Trying to get a program like Teach For America adopted by the Cobb school board in the manner in which it was attempted was like trying to sneak — well you know the rest.
Just as it was nigh impossible to get a fast ball past Hank Aaron, if you are going to do the public’s business in this county, you best do it in the open and not with nod-nods and wink-winks.
You came to Cobb County with a clean slate and our assumption that you would not be bulling around in the education china shop as had your predecessors. To help matters, some supposedly reform-minded board members were elected to replace a pom-pom waver and a couple of bright guys out of their league politically.
For reasons I don’t understand, the Cobb County School System and this and previous school boards — and their attorneys and their communications specialists — can’t seem to grasp the fact that the public’s business must be done in public and not behind closed doors.
Things got so bad that this board had to give written assurances to the Georgia Attorney General’s office that it would no longer engage in such practices. Now, look what has happened.
The MDJ reports that members of the school board took a “straw vote” among themselves by telephone on a proposal to hire some 50 teachers from the Teach For America program. By the way, TFA is a good program. I know some young people who have participated and it was a great experience for them and for those they taught.
But — another communications suggestion — perception is reality and the perception is that this worthwhile program looked like another end run on your constituents by your office and members of the school board. You are quoted as having said that funds had been raised in the community to offset the expenses of the program. The school system would have had to pay the new teachers their salaries, benefits as well as some $400,000 for a summer training session. However, documents obtained by the MDJ — there is that sunrise/rooster thing — show that while there had been discussions with private parties, there was nothing tangible in the way of hard cash.
Also, the newspaper discovered that the school system had applied twice in recent months for federal Race for the Top funding and had been turned down, although the school board had never discussed or voted on whether or not to apply for Race for the Top money.
And we haven’t even talked about the fact that Teach for America teachers would be established while trying to eliminate through attrition some 350 experienced teachers. That is a hard one to explain. You may understand it and your staff may understand it but I suspect a lot of teachers don’t and they talk to more people collectively in a week than you and your staff are likely to talk to in a month.
One of the problems we had in my time in the telephone business was that we thought if top management and our board were together on a decision, all was well. We forgot about installers, repair personnel, operators and other workers who interacted with people at church, the grocery store and in the neighborhood. They were viewed by their friends as just as much a part of the business as the suits in the Ivory Tower and their comments could make or break our efforts.
You and the board members need to remember the basic principle of dealing in the external environment: All business in a democratic society begins with public permission and exists by public approval. We are all the public and whether we approve of something or not depends on how it is communicated to us. Also, remember that you are co-located with a newspaper that believes very strongly in government agencies doing the public’s business in the open.
Major league pitchers learned the hard way about trying to sneak fastballs by Henry Aaron. It would help if you and the school board would apply that lesson to your dealings with the public and with this paper and this columnist.
As your predecessors and previous boards have learned the hard way, you aren’t sneaking a sunrise or anything else by these roosters.
You can reach Dick Yarbrough at firstname.lastname@example.org or P.O. Box 725373, Atlanta, Georgia 31139.