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OUR VIEW: Public benefits from open discussions

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District 833 School Board members at a recent annual retreat discussed budget planning, goals for the upcoming year - and how to largely keep their differences among themselves.

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That last item may be puzzling to voters who like to know the views of their elected officials.

The discussion stemmed from a recent Bulletin viewpoint by board member Jim Gelbmann that bothered his colleagues. Gelbmann used an opinion column to tell the public he believed that he and the rest of the board erred in a vote because their decision on a school lunch price issue suggested that District 833 could violate federal education policy so long as there were no financial consequences.

Gelbmann wanted another vote in hopes of reversing course. That did not happen, but frustration lingered over his decision to take the issue - and his change of mind - from the board room to residents and voters via local media. Board Chairwoman Leslee Boyd raised the concern at the recent retreat.

Board members used an education consultant as facilitator at the retreat. His advice: keep future disagreements limited to workshop meetings.

Whew. Imagine if that had continued. Elected officials expressing differing views outside of the sparsely attended workshop setting? And from that the public may have learned of different positions on an issue affecting their schools? Surely that must stop.

Or should it?

School boards and other local government bodies work best when their members reach consensus on issues. The District 833 School Board is no different. However, that consensus-building effort does not mean differing - even conflicting - viewpoints should be stifled or saved only for formal meetings.

Certainly we encourage elected officials and others to express their views in our newspaper, but we don't take this position out of self-interest. Our concern is the suggestion that board members' differences should be limited to meetings that, while public, are rarely attended by the public.

Remember, these are nonpartisan elected representatives. Voters cast ballots for individual School Board candidates, not a slate of would-be board members who think alike and share identical views. They have legitimate differences of opinion, borne of different backgrounds, life experiences and views.

Airing those views publicly - whether at a meeting, in a newspaper or by any other means - can help to inform the public. And if done constructively, those efforts could be beneficial to the decision-making progress.

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