Abusing a badge for the purposes of badgering

First, read this.  Then I’ll weigh in.

At the outset, let me offer my apologies to the police officers who follow their conscience and the law in performing their duties.  I am told by reliable sources that the vast majority of police officers are not just conscientious and dutiful, but also brave to the point of putting their own safety in jeopardy in the interest of keeping the rest of the law-abiding public out of harm’s way.  I have met some officers that I know to be like that.  I can only hope that these reliable sources are true.

Yet, from my experience, I have met too many police officers who abuse their authority in pursuit of unworthy agendas.  How many?  Okay, now, one is too many, but I have had more unhappy encounters with police officers than that.  For now, I will share just two such experiences.

One of them lived across a street from my house on the west side of Columbus.  I called the police a couple of times due to this neighbor’s deliberate hostile provocations, but of course, after the responding officers paid a visit to the neighbor to find that this neighbor was one of their own, they returned to my door to give the neighbor’s “side of the story” (a story so lame that the responding officers delivered the message sheepishly, looking down at the floor or to the side because it was so awkward to be put in the position of repeating bald-faced lies) along with an anemic apology that in no way offered reassurance that my trouble with this neighbor would go away any time soon.

Another couple of police officers accosted me as I walked down the street on the Near East side of Columbus.  Supposedly, the police were keeping an eye on traffic–meaning motorists–but I was a pedestrian and I had not jaywalked.  At that time, I lived in the area and my car was in the shop for repairs (under warranty), so instead of driving to the grocery store, I walked.  It was my intention to purchase a gallon of milk and a loaf of bread and then return home.  They asked for my ID.  I gave it to them.  While one was questioning my integrity and suggesting I was up to something sinister, the other was on the radio asking if there were any outstanding warrants against me.  When the word over the radio was that I had no criminal record, the imperious police officer who had been antagonizing me with his farfetched ruminations on what I was really up to then changed his tune (as he handed back my ID and half-apologized) and urged me to be cautious while walking along the sidewalk because someone had been murdered the previous week at an intersection just five blocks away.  No such murder happened the prior week at that location, but I decided not to quibble with the policeman any further.  It was getting late and I just wanted to be on my way, which meant letting them go their way without argument.

Now, about that first story, let’s set aside, for a moment, that my next-door neighbor on the west side of Columbus was also routinely antagonized by the police officer who lived across the street.  Let’s set that aside because the next-door neighbor was a college professor from Nigeria who had just bought his first new house in the USA for himself, his wife, and two children–all formerly from Nigeria.  Now, I’ve been married and divorced twice, but let’s also set aside, for the moment, that I was married to my first wife at the time.  My wife and I had just bought our first new house together.  Let’s set that aside because my wife was from Japan.  Let’s also set aside that the rest of the residents of the subdivision were white and that it seemed that the police officer across the street never bothered them.  Let’s just assume that he might have peeved his other (white) neighbors, but that I just didn’t know about it.  Let’s just assume that this police officer across the street was just a pain in the butt to everybody indiscriminately, and that his poor behavior toward us had nothing to do with race.  Still, there should have been some way for the residents of the neighborhood to check the bad behavior of the police officer who lived among us.

Now about that second story, it is too hard to set aside that race was a factor.  Yes, most of the residents of the Near East were black.  I am white.  Besides living in the area, I had also worked in the area as a teller at a bank (a bank branch located even closer to the site of the previous week’s “murder”).  The police officer who was so suspiciously questioning me came right out and stated “White guys only come here for two reasons:  drugs or prostitutes.”  Yeah, he actually said that to my face.  I only had six bucks with me.  How many drugs or prostitutes can I buy with six dollars?  That money was for a gallon of milk and a loaf of bread at the grocery store.  Really.  That previous week’s murder just a few blocks away?  That was a white man murdered by black suspects, so be careful!  Still, I was really doing nothing that would have reasonably led to suspicion, let alone probable cause to investigate me.  Though nothing came of it, the officers’ suspicions were unreasonable.  What mechanism is in place to discourage the unreasonable actions of police officers?

Oh, yeah, did I forget to mention that all of these police officers were white?

But, turning back to this week’s police story out of Lorain:  A Lorain police officer accosted a man and directed the man to take a seat in the back of the patrol car.  The man wants to know the police officer’s reason for this.  The police officer says the man is going to jail and that the officer will think of crimes to charge him with on the way to the jail.  The man happens to be the boyfriend of the police officer’s daughter.  Allegedly, the man had been found in possession of marijuana at least once before in his life.  If you and your daughter are both totally against marijuana, why, the man’s marijuana possession might be a good cause for concern.  But, hey, the daughter’s eighteen, not a child.  She can make decisions independently from her police officer father.  I think it’s a lot more perplexing and disturbing for a convicted murderer on death row to receive marriage proposals from women who only know of him due to news coverage of the crimes he’s committed, but, hey, adults make their own decisions about love.  The police officer’s daughter could certainly have picked someone much worse.  On the flip side, the police officer’s daughter could not pick a perfect man to fall in love with because perfect men do not exist. (Did I mention that I’ve been divorced twice?)

It just so happened that the police daughter’s officer was a passenger in the man’s car along with two other people who lived in that neighborhood.  The mom of those two other passengers was at home. For now, let’s just call her Ms.  You can read all their names in this Chronicle-Telegram article that I prompted you to read at the start.  When Ms. came out of her house to see what the ruckus was, the police officer told Ms. that he wanted to retrieve his daughter’s computer from inside her house.  Ms. was going to allow him to do that, except the police officer was getting mouthy.  He said that he was going to write a $300 ticket to one of Ms.’s kids for not wearing a seat belt.  Ms. changed her mind. On second thought, the police officer would have to get a warrant to retrieve his daughter’s laptop from Ms.’s house.  The confrontation escalated.  Then Ms. told the police officer that she would call 911 to report the officer’s actions.  The police officer countered by saying he would arrest Ms. for calling 911 when there was no emergency to respond to.  He ordered Ms.’s two kids out of the man’s car and into the house.  Lo and behold, the officer finally sized up the fact that his daughter was still in the man’s car.  He decided he would rather have his daughter in the back seat of his patrol car than his daughter’s boyfriend, so the boyfriend was permitted to get back out while the daughter was stuffed back there.  The police officer left, daughter in tow.  The police officer received a dispatch to a road rage incident.  He did not respond to it.  After the fact, he said that he contacted another officer to handle the road rage incident, and that the other officer said he’d handle the incident on his own.

So, a guy is upset with who is adult daughter is dating.  Hey, it happens.  The rest of the fathers do not pull out a police badge and stuff their daughter in the back seat of a patrol car.  The police officer harassed Ms. and two of her family while carrying out this personal agenda and threatens them with criminal charges because they became upset with him.  He was the one who caused them to be upset in the first place.  If he wasn’t there, nothing criminal would have happened.  He was the instigator.

But the one thing that sends shivers down my spine is that a person who is charged with upholding the law and enforcing the law flat out told someone that the officer was going to send that someone to jail for charges that he intended to trump up.  There is no way whatsoever that a person like that should be on the police force.  To allow such an officer to remain on duty would totally undermine law and order.  It would undermine the public trust.  Never mind all the rest, if courtroom testimony were to bear out the fact that this police officer had any intent of trumping up charges, he, himself, ought to be criminally charged on top of being fired.

But the union is obligated to defend him from being fired if he filed a grievance contesting his dismissal.  We’ll find out more about that after arbitration this September.

By the way, the police officer and his daughter are white.  The daughter’s boyfriend is black.  Let’s set that aside for a moment to say that, no matter the identities of the people involved, the trumping up of charges by a police officer and badgering people from behind an officer’s badge just for the pursuit of the officer’s personal agenda that happens to be at odds with carrying out the officer’s lawful duties is more than enough reason to terminate his employment.  Okay, the moment for setting that aside is over.  Make of it what you will.

Labor Day 2014 in Lorain County

Labor Day 2014 finds me back in Lorain County, the home of Ohio’s largest annual festival (actually, it is always held in Lorain on the Sunday immediately preceding Labor Day) devoted to labor unions.  After reading through Elyria’s Chronicle-Telegram and Lorain’s Morning Journal, I have felt the urge to respond to some of the political speechifying at Sunday’s Labor Fest (officially titled “20th annual Lorain County Organized Labor Day Family Celebration”) as reported by these two newspapers.

As I have written before, I am a Republican who has run for public office who supports organized labor.  I know many other Republicans, locally, who support organized labor even though local union leaders have often been antagonistic toward said Republicans.

Thus, let me begin with a criticism of  the remarks offered by U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown (D-Lorain), as quoted in this Chronicle-Telegram story:

“You’re getting Republicans that have supported Mitt Romney, that are supporting John Kasich, that are supporting anti-labor, anti-women’s health, anti-voting rights agenda that national Republicans have.”  Brown is supposedly talking about Republicans in elected office here, Lorain County, at the local level.  Wait a minute . . . who the heck is he talking about?  I can name names of anti-labor Republican office holders at the state level, but I’m scratching my head trying to think of who, possibly, Brown is talking about at the local level.  For one thing, there are very few Republicans in office at the local level.  The CT reporter, Evan Goodenow, indicated that Lorain County Commissioner Tom Williams–the sole Republican county commissioner–shook his head at Brown’s remarks.  Evidently, if Brown was referring to Williams, then Brown was lying.  Williams would be the expert on where Williams stands, not Brown.  It stands to reason that Williams would not even have been in attendance if what Brown had said was absolutely true.  Being there, and being visible there as a public figure, is a choice Williams made.  He didn’t have to be there.  That he chose to be there is evidence that Williams does not consider himself to be an enemy of the labor unions.  Reportedly, Williams spoke personally with Brown after the speech and assured him that he supported labor.  Brown said he didn’t know who Williams was.  Brown must not have been referring to Williams.  It is clear, by this revelation, Brown didn’t know what he was talking about.  Brown was apparently just shooting his mouth off.  Such reckless remarks and a clear disregard of the truth . . . umm, wait . . . no a total lack of concern for even educating oneself about the truth . . . do not inspire me with confidence in this person who holds the lofty position of U.S. Senator.

State Rep. Dan Ramos urged voters to scrutinize candidates’ records.  I wonder if Ramos supposes that such scrutiny would lead to the conclusion that every Republican is unworthy of support.  Of course, those who are the most likely to avoid scrutiny are those who run unopposed.  Ramos is running unopposed.  Such a shame.  We need to do something about that.  Maybe I, myself, need to do something about that.

But in a related CT story, I don’t have to wonder where local Democrat Party boss Anthony Giardini stands on who is worthy and unworthy of support.  Whoever Giardini handpicks is worthy of support and no one else.  Two members of Lorain City Council ran for election as independents, and that sticks in Giardini’s craw.  Tim Carrion publicly revealed that, next year, he will challenge the Giardini-supported incumbent Democrat mayor of Lorain.  Carrion has not firmly decided whether he will run as a Democrat or as an independent.  Giardini, who would prefer that every Lorain officeholder be his pawn, strongly expressed that Carrion should mount his mayoral challenge within the Democrat primary.  While expressing this, Giardini does not have an open mind about Carrion as a candidate, for he already backs the incumbent.  With the party boss already choosing sides, why would Carrion feel it’s in his best interests to run in the primary as a Democrat rather than as an independent in the general election?  Giardini offered that if Carrion beat the incumbent in the primary that he would support him in the general election.  If Carrion chooses to challenge in the primary, then, purely statistically–like a coin toss–without taking any other factors into consideration, Carrion only has half a chance of advancing to the general election.  As an independent, Carrion guarantees that he advances to the general election.  As an independent, yes, Carrion would definitely not have Giardini’s blessing, whereas he has some chance of securing Giardini’s blessing if he won a Democrat primary, but is a primary contest really worth it when Giardini is clearly not going to remain neutral in the primary?  If Giardini would vow strict neutrality in the primary, and not try to tip the scales, I think, if Carrion views Giardini as trustworthy, then running in the primary would make total sense.  Absent that, Carrion should go independent all the way.

I have to admit to some measure of delight that a couple of union-backed independent members of city council have ripped a page out of Giardini’s playbook of machine politics to beat a couple of Giardini’s handpicked candidates.  Giardini’s Democrat political machine has always relied heavily on union members’ contributions to make it work, and those wins serve as reminders to political bosses to not take those key contributors for granted or turn them into pawns.

The MJ story by Richard Payerchin offers some hope that local union leadership will be more open to forging alliances with Republicans sympathetic to worker interests.  Jim Slone’s (Lorain County CAP Council of the UAW) declaration that he is a unionist before he is a Democrat doesn’t exactly translate into a willingness to ally with Republicans, but it seems to leave the door open to that.  Similarly, Harry Williamson’s (Lorain County AFL-CIO) observation that, “I’ve emphasized that specifically here in Lorain County, history’s always shown that labor has been a D-type (Democratic) organization.  As workers, we have to get away from that mindset,” is even more encouraging since it was coupled by an example of an actual former Republican officeholder that was a friend to labor.  Keith Hocevar’s (Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers Local 16) assurance that, “In the building trades, we talk to both sides; we talk to Democrats and Republicans in races. For us, we look at individual races and talk to the candidates and talk to the candidates who support our issues,” is the most comforting.  I hope that Dan Ramos and Sherrod Brown carefully read those statements, as they paint the GOP with such broad brushes as to suggest Republicans are monolithic in their political views.  They should campaign on their own virtues vis-a-vis the candidates they face.  Voters need to know that while some candidates are willing to be party pawns, others are too principled to allow themselves to be treated as pawns.  It is the voters’ responsibility to determine which is which, and when they find a principled candidate, it behooves voters to demand to know just what those principles are before they cast their votes.  I have always maintained that one should vote for the person, not the party.  Voting for a party slate assembled by political insiders is why nations governed by parliaments are inferior to the elections conducted within America’s system of government.

In both the CT and MJ articles, John Kasich was held up as an object of scorn.  In closing, let me offer this head’s up.  When it comes to opposition to unions, John Kasich is nothing compared to Jon Husted.  I sure hope Husted is not the “anointed” GOP candidate for Ohio Governor in 2018.  If he is, I sure hope he is vigorously contested in the GOP primary.  Husted is a prime example of pay-to-play politics.  I would not cast a vote  for Husted even if he ran unopposed, whether in a primary or in a general election.

A few county Lincoln Day Dinners in 2014

Looking at search terms that have guided readers to this page in the past 30 days, I can see that some of you are trying to mark dates on your calendar for annually-held Republican Lincoln Day Dinners in Ohio this year.  Unfortunately, Buckeye RINO has not posted such events in a long time, so readers have been disappointed, upon arriving at this website, that the events posted here were held on dates long since passed.  In order to partially satisfy your curiosity on what events are occurring when, I have taken a look around to see what information I could put together.

Thursday, February 13, 2014–Cuyahoga County

  • Guest Speaker: Gov. John Kasich
  • @ the Holiday Inn, 6001 Rockside Rd, Independence OH
  • VIP reception, $750 per person, at 5:30 pm
  • Dinner, $60 per person, at 6:00 pm
  • still seeking event sponsors
  • Contact Julie Kirk (216) 621-5415 or rsvp@cuyahogacountygop.com

Saturday, February 22, 2014–Knox County Lincoln-Reagan Dinner

  • Guest Speaker: Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted
  • @ Station Break Senior Citizen Center, 160 Howard St., Mount Vernon OH
  • Social Hour at 6pm
  • Dinner, $45 per person, at 7 pm
  • seeking event sponsors up until Wednesday, February 12th–contact Don Divelbiss (740) 392-3873 or ddivelbiss@hotmail.com
  • contact Cindy Higgs (740) 398-5385 or chiggs@embarqmail.com

Thursday, February 27, 2014–Licking County

  • Guest Speaker: Gov. John Kasich
  • @ Reese Center, COTC/OSU-N Campus, 1179 University Dr, Newark OH
  • Private Pre-reception, $50 per person, at 5:30 pm
  • Dinner, $60 per person, at 6:30 pm
  • RSVP by February 20, Registration card to complete, front and back, then mailed to Licking County Republican Party, PO Box 431, Newark, OH  43058
  • contact Licking County Republican Facebook page,  (740) 345-0500, or LCRepublicanHQ@gmail.com

Friday, February 28, 2014–Clermont County

  • Guest Speaker: U.S. Senator Rob Portman
  • @ Holiday Inn Eastgate, 4501 Eastgate Blvd, Cincinnati OH
  • Social Hour at 6 pm
  • Dinner, $50 per person, at 7 pm
  • For reservations, send check to Clermont County Republican Party, PO Box 740, Batavia, OH  45103

Thursday, March 6, 2014–Wayne County

  • Guest Speaker: Gov. John Kasich
  • @Greenbriar Conference & Party Center, 50 Riffel Rd, Wooster OH
  • “meet and greet” wine and cheese reception, $25 per person, at 5:30 pm
  • dinner, $25 per person, at 6:30 pm
  • Contact Julie Leathers, 118 Kirk Ave. Orrville OH  44667 or purchase tickets online

Monday, March 17, 2014–Trumbull County McKinley Dinner

Wednesday, March 26, 2014–Marion County Harding Day Dinner

  • Guest Speaker: Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor
  • @ All Occasions Banquet Facility, 6989 Waldo-Delaware Rd, Waldo OH
  • Dinner, $25 per person, at 5:30 pm
  • RSVP by March 20 via email: MarionGOPJohn@hotmail.com

RPCC press release: Judge Sara Harper, one of Cleveland’s own, to be honored by the Republican National Committee in DC

Editor’s note:  This event, the 2nd Annual Black Republican Trailblazer Award Luncheon, is to be held today, Feb. 4th, in Washington DC.  I just received this press release yesterday, Feb. 3rd, from Doug Magill, doug@magillmedia.net or (216) 536-1564, of the Republican Party of Cuyahoga County (RPCC).  Despite the lateness of the press release in relation to the timing of the event, I thought this recognition was important enough to announce to as wide an audience as possible.–DJW

Judge Sara Harper to be Honored at the Black Republican
Trailblazer Award Luncheon
 

CLEVELAND – The Republican National Committee (RNC) is pleased to announce that Ohio Civil Rights Hall of Fame member Judge Sara Harper is to be honored at the 2nd Annual Black Republican Trailblazer Award Luncheon.

Growing up in public housing on Cleveland’s East Side, she was the first black woman to graduate from the Case Western Reserve University School of Law.  Judge Harper subsequently became Cleveland city prosecutor under Mayor Carl B. Stokes, and later a Municipal Court Judge as well as President of the Cleveland NAACP. One of the first black women to serve on the Ohio Court of Appeals, she also was the first black woman to serve on the Ohio Supreme Court.

Judge Harper was the first woman to serve on the judiciary of the Marine Corps Reserve, and was a co-founder of the first victims’ rights organization in the country. A staunch believer in childhood education, she founded the Sara J. Harper Children’s Library on Cleveland’s East Side, in the housing project where she grew up.

The theme of this year’s award ceremony is “Honoring Our Past and Building the Future.”  The event will also honor Dr. Louis Sullivan of Georgia, and Michigan businessman William “Bill” Brooks.  Honorees are chosen for their significant contributions to the Party, their communities, and the country.  It will be hosted by the Chairman of the Republican National Committee, Reince Priebus, and will be held on Tuesday, February 4th at the historic Howard Theater in Washington, D.C.

For further information on the event please contact Brian Barnes with the Ohio Republican Party, bbarnes@ohiogop.org.

A link to 2011 Cuyahoga County GOP calendar

Considering all the blog visitors looking for Lincoln Day Dinner information across Ohio, I should have posted this notice about Cuyahoga County’s Lincoln Day Dinner already.  Sorry about the delay.

19th Annual Republican Party of Cuyahoga County Lincoln Day Dinner

  • Wednesday, March 30, 2011 5:30 pm VIP reception and 6:30 pm dinner
  • Downtown Renaissance Hotel Ballroom, 24 Public Square, Cleveland, OH 44113
  • Cost: $50/person for dinner and $250/person for VIP reception
  • Contact: Matt Clever at 216-621-5418 or mclever@cuyahogacountygop.com
  • Guest Speakers: Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty and Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel

For other events on the RPCC calendar, please follow this link: http://www.cuyahogacountygop.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=18&Itemid=21.

Japanese store shelves tell the tale: The time to hoard is long before the calamity strikes

I’m hopping back up on my soapbox again.  I’ve been blogging about preparing your family for catastrophes since 2008.  I’ve racked my brain to pinpoint of a number of ways in which your family can prepare, and put those thoughts on my blog, too.  I’m blogging again to remind everyone that the time to prepare for catastrophe is sooner rather than later.

AP business writer Yuri Kageyama produced this report about consumers throughout Japan, not just in the earthquake/tsunami ravaged zone of northeast Honshu island, descending on stores to buy up all products with any shelf life that could have some use in an emergency. (Hint: Just click on the above link and read the AP article. You need to take a look at it. Got that?)

The scarcity of these consumer goods throughout Japan is hampering the humanitarian relief efforts.  How do you ship survival goods, such as food, water, blankets, batteries, flashlights, tents, sleeping bags, etc., to the victims of the earthquake and tsunami when the unaffected population throughout the rest of the nation has siphoned away all those supplies?  Government officials are urging the public not to hoard, but the public is panicked.

Don’t feel vulnerable in a crisis.  You should have what you need for an emergency now.  If you don’t have it now, when will you have it?  In your hour of need?  And if a natural disaster, such as a house fire or tornado, wipes out your own emergency supplies, won’t you be grateful to your neighbors if they’ve got emergency supplies on hand that they can share with you?  Wouldn’t you be glad you could help out a neighbor if the roles are reversed?  And then, when widespread disasters wipe out the emergency supplies of everyone in the community, wouldn’t you be thankful that humanitarian relief efforts aren’t starved of resources because the population beyond the disaster zone has no reason to panic, since they’re already prepared?

One more thing to keep in mind:  The world economy is fragile.  This earthquake/tsunami disaster has sent seismic waves rippling out into the rest of the world.  If our nation’s economy collapsed (and there’s so much that’s straining our economy and threatening our currency right now), what you already have on hand might be all that you can obtain . . . until an economic recovery ensues.  How long would it take before you can rely on economic recovery to lift you out of your emergency?  Who knows?

No community is immune from disaster.  Don’t bet that it won’t be your family that is calamity-stricken next.  If you haven’t already, get your family ready for emergencies ASAP.

Ballot issues & school board roles: starting points for local control of schools

It’s been awhile (nearly 2 years) since I’ve composed any wonkish blog pieces on the topic of K-12 education.  I’ve blogged about a school enterprise zone proposal to facilitate opportunities for supplemental learning.  I’ve blogged about my opposition to charter schools.  But there is so much more ground to cover on the topic of education.

The public schools are the public’s schools–the people’s schools.  The people pay taxes for them.  We have a government of the people, by the people, and for the people (or, that’s the way it’s supposed to work).  So the people’s schools are the government’s schools, and vice-versa.

If the public schools are broken, it behooves us to fix them.  Us.  As in people.

Why are we letting our government leaders, including President Obama and Governor Kasich, do an end run around getting into the nuts and bolts of fixing inadequate public schools (think charter schools, think vouchers)?

Why are the federal and state governments even involved in mandating what our schools ought and ought not to do?  What do they know about the needs of your specific community and what do they know about the desires you have for your children, the students?  Does one size fit all?  I suppose they try to meddle in school affairs because the media press them to know, during the campaign season, what their education platform consists of.  Then, because they make some promises to the media about what they will do about education, they actually stick their noses into it.  But I don’t necessarily think their noses belong there.

I would like parents and members of the community to make the important decisions about their schools.  We are grown-ups, right?  Why do we need to shirk this civic responsibility?  Why do we either put it on the shoulders of the teachers to bring about positive academic outcomes or on the shoulders of Columbus and Washington DC?  Why are we absolving ourselves of our responsibilities to ensure that our, the people’s, schools achieve the standards that we, the people, set?

Maybe we, the people, have not felt empowered to fix our local schools.  If we go to a school board meeting to voice a concern, it often seems the concern doesn’t get adequately addressed.  Sometimes, even, the superintendent and/or school board members will say that their hands are tied by mandates from Columbus and Washington DC, and that’s why our concerns cannot be addressed.

It takes the wind right out of you to attempt to make a difference and then find out you are powerless to have any input about the school right down the street from your house.  If you feel powerless, then forget about it.  You don’t bother.  Apathy sets in.  The community drops out.  The parents drop out.  And then we wonder why the students drop out.

If we, the people, could feel like we could make a difference in we, the people’s, the public’s, the government’s, schools–wouldn’t it be more likely that our involvement would increase?  If our community invests themselves in education, if parents invest themselves in education, do you think the students would invest themselves in education?  I think so.

Empowerment.  Empowerment is the key.  One size DOES NOT fit all.  The power over the schools needs to be decentralized.  It needs to be wrested away from Washington DC, first, and Columbus, next.

Where do we start?  How about we transform the role of the school board?  As it stands, school administration, led by the superintendent, often sets the agenda for the school board meetings.  The school board then either decides to ratify the agenda items put forward by the superintendent, or not to ratify them.  If the school board is too often dissatisfied with the superintendent’s agenda, withholding ratification seems not to be making much difference.  The recourse, at that point, is for the school board to get a new superintendent.  They either decide not to renew the superintendent’s contract, buy out the superintendent’s contract, or sever the superintendent’s contract (which will likely result in a lawsuit initiated by the dismissed superintendent, which only goes to show that the superintendent was never really an ally to the schools, after all).

At the local level, it should be the school board who sets the agenda, not the superintendent.  At other levels of government, the legislative branch prescribes what is to be done and the executive branch carries it out.  Why should it be any different in a school district?  A role-reversal is needed.  This prescriptive legislative role is the empowering role for the school board.

And what empowering the rest of the members of the community?  How do we bring an end to the powerlessness that they feel?

Voting.  The ballot box.

As it stands, a school board can only put two kinds of issues on the ballot:  bonds and tax levies.  Whoop-de-doo.  We don’t get much say in how the schools are run, but we’re charged with the responsibility to figure out how we’ll pay for them.  That seems kind of unfair, doesn’t it?

We, the people, need to be allowed to vote on issues beyond just bonds and levies.  When a contentious issue arises in the school district and the school board is in a quandary . . . and then when very vocal proponents and very vocal proponents show up at the school board meeting and school board members don’t really know which camp is more representative of the wishes of the community . . . why can’t  either the proponents or opponents file to put the issue before the people?  I don’t think the school board, themselves, ought to have to pony up the money out of the school treasury to put the issue before the voters.  Are the proponents or opponents ready to put their money where there mouth is?  Are they ready to launch an election campaign concerning this issue?  If neither camp is, then the public should live with the school board’s decision, whatever it may be.  The public would have to absolve the school board of blame if its decision didn’t win everyone over.  But if a committee of citizens really truly felt strongly enough about an issue, why should that committee be handcuffed by state law?  Why should the issue be forbidden from appearing on the ballot?

Here’s a real-life example of an issue that citizens might have wanted on the ballot:  Oberlin High School sports teams, for decades, had been known as the Oberlin Indians.  There were two very vocal camps:  Those who had deep affection for the Oberlin Indian legacy (usually long-time residents who were alumni of the high school themselves) and wanted to retain the name; and those (usually those with ties to the college who are transplants in the Oberlin community) who took a stand against the name because of politically incorrect insensitivity toward the various Nations of the Native Americans–descendants of those who lived in the Americas before the arrival of Christopher Columbus.  Both groups were very vocal, and the school board was caught in the middle of this tug of war.  I spoke recently with a former member of the school board, a school board member who said such a vote by the school district’s electorate would have been very helpful in resolving the issue.  The school board voted in favor of the latter group, and the sports teams are now known as the Oberlin Phoenix.

Another example from Oberlin:  A group of parents thought it would be appropriate for the students to begin the day with a recitation of the pledge of allegiance.  Others thought it would be inappropriate to recite the Pledge of Allegiance in the public schools.  The school board sided with the latter group.  Would it have been so bad if those in favor of the Pledge of Allegiance had been allowed to collect signatures and to file petitions in order for the issue to appear on the ballot?

Other issues that citizens might want to put on the ballot:

  • Dress code:  The primary purpose of the schools is to educate.  If a student’s attire detracts from the learning that is to take place at school, it’s reasonable that it be addressed in the dress code.  What detracts from the learning environment and what doesn’t?  Well, community standards play a role in what’s acceptable and what’s not.  Some communities would demand more modesty than others.  One size does not fit all.  If the community were to actually vote on a dress code, then a judge wouldn’t have much difficulty in upholding the dress code if a student took the matter to court.
  • Contraceptive distribution:  There are some schools that supplied students with contraceptives with no questions asked.  It has even caught some communities by surprise, as the school administrators had quietly made their own unilateral decision on the matter without the input of the school board, let alone the community.  Would it be so wrong to have this issue on the ballot to see if the community supported the distribution of contraceptives in the school or not?
  • Sexuality:  How early in life should youngsters be introduced to concepts of sexuality by their teachers, such as the differentiation between homosexuality and heterosexuality?  Is education on sexuality even a role that the schools should undertake?  Would it be wrong to allow this issue to appear on the ballot?  Or do we let individual classroom teachers make this decision unilaterally?
  • School closures:  Dropping enrollment (an all-too-frequent phenomenon in Ohio) and saving money are the two primary causes for mothballing a school somewhere in a school district.  It’s just that no one wants the school in their neighborhood be the one that closes.  Instead of appealing a school’s closure to the courts (as sometimes happens), would it be so wrong to appeal to the electorate, instead?
  • Censorship:  When students contribute material that appears in school publications (yearbook, newspaper, etc.), should it be subject to censorship?  It’s kind of like the dress code . . . what standard should be applied?
  • Public access to the classroom:  Is it permissible for a parent or other local citizen to be a silent observer in a classroom while school is in session?
  • Cell phones:  Are students restricted during certain times and in certain places from using their cell phones?  What restrictions should apply?
  • Politicians taking the stage at student assemblies:  Should politicians be featured speakers at school assemblies?  Only if they visit in their official capacity as elected officeholders?  During election season?  Equal time for the political opponent?  Photo ops at the school to appear in the media or in campaign literature?  Or only visiting the school as a private citizen?
  • Raffles and other fundraisers:  Are raffles permitted to be used as a means of fundraising?  Or are raffles off-limits, recognized by the community as a form of gambling?  Who can raise funds on school property?  Any student group?  For any purpose?  By any means?  What about community groups?  Charities?  Political parties and candidates?  Commercial vendors?

The school board can make these decisions, but if the public wants to have a referendum, why not?  It sends a message that you can make a difference.  You can have input.  You are empowered.  You can be involved.  You care.

With the school board directing the superintendent (rather than voting to ratify the superintendents agenda), and with citizens able to put school district issues on the ballot (rather than voting to ratify bonds and levies only) we, the people, can begin to fix our, the people’s, the public’s, schools.