Friday, June 14, 2024

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Graham, NC 27253
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Does school board member with no children/grandchildren in ABSS schools have any more sympathy/insight than members who do?

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We don’t know Brandy Whittaker, one of the ABSS parents who took the podium at last week’s school board meeting to upbraid the school board and school officials for their years of neglect in addressing the mold issue in the county’s schools.

But she made a particularly telling indictment as part of her comments. Whittaker said, “In order to effectively tackle this issue, we need people on the school board who have a personal stake in this matter, individuals who have children attending our schools, parents who understand our children and the impact this is making on our community.”

School board member Chuck Marsh, who can appear hot-headed at times, was a bit harsh later in the meeting when school board members make their own comments and observations about earlier speakers’ comments.

Marsh said he has a freshman at Western High School and he shared the school affiliations of some other board members’ children and grandchildren (listing specifically the child of board chairman Sandy Ellington-Graves, as well as grandchildren of Dan Ingle and Donna Westbrooks).

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Then, by implication, he castigated the parent who had raised the issue about whether all school board members had children in the schools. “Just get your facts right before you come up here and start spewing,” Marsh said, adding “no offense.” That disclaimer prompted one member of the audience to holler out, “Offense taken.”

We’ve always felt that the most effective school board oversight comes when members have a direct interest, and are able to get direct feedback (from their children/students) about what’s going on in the schools on a day-to-day basis.

Two school board members didn’t offer any comments on the status of where their children attend school.  We’ve understood that in the past (as recently as last year) Dr. Charles Parker had one or two children in ABSS schools, but he didn’t return a phone call from the newspaper this week seeking to confirm that this is still the case.

Noticeably quiet – an anomaly in itself – was the sixth member of the board, vice chairman Ryan Bowden.

Bowden, undoubtedly, didn’t want to draw attention to the fact that he’s just the kind of member Whittaker was probably intending to target in her comments to the school board. His status was also protected by Marsh who omitted Bowden from his recitation of school board members with children or grandchildren enrolled in ABSS schools.

Later in the week, Bowden perhaps exposed himself with his own  words, when in one of many online broadsides at the county commissioners, he declared that “Our children deserve” having schools free from mold.

Trouble is, Bowden used the wrong pronoun.  Technically, he should have said, “Your children deserve this. . .”  Because Bowden doesn’t actually have children enrolled in the Alamance-Burlington School System.

Rather, Bowden has acknowledged that his two daughters have attended since 2020 at Grace Christian Academy, a private school that The Lamb’s Chapel opened, where his wife is a teacher and his mother is also employed.

Bowden hadn’t been particularly secretive about the fact that he and his wife had concluded their daughters (one of whom has special needs) needed to be in a private school setting and with their mother (and grandmother) close at hand.

He’s also taken pains to indicate that the failure of the school system to remain open during Covid (before his election in 2020) was a contributing factor to their decision to enroll their second child in the private Christian school.

He’s mentioned the fact of their schooling outside ABSS since he campaigned – or at least after he was elected to the school board in 2020.

He was, however, quite prickly about it more recently, for instance, when our reporter asked him about this situation. And we suspect Ms. Whittaker’s observation stung and very well might have been primarily directed at him.

Now, we certainly have nothing against parents who choose private schools – whether Christian, secular, or other. Nor do we begrudge those who educate their children themselves through home schooling.

They pay the same taxes to finance the school system as do others with students enrolled, and they can certainly advocate and support all manner of improvements in the public school system, even while they themselves may choose, on a host of reasonable grounds, to send their children for education elsewhere.

And Bowden is not the first incumbent school board member to send a child/children for education outside ABSS – locally or at a boarding school somewhere outside of the county.

What has always seemed a bit puzzling about Bowden’s case, however, is his interest in serving on a school board and speaking so vociferously about “his commitment” to the betterment of “our” students when he actually has no direct connection to the school system.

Sometimes it seems that Bowden’s rhetoric is ratcheted up in order to compensate for, or to camouflage, the absence of having his own children in the public schools.

Frankly, Bowden’s increasingly strident harangues against the county’s five (Republican) county commissioners sound more and more like stump speeches.

They smack as either a warm-up for seeking reelection to the school board, or, as is also rumored, a possible foray to climb the political ladder by seeking to bump one of the three incumbent county commissioners off in next year’s Republican primary.  Despite his Democratic propensity for spending other people’s money (i.e., tax dollars) – Bowden is a registered Republican.

The self-righteousness of the lectures, taunts, and criticisms he’s spewed over the past few weeks in the course of his grandstanding – when he, himself, doesn’t even have a student in the school system – seems to us to be the epitome of unbridled gall.

Now, it may also be that Bowden’s excesses can be excused, at least to some extent, by his youth and inexperience.  At 40, Bowden is currently the youngest school board member, by at least 10 years – and he also has less experience than most of the county commissioners.

County commissioners actually have to consider the context of all spending requests – from a host of agencies, not just the school system – and cannot simply add new spending the way school officials and school boards often want, or raise taxes indiscriminately as school boosters may advocate.

There are some other key differences in the two venues for public service – between the school board and the board of commissioners.

A record of lavish spending and fiscally irresponsible votes (such as Bowden’s role in the school board majority’s much-discussed raid on federal Covid money originally intended for air quality improvements in order to give employee raises) may be acceptable on the ostensibly nonpartisan school board, even for a Republican.

But we very much doubt that his kind of record is going to be very endearing to the largely conservative Republican primary voters who will select the party’s slate for the board of commissioners – or even to unaffiliated and Democratic voters who will weigh in during next November’s general election.

We guess only time will tell.

In the meantime, it seems to us that Bowden’s position on the board where he now serves would be considerably improved if he were to demonstrate a little more humility, tone down the sanctimonious vitriol toward the commissioners, and rant (or just talk) a little less.

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