School board censors the public it represents

Despite a face-saving vote to change a misguided practice, censorship is alive and well on the Strongsville Board of Education.

Recent practice has been to suspend the televising of its public meetings during the two months prior to school board elections. The stated rationale for the blackout has been the board’s fear that a board candidate would “grandstand” – in other words, criticize the existing board – during his or her few minutes at the podium during the “public comment” portion of the meeting.

Evidently, our school board doesn’t think the taxpaying residents watching a televised board meeting are intelligent enough to determine whether a candidate is “grandstanding,” or simply airing a legitimate question or concern.

In past years, citizen requests to overturn the blackout have met with a resounding “no” from the board. This month, following such a request, the board consented to suspend this year’s blackout.

Sort of.

The public meetings of the board will be televised with the exception of the “public comment” portion of the meetings. That portion of the meeting, in which the residents who are paying the bills get to ask questions and comment about district finances and school policy – in other words, the portion of the meeting that the board is unable to choreograph – will be censored.

While their neighbors are “grandstanding” at the podium, interested taxpayers watching at home apparently will be pacified with elevator music and a test pattern.

Of course, residents can view the entire meeting by attending in person. They also can listen to the podcast on the district’s website. But that isn’t the point.

The point is that there continues to be a disconcerting inconsistency between the board’s promises to improve communication with the community, and actions that further alienate the people who voted them into their positions.

Contrary to what some members of the board may believe, Strongsville is not a community of people who “don’t get it.”

In fact, this is a community of wise individuals who take exception to being treated like idiots.

That much was strongly evident in the overwhelming repudiation of the board’s request for more tax money in the May and August elections. With their votes, the community spoke loudly and clearly. It was a message that the board couldn’t censor.

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