Sunday, June 24, 2007

Livingston Press & Argus is a Howell Board Watchdog, not Lapdog!

The Howell school board has been interesting to watch. They seem to have something in common with the Rochester school board: as soon as someone begins questioning the status quo, the board becomes dysfunctional.

I’m writing this entry because the situation just took an interesting turn, and can give people a glimpse of what reform-minded trustees face.

Wendy Day and Phil Westmoreland are two board members in Howell that are reasonable, dedicated, and solution-driven trustees. They’re doing what needs to be done on school boards across this state; they’re attempting to discuss the academic and financial challenges facing schools in a realistic and objective way. But rather then be called upon to debate these issues, they’re attacked. Wendy, in particular, has had to face vicious attacks from those who would prefer to take the ostrich approach, and pretend that problems don’t exist, or that there may be another point of view.

Among the most hateful of the critics has been someone who goes by the handle “Puppet Watcher” on various Howell chat boards. He doesn’t attack Wendy’s positions, but instead attacks Wendy.

Then, in an unbelievable move, the Howell Board of Education just
appointed Mr. Dean Miller –- aka “Puppet Watcher” –- to the board to fill a vacant seat.

I guess the board felt the open discussion had gone too far, and they needed to bring in an attack dog. An enforcer. Someone who is willing to body check -- brutally -- anyone that dares to question the status quo. Who cares whether he knows anything about education or finance.

The board could not have made a more divisive choice.

But fortunately the local media is watching, and weighed-in with two opinion pieces in the same issue. The first was by the managing editor of The Livingston Daily Press & Argus, Ms. Maria Stuart. The editorial board of the paper offered the other.

Livingston Press & Argus: Maria Stuart: What message did Howell school board appointment mean to send? (06/24/07)

Livingston Press & Argus: Miller's appointment a slap in the face to Day, district taxpayers (06/24/07)

Both of these opinion pieces are encouraging. First, it hopefully signals that the Press & Argus will continue to cover education issues. Objective media coverage is essential if we are to have hope that parents and taxpayer can eventually become more involved in electing action-oriented school board trustees. The second thing I find encouraging is the unusual candor in both of these pieces. Journalists are supposed to serve as the watchdogs of governments, but all too often the local papers instead serve as lapdogs for school boards. Bravo to both the Argus and to Ms. Stuart!

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