Fairfield BOE website, “What Does a BOE Do?”
To the Editor:
The tension was palpable at Tuesday’s Board of Education meeting as parents waited to voice their concerns: The children in middle school and high school have a math program in place prior to BOE approval, with new textbooks prior to BOE approval, meaning that perhaps, money was spent by the school administration without BOE approval. The process of approval, where the board vets programs, curriculum, textbooks and money spent on education, was bypassed by the current school administration.
After public comment on Tuesday, several BOE members echoed parent concern about the unapproved math curriculum and textbooks and asked that it be put on the agenda for next month’s meeting. BOE members were already aware of this issue having received emails and phone calls asking for their help, but cannot get it on the agenda unless the chair and superintendent agree to it.
In reaction to open board comment and ensuing questions to Dr. Title, Vice Vhair Pam Iacono, floated her opinion that open board comment should be removed “as it allows the superintendent to be ambushed.”
What? Isn’t it the board’s mandate to listen to the community’s concerns, be it on curriculum, PCB’s or safe school climate and to engage the school administration in an open discussion in the public forum for all to be informed and held accountable?
Aren’t the Board of Education members elected by constituents to represent them? Shouldn’t this body work to insure transparency in its business so that it can garner public support and not its ire?
Public comment and open BOE comment must be maintained as an important part of the democratic process. It gives the community a follow-up that is often not granted by school officials. Central Office has refused repeated parent requests for an open forum on the new math curriculum as well as a request by the PTA Council, on behalf of parents. Parents have had to resort to Freedom of Information Act requests to Central Office try to get answers. Open board comment is our only recourse to an open dialogue with the administration by proxy of the BOE. The board can fulfill its role as guarantor of the public’s best interests and trust by maintaining this trigger.
Parents cannot call school officials in to answer questions, but the board can and it must. A slow erosion of this safety net and of transparency would lead to a rubber stamp body. The good citizens of Bridgeport recently dodged an attack on their rights by having to vote on a ballot referendum that would strip them of their right to elect BOE members. Their mayor, instead, felt he should appoint the members and have total control over their schools. Luckily, voters felt otherwise.
The new math curriculum and textbooks may be discussed at the next BOE meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 11. It is time for the BOE to build public support and to support parent concerns by listening to the community and asking for accountability from Central Office. Transparency in its dealings is important, especially with a school budget as large as ours is. If you are concerned about the “new math,” implementing curriculums without approval, or the risk to open board comment, you need to call and write your BOE members and to show up at the Dec. 11 BOE meeting, or your voices may be silenced.