More Manatee County school board division and dysfunction

March 6, 2014 

Staff Photographer

People fill all available seats during an October 2013 school board meeting. PAUL VIDELA/Bradenton Herald

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The Manatee County school board's public infighting got overheated at Monday's training session, designed to examine the draft of a new operations manual.

For hours, the board spoke above one another -- sometimes in raised voices. The feuding shows a board divided over how to proceed with community relations and other communications issues -- including one idea to quit televising board training sessions like this one, to save money.

Watching government function -- dysfunction yet again Monday -- may not be a pretty sight but it can be quite revealing about the cast of characters as well as the issues on the table. An audio recording, a suggested replacement for video, does not capture body language and other signals about the tenor and decorum of a workshop.

The session's ostensible purpose -- to establish guidelines between district administrators and board members before and during meetings -- was not achieved.

The board failed to complete the review of the entire operations manual during the four-hour marathon workshop.

The irony is that the board holds meetings to build team work and improve functionality but then descends into squabbling and indecision. While many words define this dilemma, one stands out: embarrassing.

This is not the way to instill public confidence in the school board.

On the communications point, Dave "Watchdog" Miner expressed dissatisfaction over the administration's lack of answers to his questions about the district's finances.

Considering the fiscal fiasco that flared under the previous administration and the loss of public trust in the district, those answers should be forthcoming as the new administrative team works to rebuild taxpayer confidence in district operations.

There's a broader point here, too. Miner, vice chair of the board, spoke candidly about his position on the manual:

"I have problems with every page in this proposal. If one of us has a moral objection, should it be a principle to shut up about something I think is important? I don't think so."

Tough questions should be a matter of course, not the exception. Previous boards were viewed as too complaint with administration proposals, and the panel's lack of difficult queries and strong oversight back then helped put the school district into a financial tailspin.

Regardless of the details of a meeting, diplomacy and team work should prevail, even during honest disagreements.

Robust, civil debate should be practiced at all times. Compromise and common ground must be found.

Frustrations must be held in check. There can't be a "my way or the highway" mentality.

The public deserves a stronger performance from the school board.

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