One man alone decided an appointment to the Valparaiso School Board last month. The stunning wrongness of that has finally blown me off the fence on whether the city should have an appointed or elected board.
The Center Township Advisory Board makes one school board appointment every four years. In 2009, the tasks to select a new superintendent and preserve strong finances were the marching orders for the township board’s appointee, Northwest Indiana Forum President and CEO Mark Maassel.
The new superintendent came and went, leaving no lasting value, and the finances simply went – south. While the latter was mostly the fault of the state Legislature and former governor, the Valpo School Board was slow to react to the crisis. In the candid words of one member, “We screwed up.” With a record like that, Maassel’s could fairly be called a failed board.
In 2013, with the top tasks exactly the same, the township board last month reappointed Maassel over two retired educators.
It was the manner of the decision that was stunning. One of the three board members was absent from the interview and appointment meeting. At decision time, a second member said he was new at this and so would follow the lead of chair Stephen Buck. Buck chose Maassel.
Buck’s only publicly stated rationale for his decision was it takes four years to learn the job, which says nothing about the merits of the candidates. The public was left in the dark as to why Maassel was returned to the board.
In its annual appointment four days later, the Valparaiso City Council also returned an incumbent to the School Board, this time in a display of inconsistency and disregard.
Last year, in the furor over the school district’s financial crisis, the council tossed the incumbent, saying they had heard the public call for change. Unfortunately, the incumbent whose term was up happened to be the only educator on the board, and the council in effect threw out the baby without throwing out any bathwater.
By that reasoning, the council also should have tossed this year’s incumbent, himself part of the failed board. The call for change had been made and was still in effect, but meanwhile the public slept, so the council simply ignored it this time around.
Supporters of appointing a board say it takes politics out of the process. No, it merely limits politics – or what some might call democracy. Are we to believe no one had Buck’s ear as to whom he might favor?
Influence and lobbying are legitimate elements of politics, but are often limited to movers and shakers. The majority of us are simply left moved and shaken.