Friday, September 2, 2016

JSM Statement Intended for the CCSD 09-01-2016 BoE Meeting

Below is the text of a statement I intended to make at the Chappaqua Central School District Board of Education meeting of September 1, 2016.  I was unable to attend the meeting due to a death in my immediate family.  While I intend to make a public statement at our next meeting on September 13th, I post this here as I believe it to be timely.

I have served nine years on the Chappaqua Central School District Board of Education. I was recently re-elected to my fourth term.  In my long service on this Board I have come to appreciate the uniqueness of our board.  It is set apart from other boards by our collaborative and transparent practice, by our collegial nature, and by our single-minded focus on our students and community.

This board has historically been very successful because of our collaborative nature.  We don’t always agree, but we have always discussed issues, courses of action, and strategy openly among us as a group and come to consensus.  I am making this statement today because I am quite concerned that we continue this practice.

A PR firm was recently re-hired by our attorneys at the district’s request.  To be honest, I am not sure exactly to whom I refer when I say “at the district’s request”.  I do know that I was not consulted, and I did not have a say in the decision.  To be clear, my concern is not in the legality of the hiring but in the process or lack thereof.  I think it important that all board members have an opportunity to go on the public record as to their thoughts.

There are certainly good arguments to be made on both sides of the merits of hiring a PR firm.  One, it allows the administration to focus on their task at hand, educating our children in a safe and educationally challenging environment. Two, as we are not commenting on any pending legal matters, it helps the district address what I believe to be some inaccurate, incomplete and biased reporting and posting on social media.  However, I happen to think that hiring a PR firm sends the wrong message, we should be able to do whatever a PR firm can do for us internally, and we should use the money for other direct educational expenses.

But that is not the point.  I strongly believe that we should reach these decisions as an entire Board and in a transparent manner.  I want to be part of a Board that reaches consensus collaboratively and transparently.  Being on the wrong end of many a 4-1 vote in my service, I have come to appreciate our board because we followed a collegial process, and we all have had our opportunity to have our say.

I certainly appreciate that the district, the administration, and the board is in the middle of a legal situation that we have never faced before and have no road map with which to navigate. However, that is the very reason why I believe that a collaborative, transparent process for work on the board, and between the administration and the board is so critical.

The entire board asked to see a draft of any legal filing before it was made.  This has not been the case though. Speaking for myself, I have yet to see a draft of documents prior to them being filed.  That concerns me greatly.  I first found out about the legal filing in the media.

While I know that filing to be legally appropriate and much more nuanced than what was reported, it was inappropriate in its form.  While I am not a lawyer, common sense and good judgement says that it certainly could have been worded differently to both protect our legal position and reflect that our focus always has been and always will be on supporting our students whether that support is academic or emotional.  To be clear, while I am quite confident the administration and my fellow Board Members feel the same way, I can only speak for myself that I do not believe it is appropriate to blame a victim of abuse, alleged or proven.

Finally, let me end by saying that the health and well-being of our students remains our critical mission. The Board, the Administration and our entire staff have made every effort and will continue to make every effort to provide support to all of our students and families.

While we will continue to protect student privacy and will not comment while litigation is ongoing, I believe that the community is smart enough to know that we do put our students first and that what they read in the media and on social networks may be incomplete, inaccurate and said with an undisclosed agenda.

Thank you to the entire community for your help and support.

Jeffrey Mester

No comments:

Post a Comment