The Warren County School District Board of Directors certainly appears headed down a familiar road.
Based on discussions during Monday’s work session, reconfiguration (a/ka/ closing a high school, or dare we say it . . . consolidation) will be the word du jour for most of the spring in Warren County.
It’s a road the district, and the community, have been down on more than one occasion. The last time was a little over a decade ago.
Art Stewart is one of the few board members who was serving then, and he made an interesting observation about the process.
“I expect, I think with some degree of informed opinion just based on the experience we had some years ago, that we’re going to receive input from whatever jurisdiction is looking at losing its high school that that high school plays an important role in the community and the community plays an important role in the high school,” Stewart said. “To the extent, we don’t let ourselves ask about that or speak about it in the criteria, will the public that has that on its mind as a factor feel heard or understand what we’re doing?”
Will the public feel heard?
We certainly hope so, but based on the advice the board received from its consultant (Strategy Solutions) we’re not confident that will be the case.
As part of the timeline for this process, the board will be holding a series of public engagement sessions. When the board asked if it should respond to each individual who speaks during these sessions they were told not to engage.
This was the same approach used a decade ago, and there were many who left those meetings feeling like they hadn’t been heard at all.
Not even a little bit.
To call these “engagement sessions” without actually having a dialogue with those who attend seems disingenuous. There is already a perception in certain pockets of the county that a decision has already been made and the board is just going through the motions now.
Asking people to come to these meetings, limit their comments to two minutes, then carry on without responding to them in a meaningful way is a recipe for disaster. It will only sow further distrust and resentment between the various attendance areas. If a school is going to close it can’t be done in a way that appears predetermined.
Perception is reality, especially when it comes to a highly emotional issue like closing a school. And if the public feels it had no real input in the decision-making process, the district won’t receive the necessary buy-in to make the transition smooth.
While we understand the need to bring in a consultant to guide the board through this process, we hope the board understands that to consult does not mean to dictate. The board still has the final say in how this process plays out.
The best thing the board can do in this instance is to listen . . . and respond.