So, Am I “a Pawn in a Political Chess Game” or a Public School Advocate? About that #JustAsk School Board Meeting

The following was said in an open discussion during a scheduled meeting of a group of elected officials who represent the local taxpayers of the Winston-Salem /Forsyth County School system. It is also on a publicly maintained video stream that can be be viewed by anyone who could not attend the meeting.

It is public record and there was a brief, yet memorable monologue by a board member that was delivered in such a way as to be a parting shot at many who have pursued answers to questions that arose upon the release of a May 10th video.

And it was not taken lightly by many, especially since it happened toward the end of a three and one-half hour meeting.

That one school board member said the following:

“Teachers continue to be manipulated as pawns in a political chess game between two parties in North Carolina who show an equal responsibility for the ills we all suffer.”

It doesn’t sit well with me or others.

I don’t remember being manipulated. And having served as a teacher in this system much longer than this person has been on the board, I can confidently say that what is  being manipulated in this political “chess” game is the public school system. The teachers who are speaking up and calling for answers are combating the very manipulation that this board member claims teachers are caught up in.

Ironic that the school board member speak of political parties. Yes, both parties have responsibility, but the ills we suffer in public education have been spawned and nurtured primarily by one party for the last six years here in North Carolina. In 2016, I wrote a piece posted by the Washington Post that outlined many of the very actions that the NC General Assembly has enacted ad still in 2018 champions. It included 21 specific items: “The assault on public education in North Carolina just keeps on coming.”

In the two years since, as the state has been sitting on a surplus, that same party has mandated even more statutes that have weakened public education, and many of those actions force local school systems to shoulder more of the burden in financing school systems as the state seems to be absolving itself from its own obligations. Think of the class-size mandate. Think of HB 514 and what it may mean for the use of property taxes to finance charters.

If a school board is not fighting against these actions loudly and boldly, then it is not serving its local school system well. In fact, if a school board member is not fighting for his school system against what the NCGA has been doing, then he is the political pawn in this chess game.

Funny that the WSFCS School Board is a partisan collection of elected officials. The party in control right now in Raleigh was the party in control when it allowed for local school boards to have party affiliations.

The push toward partisan school board elections in North Carolina has gained momentum since 2013, shortly after the federal government loosened the reins on Voting Rights Act restrictions under the U.S. Supreme Court’s Shelby County, Ala. v. Holder decision, and after Republicans took control of the North Carolina legislature. The state now has 35 school boards that will be elected on a partisan basis—at least 10 of them added to that pool by lawmakers this year alone” (https://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2017/12/13/shift-to-partisan-school-board-elections-looms.html).

If this school board member did not want to have partisan politics associated with what was going on with the current teacher supplement debacle or any issue, then maybe he would have pushed earlier to have the school board not have partisan associations.

Soon thereafter, in the same monologue, this member stated,

“What’s disappointing is that these issues did not come to us in a more civil, more cooperative format.”

Teachers and advocates were nothing but “civil” in this process. There was no violence. There was honest talk. There was debate on the side of teachers and advocates. There were questions asked (many remain unanswered). People used their “civil” rights and practices their “civil” duties to hold elected officials accountable for actions or lack of actions.

Certainly what these teachers and school staff members were doing was for the benefit of keeping the school system strong and viable. That means they were fighting for the citizens. What could be more civil?

The board and superintendent were assertively questioned. In fact, many seemed to go out of their way to try and answer and even some people in the board meeting said they were responsible for not communicating well.

And that was before the comments from this particular board member were made.

Ironically, what board members and the superintendent were being asked about was the fact that they did not seem to “ask” for what the school system needs.

If that is the reason that this board member wants to accuse us of being “pawns” in a “political chess game,” then I will state that he is wrong; I and these others are not pawns. We are advocates –

holding elected officials accountable for the jobs they sought to perform.

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