The single agenda item for the May 22 Lee’s Summit R-7 Board of Education Work Session was simple and innocuous enough: “Board discussion on equity plan and moving forward.”
Of course, what those who attended the meeting in person (or watched it via Facebook live) were treated to fell woefully short of what was promised.
Watching two different Facebook live videos of the meeting, I felt more like I was witnessing a playground argument at a local elementary school.
Thing is, I have been to a few playgrounds around Lee’s Summit over the years. And those kids are better behaved than some of our school board, superintendent and audience members were that evening.
It is often said, and proven, we must hit our lowest point in order to start to build back up. I think we’re damn close to finding that bottom.
If what we heard at this work session is the result of a frantic scramble to simply hold a meeting just to say we held a meeting, then we need to seriously rethink this entire process. The contentious affair got us nowhere and only set us further behind as a school district.
Among the glaringly uncomfortable and just plain disrespectful components of the meeting, we witnessed as a district, the following: unsubstantiated claims from board members to the superintendent and from the superintendent back to the board members; unnecessary baiting; loaded questions; accusations; pandering; hyperbole; tension; and less cooperation and consensus building than we should ever witness.
And let’s not forget that because of press coverage and social media, all of this is being played out in front of the entire Kansas City area.
At one point, board member Mike Allen leveled a claim at Carpenter he had a hard time backing up. His words clearly enraged the superintendent. Allen surely knows you can’t play that card in politics unless you have hard proof. Surely, Carpenter felt the same way Kim Fritchie did when she was baselessly attacked by Carpenter in the same meeting. And even with her pair of apologies this week, Doane failed to verbally lead the affair or even bring some semblance of organization to this disorderly meeting.
God bless, people, who are your circles of influence and who on earth is advising any of you on this behavior?
If we were to bring a fourth-grade class from Pleasant Lea Elementary into this work session, would we have ever tolerated adults speaking to one another in such a way, much less the ridiculously out of line disrespect from some in the audience? God, I hope not.
Things in the audience got so out of hand, board members started addressing the interruptions individually and Dr. Carpenter was clearly playing to the crowd — so much so it appeared as though he stopped addressing the board altogether and was only seeking approval from those that do not realize how they should conduct themselves at a public forum.
Viewing the dialogue between the superintendent and the board, there still seems to be a massive gap in understanding the relationship between the two. As a reminder, the superintendent answers to the board, and the board answers to the voters. That said, the board doesn’t and shouldn’t answer to voters shouting during meetings. And when the district leader speaks to, and is spoken to, in the manner in which we witnessed that night, you have to wonder if that relationship is just beyond repair.
This is where the leadership rubber meets the road: there are two leaders here that needed to properly control the meeting. One was elected (Doane) the other answers to the school board (Carpenter). Neither put up much, if any, of a fight to shut down poor conduct some were exhibiting in the audience.
This simply cannot be the way we conduct business as a school district or the way we work as an elected body.
Communicating expectations at these meetings needs to start at the top and the board president and superintendent need to set those expectations loudly and clearly from here on out.
Not only that, when the district plans to spring a surprise meeting on the electorate, every possible avenue of communication needs to be considered and used when letting voters and citizens know about those meetings.
It’s one thing to barely make the 24-hour mark as required by the Missouri Sunshine Law. It is quite another to simply throw a meeting notice of this magnitude on the website and call it a day. That can’t remotely be considered best-practice communication, especially considering the district has 27,000 followers between its Facebook and Twitter accounts and endless other means of communications, such as e-mail and text messaging.
It’s almost as if this work session was doomed from the moment it was planned.
It didn’t need to be.
I would be hard pressed to believe that many on the dais that day could look us in the eye and tell us they showed their best leadership skills that afternoon.
Our children and young adults are watching.
And while the topics of these conversations are absolutely critical to our district’s future, the manner and tone in which they are happening leave a lot to be desired.
Editor's Note: John Beaudoin is a Lee's Summit resident and award winning writer and former newspaper publisher in the Lee's Summit community. Views and opinions expressed in his columns do not necessarily reflect those of Link 2 Lee's Summit, it's employees or any other guest contributors.