Archive for Thursday, April 12, 2007

Leadership needs to find middle ground in De Soto USD 232

April 12, 2007

It is difficult to define a trend or message from the quartet of De Soto USD 232 Board of Education races decided last week. But on a whole, it appears voters rejected appeals to consider the election a referendum on boards of the past decade in favor of considering candidates on individual merits.

That meant no "clean sweep" but also no endorsement of the current board. Two incumbents were defeated (as was the case two years ago), but the two "establishment" candidates gained the largest polarities.

Just three years ago, four members on the board had served more than a decade. In July, six of seven board members will be in their first term or just starting a second. With that reality, it should be time to put to rest debates about what was or wasn't promised more than a decade ago.

All four races were tightly contested. No successful candidate gained more than 57 percent of the vote, and one was elected with less than 51 percent.

Incumbents usually have advantages of name recognition and, in the case of school board members, the ties with teachers and parent/teacher or school support organizations. But in this case incumbents were hindered by the timing of their re-election bid, which came after a failed bond issue and a difficult boundary decision.

The mixed results and relative tight races suggest a very polarized district in need of leadership who can find middle ground. That means finding compromises on school sizes, and yes, a very hard look at how professional services are contracted.

The best way to find compromise would be to follow up on the oft-repeated promises of the campaign often made to listen and take direction from constituents. The promised revisiting of the district's strategic plan discussed again Monday would be a good start.

As an institution, the board needs to demonstrate its willingness to all segments of its various communities. Perhaps invitations to groups to attend board meetings could help bridge misunderstandings.

But that interaction is a two-way street, and as Dorothy Nalley said when moderating a contentious forum before the election, perhaps more people need to go to board meetings.

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