The dust has begun to settle following the emotionally charged June meeting of the TE School District, a little over a week ago. I wasn’t sure how (or if) I was going to write another post about that evening, but yesterday on my way to Valley Forge Park I passed a white ribbon tied to a Chesterbrook street sign and took it as a ‘sign’.
The reality of the June 17th meeting, and the unanimous vote by the Board to decrease the weekly hours of District aides and paraeducators, has me wondering how the energy expended by so many, had so little influence in the outcome. At every District meeting, we hear the Board president encourage residents to attend meetings, and to participate in the decision-making process, but based on last week’s Board meeting, you really need to stop and ask yourself, why bother? The three hours of citizen commentary was reduced to a short paragraph in the District’s update of the meeting, stating that that all aides, paraeducators and paraprofessionals would be reduced to part-time, and that their work week would not exceed 27.5 hours.
Before an audience of residents and District employees, our elected leaders were unmoved by the comments and suggestions from the public. Passionate parents spoke of the relationships their children shared with aides and emotional statements from affected employees (many of them TESD residents) explained what the reduction in hours would mean to them personnally. Community members who had sought answers from healthcare experts, and thoughtfully offered their findings to the Board, were also unable to change minds. The outcome of the vote predetermined and the decision of the Board final, we are left puzzling why there’s such a disconnect between the public and our elected officials. The most troubling aspect was the Board’s total disregard for the residents and their opinions.
In the days since the Board meeting, some have suggested that the District aides and paras would have been better off had they been outsourced. Although criticized that I did the affected employees no favors with my ‘no to outsourcing’ stance, I maintain there was ‘middle ground’ between outsourcing District jobs and cutting employee hours … a dicussion the administration and school board was unwilling to have. One individual suggested that because our daughter did not attend TE schools that I have no business weighing in on school issues — implying that only those residents with children in the District are qualified to discuss. I disagree. To the 80% of the residents, who are not parents of children in the TE School District, decisions made by the school board do affect you, and your opinion does matter!
I have received criticism for allowing anonymous comments on Community Matters. Although I would prefer that people own their words under their own name, I understand that people may have personal reasons for remaining anonymous – including the fear of negative reprisal. As a result, I respect the preference of some genuine commenters to remain anonymous. However, during the 4 years of Community Matters, I have discovered a negative subset of some anonymous commenters – ‘sockpuppeteering’. This is a technique where an individual attempts to fool readers into believing that their comments originate by more than one person, while commenting with more than one screen name.
The New York Times explains the childish behavior of sockpuppeteering as, “the act of creating a fake online identity to praise, defend or create the illusion of support for one’s self, allies, or company.” Recent comments on a Main Line Media News article had an individual masquerading as several different commenters, criticizing Community Matters and me. I cannot control the comment posting process of other sites, but going forward on Community Matters, please understand that if you attempt to post with more than one screen name, I will not post your comment. Just as I respect the need for anonymity, I ask that you respect and abide by this rule.
We understand that being an elected official is not an easy thing to do. I believe that most people, regardless of party affiliation, run for office usually for the right reasons. I think that most of them want to make a difference, most want to do the right thing and most of them want to help the people they represent. I’m not sure why the train sometimes goes off the track. Perhaps in the past, we have failed to hold our public officials accountable and as a result, they take on an attitude of indifference when we finally come to our senses and react to their actions. As a result, they proceed on doing as they please instead as some of us wish.
So, where do we go from here? For those that became engaged in the process during the outsourcing issue, now is not the time to give up and walk away. The continued success of the TE School District is too important and requires our attention. It takes a village to raise a child and … it takes the great teachers, aides, paras and support staff of the TE School District (plus supportive parents) to educate the child!