Wednesday, June 3, 2009

End second-class citizenship

Here is my latest My Turn column which appeared in the Concord Monitor on Wednesday:

End second-class citizenship
Voters should control city charter

By Anthony Schinella For the Monitor
June 03, 2009 - 12:00 am


Most people don't know that for nearly five decades Concord residents have not had the ability to change the city's school board charter. Unlike virtually every community in the state, we are required to go before the Legislature to get approval for changes.

Over the past seven months, residents forwarded two proposals to the Legislature. One would have required the school board to get voter approval on any bonding more than $5 million. The other would have changed how board members were elected. Both proposals had supporters and opponents. Over a number of hearings, relevant concerns were raised in the House committee considering the bills. They smartly decided that the Legislature shouldn't be involved in Concord's school charter and altered the bill to give residents the right to change the charter without prior legislative approval. The bill passed and was sent to the Senate.

The Senate Public Affairs and Municipal Committee then heard testimony from a number of residents about just how cumbersome it is to change Concord's school charter. A bill must be drafted, it must be approved by both houses of the Legislature, signed by the governor, and then approved by the voters of Concord. No one else in the state has to do this.

But almost magically, an amendment appeared before the committee suggesting the creation of a 13-member study commission that would take nearly 18 months to analyze the issue. This study commission proposal was forwarded by our state Sen. Sylvia Larsen, at the behest of the school board and administration. The committee approved the change and the full Senate votes on the bill today.

What is so infuriating about this is that for some reason, the Concord School Board, the school administration, its legal team, and now, our own state senator, seem to think that Concord parents, taxpayers and residents, are not educated enough to change the school charter. We all cannot be trusted with the same rights and responsibilities that everyone else in New Hampshire has. We must continue to be subjected to the will of a handful of people who control the education of our children and can raise and spend tax dollars, without regard to parents or the people who pay the bills. Even though there are equal protection laws in this country, Concord residents will continue to be treated like second-class citizens.

No matter what you think about the proposals forwarded by residents desiring better representation on the board or voter control in regard to bonding authority, one thing is perfectly clear: We don't need a State House study commission to tell us whether we can be trusted with the same rights everyone else has. The parents, taxpayers and residents of this community clearly deserve better representation on the school board and should have a school administration that doesn't treat us like children, but with the respect we deserve.

I guess we'll just have to wait until November to get that.

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