Sunday, November 15, 2009

Charter commission testimony

On Thursday night, I testified before the Legislature's commission analyzing what to do about Concord's school board charter. In the past, there has only been a few people at the meetings but about 20 people were there Thursday. I never speak straight from the script, I usually wing it. But here are some of my notes:

It is clear that the Legislature should be removed from controlling the Concord School Board charter. I too would agree with others who have stated as such. The key now is which road this commission recommends to take.

One, is direct democracy at its purest form, allowing the people of the community to recommend changes to the school board charter and vote on them. The other, while on the surface may seem adequate, is an unneeded distraction that will drag out this process for years to come. With all due respect to Attorney Teague and his proposal, it leaves too many variables, too many distractions which may lead to no results, and drags out the process of change and reform for many years.

Why is this bad? There are several reasons. Here are a few:

Last year, before this commission was formed, a number of residents forwarded changes to the school board charter to the Legislature for consideration. For the record, I did not forward any of those ideas and I didn’t support all of them either. In fact, I was openly critical of two of the ideas, and attacked them on my Web site. But I also stood up and supported the ability of these people to forward changes for consideration because it is the right thing to do. Unfortunately, the creation of this commission – and at least two potential recommendations – could continue to thwart the effort of individuals to forward reforms, not unlike what is done or can be done to the city charter. So, while a potential charter commission spends years and years studying things, the people who played by the rules and filed ideas with the Legislature are continuing to have to wait to have their ideas put before the voters.

Second, as has been stated before, nearly everyone in the state of New Hampshire has the right to do change their town and school charters, either through initiative petition or Town Meeting. But because we live in Concord, we are essentially second-class citizens when it comes to changing the school board charter, compared to other communities. It is infuriating, if you think about it. If the house I live in was built just 1.4 miles to the west, I would have these rights (in Hopkinton). Because it wasn't, my wife and I don't. Parents are parents; and yet, some parents are more equal than others, it would seem. You all can be an equalizing force by allowing us to control the charter via 49B.

In addition, by allowing us to make the changes on our own, you in fact could be contributing to the increase in voter participation in municipal elections. In the election two weeks ago, the turnout was 10.9 percent. In the presidential election the year before, it was nearly 90 percent. While we can argue the semantics, clearly one election is more important to the immediate needs of the citizens of Concord (the municipal one). And yet, the voters stayed home. Some would say and have, that people are completely fine with how things are. But I would beg to disagree. Clearly, from comments online, anecdotal comments I have heard around coffee shops, meetings I have been to, and other things, all I ever hear and read is people complaining about the city council and school board. But you have solutions here and the solutions are more involvement. We need more civic engagement and involvement in our municipal elections. Allowing residents to petition for changes to the school board charter, the same way they can do with the city council charter (when courts aren't throwing out petitions) and allowing the residents to vote on said changes, could, or I believe, will engage the community.

Lastly, I ask you to stop treating the members of this community like children, who somehow or for some reason, can’t be trusted with the rights and responsibilities to be able change the charter. There is a smack of elitism in the comments made by some that have worried, Oh, we can’t have people filing petitions to change things ... Sometimes, we know more than our elected leaders; sometimes we don't. But what we do know is that the education of our children is our business and our responsibility and if we think things are not being run well, we should be able to bring suggestions to the voters to change things and take the power away from our elected leaders if need be. Clearly, in Concord, we need this.

Please give us the rights that everyone else has while empowering and engaging the community. Recommend the addition of the 49B amendment to the school board charter and be done with it.

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