Calls for the Superintendent's Resignation, Open Communications
This from the Ledger Independent:
Taking lessons from hungry monkeys
Question: How did good, honest school board members allow the kind of wasteful spending, excessive perks and breakdown of the expense approval process reported by the Kentucky Auditor’s Office this week?
There’s a story I was told many years ago about an experiment in which hungry monkeys were placed into a cage. A large bunch of bananas was hung above a pyramid of boxes in one corner of the cage.
But every time the monkeys raced up the boxes to retrieve the bananas, they were sprayed with ice water. Now, there is nothing in the world a monkey hates more than an ice water bath. Soon, the monkeys – in spite of their hunger – ignored the bananas.
At some point, a new monkey was added to the cage and his hunger drove him toward the bananas. But the other monkeys – realizing they were all in for a blast of cold water -- beat the newcomer senseless. He quickly learned a lesson, and in spite of the fact he had never been sprayed with water, he ignored the bananas.
Over time, the monkeys in the cage were replaced one-by-one. Each new monkey learned that an attempt to get to the bananas would result in a beating from his new cage mates. In time, there was not a single monkey in the cage who had been sprayed with water, and therefore not a single monkey knew why it was that the bananas were off limits. But the monkeys remained hungry and the bananas remained untouched.
Any time we join a group – whether socially, at work or in our community, we quickly seek out and learn the rules of the group. We assume that experienced members understand how the group functions, and we follow their example.
We depend on leaders to guide us in how to act – and not act – in order for the group to function properly. We may test the old ways of doing things, but we are often more interested in continuing those ways – especially when the group is highly regarded and effective.
One-by-one, new school board members have joined a rather exclusive group of citizens, trusted not just with tax money, but with our children and their education. The system functioned well. The leadership received high praise on a state and even a national level.
The perks were good. Trips to interesting cities. Overnights in fine hotels. Dinners at wonderful restaurants…
And it all seemed to be fitting for elected members of a board of education who operated a school district with clean audits, high test scores and a $4 million rainy day fund in the bank.
When expenditures were presented to the board for approval, they were dealt with in aggregate. No reason to question individual expense items, this is – after all – an award winning institution run by individuals with vast experience and impeccable credentials.
Got a question or a complaint? See the superintendent or one of his assistants, and they will deal with it.
Launch an initiative to control information and give it an impressive name like “One Clear Voice.” Don’t allow anyone inside the system to speak without approval from the Central Office. In fact, don’t allow anyone to speak at all.
And slowly, over time, fill the board with members who don’t know why the system operates the way it does; they simply accept it.
The time has come for change at the Mason County School System. Board members can either step up and demand that change, or they will be replaced, not because we say so, but because this community will not allow a great school system to operate like a Third World country.
Sitting board members must speak out immediately. They must – without reservation – endorse the findings of the Kentucky State Auditor, and they must demand resignations of any administrator involved in the mess uncovered in the auditor’s report.
Board members must encourage and seek out direct feedback from their principals, their teachers, their staff; not feedback that is filtered through administrators, but one-on-one truth telling without fear of reprisal.
Board members must scrutinize financial reports, ask for comparisons to other districts and challenge administrators when numbers don’t add up.
We have often said that service on the local school board is the most thankless job in politics. But it can also be one of the most rewarding when children are the focus.
The Mason County School System is one of the best in the state, and it is past time board members and administrators live up to the high standards they have set for their students, teachers and staff.