The Good Government of Lakota Schools: Yes, elections do have consequences

Lakota is Off to a Great Start

Sometimes we get to talk about good things, which this article is one of them. The first Lakota school board meeting of 2022 was an excellent example of a good government. Over the years, I’ve watched thousands of hours of school board meetings, not just at Lakota, but from all over the states of Ohio, Kentucky, and Indiana, and I will have to say that this particular meeting which is included below, is perhaps the best one that I have seen. It was good, of course, to see that Lynda O’Conner was again President of the Board. But what made the meeting so good, aside from how smoothly Lynda transitioned from topic to topic, was the additions of the newly elected Republican endorsed members, Isaac Adi, who was designated already as the Vice-President, and the freedom representative Darbi Boddy. I was very impressed with those two new additions and the kind of questions. As they learn the job, if they can keep up with that level of engagement, Lakota will be very successful in the years to come. That is precisely how government should work. Not everyone will get along. But I will say that the attention to everyone in the room was outstanding, constructive, and conducive to conversation that leads to problem-solving, and that is fantastic. In all these government schools, chaos has been ruling for a long time, and those elements of chaos are indeed circling the campfire of that Lakota board meeting, waiting for everyone to go to sleep so they can feast. But I have a feeling, especially knowing the personalities of these new school board members, that the chaos will wear out before they do. Good to see!

Of course, most of these meetings are never very sexy. For instance, a school board member like Darbi, that ran on a platform of national concern and parent transparency, will find that she might only get to spend 5% of her time on the topics she cares most about. Most of the meetings will be votes on boring issues, like application fees for substitute teachers or the latest call-offs of the bus drivers. These may seem like small, inconsequential things, but there is good work to be done on all of them, and that is usually where school board candidates get bored and start to tune out. But in watching Darbi and Isaac, it is clear that they are going into the job with the right frame of mind. They are keeping their important campaign promises in focus while they also indulge themselves in the job’s nuances and extract value out of the tiniest little bits. It’s not always the big sexy things that determine the success or failure of a school district; it’s the thousands of little things that lead up to the big things, and if those get dealt with, with the enthusiasm that Isaac and Darbi showed on this first meeting, the 20th meeting will be much, much better and so will Lakota and all the participants in the district. 

For instance, as an example of tiny details that are of paramount importance, Superintendent Matt Miller gave an update to the Covid situation, the bussing call-offs, and the general below-the-line problems of managing hundreds of employees, where generally 5% of any work culture will use any excuse to call off work, excused. Covid has created a situation where those types of people are empowered to call off perpetually, without any recourse. Of course, the teacher’s union loves this problem because it benefits them, and Matt gave his summary in a manner where he felt like a victim of circumstance. The district’s management had been taken out of the Board’s hands and placed at the alter of the  Butler County Department of Health, and the union had a free pass to call off work as much as they could. Obviously, the way to break up this labor impasse would be to have plenty of substitute teachers ready to call at a moment’s notice to keep classes moving. But as we learned, there is a government fee within the county of more than $125 just to apply to be a substitute teacher. This was revealed in the meeting by a bright personality named Alicia Davis, who wants to be part of a solution to the staffing shortages but needs help getting through the bureaucracy of government to get to where the need is. There are likely thousands of young women just like Alicia who are willing and able to cover that 5% call-off ratio. However, obviously, the fee is a problem, a discouraging one. If anybody wanted to solve the problem, it would be wise for Lakota to find a way to cover the fee, get the applicant, and ultimately the resource. That may seem like a little thing, but little things lead to big things. 

For instance, the next time a labor contract comes up for a vote. Teachers want to be collectively paid more money and are threatening to walk; if Lakota has a bunch of sharp-witted volunteers waiting to be called into class to teach to keep the schools open, then that network would already be established. When I talked about chaos ruling these schools, this is one of the ways it happens. A superintendent like Matt is trying to navigate all the rules and regulations and finds himself reacting to everything over time. The Board needs to give him proactive solutions to these problems that also pave the way for possible labor strikes from the teacher’s union at the slightest provocation. If they decide to leave work and management has the task of keeping the school open, what else could be done. The chaos is caused by the high cost and bureaucracy of becoming a substitute teacher; the $125 usually scares off most applicants because they couldn’t afford to pay it for a part-time job they may not get much return on the investment from. So, the vacancies go unfulfilled, and solutions are never presented to the labor problem leaving the school a victim to the labor force that can be very politically active at times.   I would say that Lakota is a great place to live because of people like Alicia, not because of any measure of labor that might be employed at any given time. Good parents make good kids, and good kids make a good school. The purpose of government, in this case, is to remove those barriers, not to throw $125 roadblocks up to feed chaos. But to remove chaos from the management process because in chaos is where many lost dollars disappear.

But there will be time for more of that kind of talk for later. For now, I’m just happy to see an actual, functioning school board that has the look and feel of real management. I’m sure there will be trouble, but the measure of good management is how well that trouble is handled, and by the looks of Lynda, Darbi, and Isaac, everything is off to a great start, and it is very encouraging to start the year off. This school board meeting was the kind of school board I have been hoping for, for over 30 years. And although it’s only one, the obvious signs of future success are there for all to see. There is an excellent reason to be excited, and I am. Perhaps things will get better, and that all starts with elections because they have consequences.   

Rich Hoffman

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