Confehr: More to do than write dress code for students

Friday, August 26, 2011

It's time to retell the tale of when a high school junior was on a school board between Baltimore and Washington, D.C.

The high schoolers who served one term each rotated off in the winter of their senior year, after suffering through budget meetings during the summer. Every so often board members were asked what's the most important thing to be accomplished. Adults cited better math and science teachers. Some of them said music and art help children think creatively. Every time, the student said the budget is most important thing.

No money, no teachers, books or dirty looks.

Now, in a county with a double digit unemployment rate lingering for years - Marshall's rate has been no better than third highest in the state for more than a year - there's another swell idea. A dress code effectively asks parents to buy clothes of a particular type for their school-age children.

Maybe that policy could be adopted before school lets out for summer 2012 so purchasing decisions could be made early. Maybe standardized school attire will prevent fancy sneaker envy, short skirt chasers and fights over low waistbands. Maybe there are sufficient codes in place for administrators to enforce, or not. Maybe vice principals need better guidelines and maybe the school board ought to be the forum for that after parents, teachers and students weigh in on the idea.

Meanwhile, aren't there more basic issues to resolve? Is the budget being followed? How about related spending rules? Are board members getting the information they need? Could a small county lead the way and take a stand on national educational policy and say something really profound? Are teachers spending too much time testing students when time might be better spent teaching?

Some folks want a way to reorganize school and county management for lower costs and more efficient spending. That's what some officials are saying.

There's also talk on the street about leadership of the county commission.

Every September, county commissioners vote on who will chair their meetings for the next 12 months. It's not just an honorary position. Parliamentary procedure can keep meetings civil. It can also aggravate people if it stifles public comment.

Street talk also has it that a former utility board member will be nominated to succeed the incumbent. Another nominee is supposedly someone in his first term. The county mayor has been nominated for the position in recent years.

Some say we need someone whose business and personal schedule is not complicated. Some say experience is important. Some say there's an inside group pulling strings.

Here's an important point. Such decisions should be subject to public discussion not private politicking between commissioners. That's the law.

The spirit of the law is for public business conducted in public. If during the first commission meeting of September there's a vote without discussion or candidates saying why they should be chairman, then voters will - again - be left out of the process.

Maybe it's time to appoint a high schooler to the commission.

These views are the author's and not necessarily reflective of the Tribune's views.