Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Daniel Ruth: Advice for sniping school board members — Grow up or go away

There are certain jobs in elective office that carry with them a slightly higher expectation when it comes to how one behaves in public.

For example, it probably wouldn’t be a good thing if we were to learn Hillsborough State Attorney Andrew Warren was a serial traffic scofflaw with a slew of overdue library books, to boot.

The same holds true for members of the Hillsborough County School Board. We ought to have a reasonable belief those charged with overseeing the welfare of the community’s children are serious, sober-minded, thoughtful stewards of the classroom.

Too naive? Apparently so.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Hillsborough school board rift is on display at training event

A few days ago Pinellas and Hillsborough County school board members gathered together in what was supposed to be a training session sponsored by the Florida School Board Association to learn how to be more respectful of one another.

And yes, you’re right. Obviously no good was going to come of this.

Instead, what was supposed to be a meeting of presumed adults charged with the responsibility of setting a positive image for children soon descended into a profane exercise in sniping between Hillsborough School Board members April Griffin and Tamara Shamburger.

The Bickersons of the school board went after each other with Shamburger accusing Griffin of disrespecting newer members. Griffin then responded by claiming she has "completely withdrawn" from engaging in conflict with her colleagues, to which Shamburger buried her face in her hands before walking out of the session, which was supposed to be about cultivating respect.

It seems Shamburger, when she wasn’t storming in and out of the room, was ticked off at Griffin for supporting Joe Robinson in the 2016 school board election. And since she had joined the board, Shamburger said, Griffin has treated her like a steaming pile of — well, you get the idea.

For her part, Griffin accused Shamburger of somehow blaming her for the lack of academic success among black students.

But this wasn’t all simply a tiff between Griffin and Shamburger. Later in the day, another board member, Cindy Stuart, essentially said colleague Susan Valdes scares the living bejabbers out of her because Valdes seems to have more anger management issues than Jack Nicholson in The Shining.

"We need to feel safe to approach you," Stuart said of Valdes.

Valdes suggested Stuart was merely confusing her passion for education with being perpetually honked off.

It is probably not a good thing in any work environment when an employee feels they need a bodyguard during meetings because they are apprehensive their unhinged office-mate may bite the head off a bat at any minute.

And these folks have the future of the community’s children in their clenched-fist hands?

First of all, Shamburger needs to get over Griffin’s support of her election opponent. It is part of political life that there are winners and losers. But once the votes are counted the victor especially needs to learn to work with those who may have backed the other horse.

And is certainly true Griffin can be a bit of an acquired taste on this school board. Shamburger won. Get over it.

As well, can we all agree no one board member is responsible for the overall academic performance of any cohort of students? If black students are struggling, blame the entire board.

More vexing though is the idea that any school board member actually fears the potential of Susan Valdes casting stink eyes in their general direction. Good grief, this is the Hillsborough County School Board. It’s not the Reservoir Dogs of public education.

While no one would ever confuse the Hillsborough County Commission or the Tampa City Council with bastions of apolitical comity, these folks are pillars of decorum and intellectual discourse compared to their petty, feuding brethren on the Hillsborough County School Board.

Two simple words for those who are supposed to be guiding our students through the challenges of public education — grow up.

Or find a less taxing job that doesn’t involve being role models for children.


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