May 21, 2018
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Ends justify means for Bangor School Committee

By Scott Lary, Special to the BDN

I had the honor to serve two terms on the Bangor School Committee back in the ’90s, and found a recent news article by Eric Russell and column by Renee Ordway quite amusing. I confess to no longer being a resident of Bangor and just recently returned to Maine to retire.

However, even without knowing the current popular targets for local mudslinging, there seem to be many misconceptions contained in these pieces. The article written by Russell seems to be the result of a disturbingly cozy relationship between a pseudojournalist and a ruffled school committee member. Within it is an anonymous quote from a locally elected representative (“One city councilor called the school committee the ‘bobblehead crew.’”). What kind of journalist allows that? The column by Ordway also proudly cites unnamed city councilors that hold the previously unnamed city councilor’s view.

Specifically, let me address some of the points being discussed. When entering any elected office, one should expect attempts by others to influence them. There are two proper responses: Either see the wisdom in the position or go your own way. Whining about it is not a productive response, even if you do have someone working for the BDN in your hip pocket.

Furthermore, an individual on any board has no individual power. Power comes in building a majority, or even better, a consensus.

Additionally, there seems to be some misunderstanding as to what a school committee does. It does not manage the school system, but hires and supervises a professional to do it. If a school committee member wants to manage a school system, they can get their certification and become a superintendent. When the superintendent ceases to perform to the board’s satisfaction, it replaces him or her.

So, following this rationale, there should be very few situations where the board and its superintendent don’t agree. The board makes policy decisions, considers disciplinary decisions, enters into labor contracts, sets priorities and decides budgetary matters. In all those cases, a school committee expects the superintendent to make a recommendation.

While I was serving on the committee, the superintendent was Dr. James Doughty. He was hired because he shared the vision of the committee and was a superb administrator. There were very few instances where I disagreed with him.

Finally, each member of the committee represents the approximately 31,000 residents of the City of Bangor — almost four times the number people in the average district in the Maine House of Representatives. I don’t remember anyone ever being denied the opportunity to speak at a school committee meeting. However, just like your state representative bodies, the people elected to represent you on the committee do not open all issues to public debate nor grant any other group special influence over its decisions. You elected them; they are there to represent you.

When one sits on these boards, it is important to always keep in mind that you hear from one-hundredth of a percent of your constituents during these events. You are there to represent everyone, even the tens of thousands that don’t attend.

So what is the answer? If you want to change things, run for office and build your own consensus. Run the meetings however you want. If you want a school system like Portland, go for it. If you want the Bangor school system to be on the same level as the Lewiston school system, feel free use this goal as a campaign issue to drive home to Bangor voters. Myself, if I still lived in Bangor, I would take pride in having one of the best school systems in the state of Maine.

Furthermore, I would attend the next Bangor City Council meeting and ask my anonymous city councilors to attend Bangor School Committee meetings so they could pick up some pointers.

Scott Lary of Glenburn is a former member of the Bangor School Committee.

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