OPS, DCPS school boards receive failing grade for transparency

With the end of the school year winding down, final grades are being handed out.

So why not grade our local elected school boards on the subject of transparency.

With the revelation that both Daviess County and Owensboro public schools cooperated with the Daviess County Citizens for Decency for a book audit, there are unanswered questions that still remain.

But it hasn’t been for lack of trying on the newspaper’s part.

Prior to publishing the May 4 story “DCC4D audited public schools’ libraries,” multiple requests were made to not only the school superintendents but also to the elected school board members to comment about the book audit that we were hearing about.

Instead, the newspaper received emails from their public information officers saying that neither the superintendents nor the school board members would be commenting about the book audit.

Although superintendents are hired employees, they are still very much public figures who should be compelled to share information such as this to their employer — the taxpayers.

But they didn’t.

So that’s when you’d think the elected school board members would then feel an obligation to voters and taxpayers to share about what they knew about the book audit and where they were in all of this.

After all, addressing these kinds of issues publicly is why school board seats are elected positions in the first place.

Otherwise, what’s the point of electing people unwilling to talk openly about hard topics?

And instead of understanding that they are all individually elected officials who have the authority to answer questions independently, both elected boards chose to hide behind their public information officers as if they are operating as a private business, making a collective effort to keep the public in the dark about this matter.

It was neither a personnel nor a student matter that can be acceptable reasons for not commenting.

This involved a group that the school boards knew had already been in an ongoing controversy with the Daviess County Public Library.

Instead of requiring the DCC4D to come before the boards publicly with their concerns, they decided to cooperate with the DCC4D while at the same time doing everything possible to keep the book audit a secret.

What we still don’t know is who made the decision to keep the book audit from the public?

And what did the elected board members know about it?

So far, DCPS board Chairman James Morgan is the only elected board member known to be involved in the audit process.

We also know that DCPS outgoing Superintendent Matt Robbins did not want this getting out to the public.

The Messenger-Inquirer obtained an audio recording of a meeting that included Robbins, Morgan, OPS Interim Superintendent Anita Burnette and members of the Coalition for an Inclusive Daviess County.

“…When the media gets in front of us, we’re going to shut our mouths,” Robbins said during that meeting.

His reasoning: “My main concern, you can sort of imagine, is if a person gets up in a public school board meeting with the media sitting right there and reads the kind of lewd, sexual references, where I read that excerpt and say, ‘This is in your school library,’ you’ve got to understand the position (Anita) and I are in; we’re accosted by the public on a deal like that.”

It’s also easier to blame the press when all we ask is for public agencies to be open and transparent.

No question superintendents have tough jobs but it’s what they willingly signed up for.

In the audio, Robbins did address what he deemed as greater concerns that educators have with students.

“You have to understand the context of what we’re concerned about,” he said in the audio. “I will tell, and I’m sure (Anita) would agree and any school official would agree, that we’re much more concerned about the 24/7 access to social media, access to content (on the internet). It’s literally at their fingertips,” said Robbins who also included vaping as another major concern.

So why not just say that to the public?

If neither Robbins nor Burnette wanted to answer the hard questions or be confronted by parents, that’s when the DCPS school board members — Morgan, Tom Payne, Frank Riney, Todd Anderson and Dale Stewart — and OPS school board members — Chairman Jeremy Luckett, Melissa Decker, Ashley Johnson, Leigh Rhoads Doyal and Jeremy Edge — should’ve stepped up and done their duties as elected officials.

Instead, they all stood silently together about an issue that affects the people of Owensboro and Daviess County.

It’s clear that both Robbins and Burnette are just wanting to retire while trying to avoid as much controversy as possible.

Until that happens, however, this is still on their watch.

But the real onus here is on the elected school board members who should be encouraging openness in all matters.

And because they didn’t, the only grade they deserve for transparency is a failing one.