like if not a single congressperson had ever set foot in this country, or what you’d learn in your statistics class if your French teacher wrote all the lesson plans. Think of the lunacy of the Oscars awarded by General Motors instead of Hollywood—or worse yet, the opposite: George Clooney designing Chevrolet pick-up trucks.

If those scenarios sound ridiculous to you, then why on Earth do you accept how our school system is controlled by seven elected politicians, with little input from the students and teachers and administrators who understand it best?

To be fair, the Board of Education does listen to what the public has to say. That’s why we still have April Break: a handful of passionate citizens attended a meeting last month to advocate other methods to make up school days missed due to Hurricane Sandy.

I was one of them, and from personal experience I can assert that the BoE did everything possible to stifle that debate.

According to that meeting’s planned agenda, I would be able to speak during the time for public comments towards the beginning. Apparently, many others had the same idea, because the room was filled with parents and students itching to share their ideas on the subject. At that point, the agenda was amended to honor resigning board member Jim Marpe for his service and to elect new officers. After nearly an hour and a half of nomination speeches, seconding speeches, acceptance speeches, victory speeches, congratulatory speeches, and commemoratory speeches, the audience had thinned considerably.

But apparently, not considerably enough for the Board of Ed’s comfort, because they amended the agenda again, this time to put off public comments until after a rousing presentation on the 2025 Initiative, which sent the vast majority of the remaining audience—myself included—scattering towards the exits.

By the time public comments were finally recognized at 10:45 p.m., only a few postapocalyptic stragglers remained, including Ryan Greenberg ’13 and Angus Armstrong ’13. Their infinite patience was rewarded last week. But why should it have to be this difficult for any dissent to be heard?

While the April Break decision was a notable example of the Board failing to silence the public, the strategy of thought suppression by attrition is all too common at Board of Ed meetings. And when it’s successful, the consequences can be enormous.

When music classes and the gifted program were dealt crippling budget cuts so that nearly every classroom could get a SmartBoard, no one spoke up. When the immensely popular Arena scheduling system was replaced with a glitchy computer program, no one spoke up. Given how hard the BoE tries to avoid dissent, it makes sense that there was no outcry until after the fact. Whenever the people dare to speak their minds on an issue, the politicians shuffle the schedule around to dodge that issue.

That’s why it’s time for a real, consistent mouthpiece for the community on the Board of Ed. It doesn’t matter if it’s a teacher or a student or a janitor or one of those stubborn mice that somehow manages to sneak into second-floor classrooms. We just need someone who actually spends enough time in school to know what’s going on here.

And if anyone disagrees, feel free to tell me so in person. Just don’t be surprised if I bump your speaking time until after the next Ice Age.