When Hamilton County School Board member Jenny Hill was reported to say that she thought the school system needed “to take control” of future public meetings regarding a proposed $1.3 billion facilities plan, it was confusing at best because I thought the school system was already in control of those meetings last week.
Hill criticized the consultant for dysfunctional public input meetings last week as if the consultant was responsible for the strategy behind the first public details of the plan. The School Board authorized the $500,000 study a year ago this week, and the administration gave direction to and managed the consultant, MGT.
The strategy resulted in less than 300 citizens attending five meetings, and about 70 percent of those attended the Lookout Valley and Dalewood Middle meetings. Three meetings had 20-25 in attendance. Most attendees were employees of the school system. The exception was the Dalewood Middle School meeting, where the crowd of 80-85 included a good number of parents and citizen-taxpayers.
That’s not the consultant’s fault or the public’s fault. It’s the school system’s responsibility as the responsible government to communicate with its sizeable, captured audience on its various digital platforms and to make sure the media knows the importance of the meetings. Few things are more polarizing in education across the country than proposals to close schools.
The lack of attendance may be a blessing in disguise, however, as first-hand reports from all meetings indicate the content and format of the meetings did not include anyone from the school system being involved to explain the thinking behind the proposed changes. The consultant never stood a chance answering the predictable, emotional questions that had nothing to do with MGT’s “bricks and mortar” report. Answering the “why” questions was never the consultant’s charge.
The community has been challenged in 2019 to trust the School Board and Superintendent Dr. Bryan Johnson to manage the school system and the taxpayers’ dollars. The facility plan will likely require serious money from taxpayers over the next decade, and the apparent mismanagement of the critical, first public meetings on a plan that involves closing schools does not bolster that needed trust.
The Good Government Coalition