Thursday, Nov 27, 2014
Columns

Citizens’ input procedure at school board meetings should change


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I want to preface this by saying it is not to be taken as negative criticism of the Hernando County School Board or Superintendent Lori Romano. It is meant to be constructive — in hopes the format of citizens’ input at school board meetings can be changed.

I have been to many school board meetings. Inevitably when it comes time for citizens’ input people have legitimate issues about which they are passionate. And when they are put in a position where it almost appears they are on trial, looking up to school board members for something to be done, they become emotional and sometimes very nervous. It’s an extremely intimidating format, and for the past 12 years I have been involved with the schools the only time a positive response has come out is when people turn out in mass.

That is why I’m suggesting the school board adopt a two-step method that ultimately might help us better the county’s schools.

I have to start this with a back story from my first years working in the real world as an engineer. I took issue with something that was happening and took the complaint to my immediate manager, hoping to enlighten his awareness of the problem (much the same way citizens bring their issues to the school board). Although nervous and intimidated by someone with 25 years more experience, I presented the problem. His response: “Do you have a solution?” My response: “No, I just wanted to make you aware that this was a problem/issue.” His response: “Get the (bleep) out of my office! (A former military man, he did not hold back when things annoyed him). If all you do when you come in my office is tell me of a problem or an issue we have, all you are doing is whining and complaining. Nothing will get done. I don’t have all the answers; that’s why I hired you. Now next time you come in here with a problem in hand, have a solution in the other. It may not be a viable solution, but it may be something we can work with.”

THAT always has stuck with me.

Now, what needs to be changed? Too often people are too scared to speak up or even present in front of the school board. So here’s what we might do...

♦ We should at least be on the same level and not looking down on them (literally), and go to them. Bring the board meetings to the schools at least once a month, ensuring more people will attend and offer their input.

♦ Change the format. Give people three minutes to present a problem, and two to three minutes to follow up with a solution. We have more than 175,000 people in Hernando County; there’s a good chance someone has an idea how to get things back on track.

We cannot expect the superintendent by herself to solve all of the problems.

We cannot expect five school board members by themselves to solve all of the problems.

It has taken us years to get here and it it’s going to take us years to get out. But we can make positive changes and differences, one step at a time if we all work together.

Things have to change in how we oversee the schools, and I believe this is a small step in the right direction.

Robert Neuhausen is a candidate for Hernando County School Board, District 5. Email him at www.voterobert2014.com.

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