School Board Needs More Witnesses
More recently, the format of school board meetings as well as the location has proven inimical to ongoing coverage either by reporters or bloggers, although Dr. Steve Gallon III has always responded to Plaintalker's specific Q&A requests.
The current controversy over certification of two staff members has forced reporters and the interested public to endure five-hour meetings to glean details. Some people have called for investigations or wholesale replacement of the school board, but the simpler solution would be to make school board meetings easier to attend for those who want to keep track of how things are going.
Plaintalker's recent ploy has been to examine agendas and follow up on certain specific issues, but a lot of information comes out at meetings that cannot be anticipated just by looking at a document. Unfortunately, this blogger has had to make a choice and the outcome has been to focus on city government and hope that others will be able to take up the slack on the Board of Education.
For those who are interested, the blog archive through mid-2008 does document events leading up to the current situation - the collapse of the Howard superintendency, the interim leadership, the superintendent search and the massive job realignments of Spring 2008. But the need for full reporting can be seen in the case of the report made by the state Department of Education's Office of Fiscal Accountability and Compliance and also the introduction of the New Jersey Quality Single Accountability Continuum. Even some board members themselves did not register the implications of the OFAC report on the meeting where Peter Carter was hired as interim superintendent, and certainly the public at large needed help understanding the implications of the NJQSAC report that found the Plainfield district lacking in several major aspects of its operations.
I feel bad that I cannot currently strectch myself thin enough to cover both the school and city beats for the blog. Early on, Barbara Todd Kerr and I tried to find someone who could adequately cover the school district for the blog, but no such individual could be found.
Since Barbara herself stepped away from the blog, it has been all mine to do with as best I could. Opening the comment function has added more voices, if not more fact-gathering, but I have had to decide where to put my time and energy and it is City Hall and redevelopment.
A lot of information and opinion has come out on the nj.com Plainfield forum. In fact, that forum has become almost exclusively focused on education issues. What is sometimes lacking is the context that reporting might add. Still, for now, that's the best exposure of district issues. The district web site by its nature cannot provide journalistic coverage.
It is true that the student performances draw crowds to board meetings and certainly if the board needs to go into closed session, that is their prerogative. But that means the public and the press only gets to hear votes on resolutions late into the meeting. Often they are block approvals by committee, but still they are the official actions that cannot be guaranteed by seeming consenus at work-and-study sessions.
If anyone has the endurance to deal with the current way of doing board business, it's a great opportunity to claim a niche for objective blogging. The public at large needs to know more about the school district than the occasional headline-grabbing potential scandal.