Daniel Ruth: Facebook tiff reveals thin skin of school board member Tamara Shamburger

Times Columnist Dan Ruth. [Times file]
Times Columnist Dan Ruth. [Times file]
Published April 11 2018
Updated April 11 2018

It is hard to determine what is the bigger sin here. That Hillsborough County School Board member Tamara Shamburger allowed herself to get into a silly, stupid on-line back and forth with a teacher, or that an easily offended elected official turned out to be such a school yard tattletale.

Memo to Shamburger: Youíre relatively new to public office. If you hang around long enough, plenty of people are invariably going to remind you ó rightly or wrongly ó that you are a doofus. Get used to it.

As the Tampa Bay Timesí Marlene Sokol reported, Shamburger and Memorial Middle School success coach Kimberland Jackson, a 12-year veteran of the school system, exchanged comments on Facebook after the school board member posted some opinions about the use of an outside consultant who works with seven struggling schools, including Memorial.

RELATED COVERAGE The teacher, the school board member and the Facebook post

Shamburger took to Facebook after Sokol wrote a story about the consultants, noting that instead of criticizing the visits, schools need to do a better job. Duh. This wasnít as revolutionary as Martin Luther posting his gripes about the pope to the church door.

Jackson responded to Shamburger asking why the school board member herself had never visited Memorial, because if she had she would have recognized all the hard work the teachers and administrators do for students.

And that ought to have been the end of it, if only Shamburger had written back diplomatically stating something along the lines of how much she was looking forward to a visit to Memorial and sitting down personally with Jackson to hear her concerns.

Instead, Shamburger invited Jackson to call her and asked if she had shared her thoughts with her supervisors at Memorial.

Then Jackson noticed Shamburger was blocking her Facebook postings as well as deleting the educatorís comments. This might cause a problem for Shamburger with respect to the stateís Sunshine Laws about protecting public records.

Shamburger passed along Jacksonís postings to Memorial principal April Gillyard and Gillyardís bosses, too. "I am truly concerned that an employee of HCPS finds it appropriate to communicate in this way," Shamburger whined, apparently revealing just how easily she can become "truly concerned."

Then Shamburger added this rather intimidating observation: "What is happening at Memorial that a teacher can be so disrespectful on social media. What needs to be done?"

What needs to be done? Well, for starters Shamburger can please shut up. Grow up, too.

Shamburger told Sokol she was puzzled why Jackson opted to address her on Facebook. But it was Shamburger who took to social media to opine about the consultants in the first place.

More importantly, Shamburger is an elected public official. And merely because Jackson is a school employee does not mean she has to give up her free speech rights to respond to a school board memberís views. Itís called the First Amendment. Itís all the rage. Or at least, it used to be.

By finking on Jackson by passing along the teacherís Facebook comments to her boss and her bossí supervisors, and by darkly hinting, "What needs to be done," Shamburger ó whether intentionally, or ignorantly ó is creating a chilling effect on the rights of teachers to express themselves on matters directly related to their mission of education. Now thereís a lesson in civics for you.

It is hardly an original thought to note that teaching is a tough job in the best of circumstances. And teaching in a struggling school like Memorial can certainly be far more challenging.

Schools fall short for a wide variety of reasons. And the last thing teachers need is to also deal with a bullying, thin-skinned, crybaby politician who runs to a supervisor to throw a teacher under the bus merely because she might have inartfully let off some steam.

Teachers need to know school board members have their back instead of a target to plunge the knife. Et tu, Tamara?