Thursday, October 30, 2014
My Account  | Login
Nashua;47.0;http://forecast.weather.gov/images/wtf/small/ovc.png;2014-10-30 10:21:17
Monday, August 11, 2014

Shutting out the public: Another county heard from

Telegraph Editorial

The Cornish School Board last week stuck it to the people who pay the bills.

The board has been involved in a controversy since one of its members indelicately called the public a bunch of “f---tards” on social media a few months back, then acted all surprised when people showed up to demand that member’s resignation. ...

Sign up to continue

Print subscriber?    Sign up for Full Access!

Please sign up for as low as 36 cents per day to continue viewing our website.

Digital subscribers receive

  • Unlimited access to all stories from nashuatelegraph.com on your computer, tablet or smart phone.
  • Access nashuatelegraph.com, view our digital edition or use our Full Access apps.
  • Get more information at nashuatelegraph.com/fullaccess
Sign up or Login

The Cornish School Board last week stuck it to the people who pay the bills.

The board has been involved in a controversy since one of its members indelicately called the public a bunch of “f---tards” on social media a few months back, then acted all surprised when people showed up to demand that member’s resignation.

Were their opinions respected? Was there any appreciation that the member’s comments were patently vile? Hardly. Instead, residents were met with a double whammy of disdain.

The board shut down public discussion, and when the hundred or so people in the audience refused to go quietly into that good night, the board abruptly adjourned the meeting and four members promptly huddled privately in violation of the law.

Board members didn’t want to hear public criticism of one of their own, and now they probably won’t.

Cornish board members have adopted new policy language that restricts and de-emphasizes the input of the public.

Not surprisingly, they relied on language furnished by the New Hampshire School Boards Association.

But to hear Superintendent Middleton McGoodwin tell it, it’s the public’s own fault: “There have been residents who disagree with the things being said and have become quite difficult,” he told the Valley News, the daily paper that covers that area. “It’s their right to disagree, but it’s the manner in which they do it which is inappropriate.”

As any educator worth their salt could tell you, “appropriate” and “inappropriate” are subjective terms – vague enough to be used to silence anyone who might be inclined to ask too many uncomfortable questions about school affairs.

In fact, those who believe that school boards ought to be accountable to taxpayers and voters might even use the term “inappropriate” to describe the board’s decision to restrict public input. Just don’t do it at a board meeting, lest you run the risk of being shown the door.

It’s also ironic that the Cornish board adopted a guideline that prohibits anyone from making “obscene, libelous, defamatory or violent statements.”

Presumably, that includes board members themselves, though apparently anything goes on social media.

Enough townspeople were concerned about their treatment at the hands of the board that about 40 of them met to craft policy language to affirm the public’s right to participate in discussion before the board.

The board rejected it last week in favor of a policy that pays lip service to public participation.

In a town of about 1,600 best known for having once been the hideout of the late J.D. Salinger, board members face sharply declining school enrollment, an aging base of taxpayers and some residents who think there needs to be a broad discussion about how much school the town can afford.

Even if that’s not a discussion the board is eager to have, the underlying conflict is one that is likely to occur elsewhere in the state as other communities and school districts undergo similar changes in school population and demographics.

Peter Burling still lives in Cornish, and he led the movement to draft the alternative language the board rejected. The former state senator and longtime town and school district moderator said the board’s attitude toward the public seems to be, “We’re just going to let you sit up in the bleachers and listen to what we’re doing,” without any real public input after the first 15 minutes.

The Cornish Fair starts this week. It’s a pretty big deal up there, highlighted by contests to see who has raised the best sheep, cows and goats, and who makes the best pies in the region.

But we think the real “Cornish fair” is likely to happen in the spring, when voters will get to choose who they want sitting on the school board; people who think the public has a legitimate voice in district matters, or those who think they’re just a bunch of “f---tards” who should shut up and pay their taxes.

To their credit, board members did not adopt language urging the public to keep their nose out of the board’s business.

Still, that was the message that was received.

It also seems like that message is becoming increasingly common across the state.