Our board is not boring

If you'd like to download a pdf of the court case, go here: https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/1283157/schoolboard.pdf

The script read like a bad reality show, full of “he said/she said,” people storming out of rooms, tears and recriminations. The scenes were repeatedly described as chaotic and uncomfortable, with an unbelievable plot revolving around a series of “non-meeting meetings” and a cast of elected officials gone rogue.

In the end, the Nevada Attorney General concluded the Washoe County School Board of Trustees violated the Open Meeting Law six times on that fateful day of July 22, and suggested that six of the seven trustees each be assessed a fine of $500 per incident. Last week, the six trustees agreed to settle the case by paying half that amount, $1,500 per person, from their personal bank accounts.

The attorney general’s complaint impassively documented the secret meetings, but it was the transcripts of interviews of each participant in the drama by the AG’s investigator that captured my attention. All viewed the day’s events through their personal lens, coloring their perceptions of the actions of others while describing their own roles in the debacle in the best possible light.

Here’s how Trustee Howard Rosenberg explained the varying recollections of the day’s events: “In every situation, there’s three sides to every story: your side, my side and the truth. It doesn’t mean anybody’s lying. It simply means we’re seeing things differently.”

It all started with an anonymous tip, apparently from one auditor to another, that Superintendent Martinez was not who he held himself out to be in terms of an academic credential. The allegation quickly became murky, an obvious smokescreen for the real issues lying just under the surface. At least some of the trustees were clearly anxious to seize on a perceived opportunity to separate the superintendent from his duties.

Reading the transcripts is captivating, as the drama escalates quickly to the point of no return. Trustees are emotional, upset, and in one case, “almost catatonic.” The superintendent is described as agitated, irrational, behaving inappropriately.

Talk quickly turns from the arcane details of Illinois CPA regulations to the need for an immediate resignation, the size of a potential severance package, and whether school police should escort the superintendent off the property. There are no fisticuffs but plenty of hand wringing about how quickly events are transpiring.

There were lots of hurt feelings and a superintendent who felt ambushed. One trustee believed Martinez had treated him with contempt for some time, whining that “Human beings make mistakes. When they do, you put it right as best you can, but you don’t go after them with an ax. He [Martinez] tends to do that. He doesn’t know as much about education as he thinks he does.”

Both sides bludgeoned each other with threats of public exposure, not realizing that it would quickly become too late to escape the swelling media frenzy that would result in everyone looking petty and unprofessional.

Just like any reality show, there are lots of loose ends and potential for more conflict in the weeks ahead. But I won’t be signing any recall petition, an effort led by self-appointed leaders from the business community who want to replace the board with their cronies whom they presume will right the shaky boat.

Change will arrive without a recall. There’s an election in two months that will bring one or two new members to the board and an additional member has indicated he will resign by the end of the year for health reasons. The ship will steady itself through hefty personal fines, a renewed spotlight on the board’s actions, and hopefully a Superintendent who increases communication and improves relationships.

One thing is certain: this reality show will have another season. Viewers can only hope for less drama and more attention on what really matters, our children’s education.