District should get consensus to reorganize

On?March 14, the Greater Johnstown School District Board of Education voted unanimously in favor of drastically reorganizing our existing elementary schools, despite the admitted absence of any compelling empirical support regarding the hypothetical advantages of the proposed re-organization.

I opposed proceeding with the plan in the absence of some consensual endorsement by the parents of the elementary schoolchildren affected by this reorganization.

It is maintained the school district and board do not require any public vote on this matter under New York state law. I do not know if this is accurate, but regard that as beside the point.

The matter hinges on a principled distinction between legal authority and legitimate authority. The school board members are supposed to be our elected representation for decisions regarding our children’s education.

The proposed reorganization should proceed only on the basis of a clear mandate from their constituents. Most sentences involving the word “should” are dismissed as naive these days to the detriment of our society.

I can only respond that it was completely legal for Britain to enact taxes on the American colonies to pay for the French and Indian War. The subsequent issue of “no taxation without representation” culminated in the American Revolution.

In this context, we pay school taxes for decades. It seems reasonable to expect the school district would be attuned and responsive to parental input during the handful of years that our children are enrolled within that school system.

This issue arose in 2010, and the school board distributed a survey to the parents of our elementary schoolchildren regarding the proposed reorganization. If my memory serves, about 80 percent of the parents who responded were firmly against the proposed reorganization.

I believe the school board is obligated to conduct a similar survey following an appropriate public-education campaign and to abide by its results. They have held several public forums in which this matter has been discussed. I don’t mean to minimize or dismiss the time and effort they have devoted to this matter. That venue is regarded as frankly insufficient, however. Holding court and listening attentively to the concerns of the petitioners is not equivalent to obtaining a public mandate.

The planned reorganization is not scheduled to take effect until the fall of 2014, leaving time to pursue the suggested parental consensus. The PTA organizations at each elementary school would likely assist in that effort if asked.