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Should We Take a Pound of Flesh from the School Board?

You may have heard that last November, the $56 million Park City School District bond failed. Six months on, it is probably fair to say that it failed due to a lack of specifics, a lack of trust, and perhaps an overreach. It was a big failure. People in Park City are willing to spend big money on schools… and the fact that they weren’t willing with this proposal says something.

With that in mind, this week school board member Phil Kaplan announced he was running again for the school board. Fair enough. He took over for Moe Hickey when Mr had to resign from the board and was only on the board for about 5 months when the bond vote failed and only about 2 when the school board decided to go forward with the bond.

I would have been inclined to say, “Sure, let’s give him a full term to see what he can do.” Also, from what I’ve seen in a number of meetings, he seems like a very reasonable and thoughtful person. From community reports, he is also the school board member that has reached out the most to those who opposed the bond to understand their positions.

Then I read a reader-comment in the Park Record about Mr Kaplan running for the school board (I know, that’s a dangerous thing). The comment said, “The Park City Board should have new faces only. The failed bond was a disgrace, and now out of spite, the Board is trying to sweep pulling teachers aids out of classrooms under the rug without allowing the parents to know. Hopefully, only new faces will be on the board and not this guy.”

HMMM. The anonymous commenter makes a somewhat valid point. Sometimes the only way to deliver a message that things aren’t right is to unilaterally make a point. In this case, the point is two-fold. First, the school board voting to put the bond on the ballot was not right. Second, the whole process that led up to and created the bond was not right either. One could argue, if we don’t make an example of the school board members running for reelection, then how can we expect the next version of the school board to be better. It’s a somewhat valid point.

Yet, in the case of Mr Kaplan, I keep coming back to the fact that his background is probably what we want on the school board. He is entrepreneurial. He is logical. He has been successful outside of the educational world. When he speaks, he makes sense.

So, is it right to make a unilateral decision to “throw the bums out!”?

Probably not.

I completely understand the desire to send a message, but our community is best served by making logical decisions. Discounting a member based purely on the fact that they are on the school board now, isn’t a logical way to look at it. Their actions on the school board should, of course, impact your vote to some extent, but probably not at the 100% level.

I believe we should take into account that the current board members voted to put the bond on the ballot, even with its obvious flaws. Yet, that should not be the sole measure of whether a current member should be elected for another term. We should judge them on their performance and look at how they voted on other issues.

What makes it hard to judge a current member’s performance, based on issues, is that the school board always seems to vote in unison and somewhat speaks in unison. That makes it tough for the public to differentiate positions. If every vote a school board member casts is identical to every other member, our main means of judging them is by what they say. The only way a citizen knows what members individually say is by watching hours and hours of video of school board members every couple of weeks. That isn’t likely to happen.

That then leads us back to judging our school board based on the successes and failures of the board as a whole. If all citizens see is a board that acts as a collective, what choice do they have but to judge the school board members as a collective. The collective view is that the board pushed through a horrible bond. That would indicate that we should judge each member NOT ON who they are or what they say but by the simple fact that they were on the school board.

So, we have come full circle.

We don’t want to judge school board members solely by the failure of the bond, but we have no other option because they are not often acting as individuals but acting as a group. So, when Mr Kaplan says HE WANTS TO DO ALL THESE THINGS… the question we need to ask is … is he speaking for himself or speaking for the collective? Good question.

Where does that leave the voter?

… In a quagmire.

Do you believe that the individual matters with regard to the school board?

I suppose that is the fundamental question. Your answer to that question likely determines whether you believe we should either clean house or vote for the best person in the next school board election.





Do people really believe that the ELA stuff is being done out of SPITE?!? I know 2 of the school board members and while you can certainly disagree with what they have decided to do on various issues, they are honestly doing what they think is best. Is trust in local government really so low that we think our school board is deliberately working against the best interests of the community?

If that’s the case, how does a future school board *ever* make decisions that might be unpopular in the short term? Why not just have a vote on every issue and do away with the board entirely at that point?

Steve Joyce

I don’t think you need the upcoming vote to send a message. The message was clearly received when the bond vote failed. I have met with members of the board since and they are very thoughtful about how to make progress in a way that the community supports. For me personally, I am going to assume that they have all learned a very tough lesson, and then I am going to vote for the person I think is the best of my choices.

I think anyone voting against them, without serious consideration of who they just voted for, is being short sighted. “Spiteful” is not a terribly useful attribute.

Meg Leaf

I think individual members of the Board should demand the option to vote after and only after they have fully reviewed a case before them and vetted the information with their constituents. Yes, their constituents. And teachers. This is a School Board, after all. Teachers really should be at the heart of most decisions made. Teachers know their students the best. They are well-educated and heavily experienced. Some came from other parts of the country and offer that unique perspective.

Parents and teachers can vet research and advise the Board faster than each of the Board members could do it themselves. They need only reach out, fully educate themselves on the case, and be willing to say, “Thank you for presenting this case. We will not vote today. We will vote at such time that we have assimilated your information and done our research in order to make an educated vote.”

In the case of the English Language Arts changes, the presentation did not include all information and all decisions attached to it (such as eliminating instructors and tutors). The Board was given three minutes to ask questions about it. They then voted, unanimously in favor of it.

I believe the process is broken, not all the people. But the people need to stand up for what is good for our school district, our children. This case has a great deal of public opposition for a reason: it simply does not measure up through the scrutiny of the data and research available. Parents and teachers are intelligent and many in this town are outright intellectual. We can and wish to assist the Board members in some of these daunting and sometimes destructive measures.

As we approach the deadline for people to announce their candidacy for the School Board election, I think every candidate should be willing first and foremost to address the process by which changes and updates are made in this district. If each Board member intends to follow and not lead through responsible action, that will be a problem.

In closure, let’s work together now and ever on the cases that come before the Board and elect thinkers and leaders. Even a current Board member can commit to include teachers and parents (not just hand-picked, but pervasive outreach) prior to saying, ‘Ay.’


My understanding is that the ELA stuff has been in the pipeline a long time (with the various research/input/etc steps you outline). Is that not the case?

Again, any decision like the ELA one will require making some constituents angry. That’s life. If the board lives in constant fear of upsetting anyone, there’s no point in having one at all.

Meg Leaf

Walt, ELA ‘stuff’ has been in the ‘pipeline’ but that does not mean the pipeline did not have gaping holes and that the stuff flowing through it was not filtered. Is the Board in fear? I had not heard that. Is it just life to let go the basic values of education and the rudimentary components of English, Math, or Science just because… a couple of people said to? I wasn’t involved in the pipeline, nor had I heard about it, nor had any parents or Board members heard about the elimination of critical educators… until it was ‘done.’ It’s not as simple as, ‘That’s life.’ Have you seen the petition that is almost up to 400 signatures? You ought to take a look at it, read it, read the comments associated with it. It seems to be about one thing that the community is shouting for. That doesn’t make Board members evil, nor does it make the community evil. What it does is tell Board members that this one thing is very, very important to many, many people, and that to move on without acting on it would be a lot like what happened with the bond.


The recent bond election results were ample evidence that all board members were NOT listening to the people who matter. The entire group should step down or be replaced, even Mr. Kaplan. They are good people but the facts speak for themselves. They were not providing complete and accurate information to the public. The people who really need to be replaced are those providing information to the board. The superintendent, the administrator, etc. are not in touch with this community and what should be happening with our schools. A complete shake-up is needed.

Jo Ann Funseth

I appreciate this forum! What a timely discussion for our community. With 3 open seats on the board this election will determine the board majority. Before we seek a pound of flesh from the current board perhaps it is worthwhile to review the responsibility of a school board to better evaluate how our current board is performing?

First and foremost school boards look out for students. Education is not a line item on the school board’s agenda—it is the only item.

When making decisions about school programs, school boards incorporate their community’s view of what students should know and be able to do.

School boards are accessible to the public and accountable for the performance of their schools.

School boards are the education watchdog for their communities, ensuring that students get the best education for the tax dollars spent

How is the board doing? Are members reaching out to the community to share information and discuss issues? Are they seeking guidance and input from the community? Do their decisions reflect the interests of their constituents? Do they independently research contemporary thought and direction in education? Are they looking to high performing districts to learn what might be done differently here? Are they passionate about PC education? In this world of data driven education, are they adept at data analysis and capable of drawing their own conclusions? Are they willing to look outside assessment data to see what other factors be affecting performance in our district? Are they willing to offer options to the district, or do they merely support the district plan? Not sure? School board meetings are a great way to observe the board in action, recorded sessions are available on the district web site.

Our votes in this election will seat the majority of the board and influence direction of the district for years. Whatever your decision support the candidates of your choice and get out and vote.

Meg Leaf

Well said, Jo Ann! Would that all districts were able to vote for school board rep this November.

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