Public servants need to be held up to some scrutiny

Published 12:00 am Thursday, October 28, 1999

Some interpreting needs to be done of the things being said by Austin Board of Education candidates.

Thursday, October 28, 1999

Some interpreting needs to be done of the things being said by Austin Board of Education candidates.

Email newsletter signup

For instance, if you watched the League of Women Voters television forum, you may have been confused.

When Pat McLean, a moderator, asked incumbents about the "assistant superintendent," they were talking about Candace Raskin. Her correct title is director of educational services.

When incumbents John Ulland and Lewis Aase kept referring to "relying on information from the business office "and challenger Sherri McCarty got irate and warned "this character was out there doing a number on another school district," they were talking about Charles Huntley. He was terminated from the school district and replaced by Al Eckmann and another person.

When Mr. Ulland told everyone that the school board’s finance committee doesn’t call meetings and that the "administration" does, he was talking about former superintendent of public schools, Dr. J. Douglas Myers.

Raskin, Huntley and Myers were all public employees at the times their actions came into question. Their names have come up over and over in hundreds of conversations about Austin public schools and why not? Public employees work by a different set of rules; i.e. they are accountable to the public.

The retail clerk at Shopko, the plumber at Arens Heating and Cooling and all the other private sector workers are accountable to their employers.

Public employees pay the price, in part, for their positions by holding the public’s trust. When they lose that trust or that trust comes into question, they must be taken to task.

Huntley is gone. Myers is retired and Raskin is still working for the Austin Independent School District.

Wanna bet how many times those names have been mentioned since a year ago? There is so much anger out there about the Austin Public Schools that it bubbles over into any conversation and it isn’t over.

Imagine the reaction after the KSMQ candidates forum, when incumbent school board member Carolyn Bogott rejected the idea of publishing regular financial reports and says, "It could be quite expensive."

Nobody has disputed salary increases given to three top school administrators and their support staffs and published long ago in this column.

They were, to be sure, quite expensive, too.

And it should make everyone mad when a teaching professional (now retired) like Larry Andersen says teachers don’t feel they’re valued as professionals in the classroom.

Like it or not, today’s teachers are probably raising many of society’s children. Not only are they teaching curriculum, but they are acting as surrogate parents.

They are opening minds and closing wounds children bring to school from their homes.

They darn well better be valued as professionals.

Challenger Sally Vogel got my attention when she pointed out the Hayfield school board members "grill" – her word – that district’s administrators at every school board meeting about bills.

It’s really an insult to the collective intelligence of the Austin school district’s many fine citizens that the district expects us to believe nobody saw a six-digit shortfall coming.

As challenger Susan Fell Johnson said, "Did it kind of fall into your lap?"

Challenger Arnold Lang says "We need to stop crying over spilled milk. We need to move forward."

I hear you, Mr. Lang, but what real assurances does the district’s families have that history won’t repeat itself?

The other day, I was walking across the lawn to Kids Korner at Banfield Elementary School and stopped in my tracks when I heard an angry voice. "Look at this building. It’s beautiful. We want it to stay that way. We want the grass cut and the trees and the flowers to grow. We have a wonderful school district and they’re just squandering the money. I voted for the referendum to pay for the improvements. I’m paying my taxes to help the district. What are you going to do about it, Mr. Bonorden? You should write and tell the people what’s going on."

I didn’t get her name, but I got the message. It’s everyone’s school district; not just an administrator or two or a couple of school board members. Cooks, custodians and teachers are there for the children, too.

I will always wonder why the incumbent school board didn’t anticipate this kind of interest in public education last June, when they could have filed for a primary election in September to narrow down the field of choices.

But, I do know this for certain – 13 challengers filing for school board seats means the public will no longer tolerate business as usual.

And you can take that to the bank.