Submitted by John Arbeeny.
I reviewed the recent League of Women’s Voters Clover Park School District Board candidate forum video which was held on 30 September 2021 and noted a recurring theme, mentioned several times by current Board President Schafer. “It’s not about debating folks. It’s about collaborating.” He also states that “listening” is the other component of the Board’s decision making process.
“Leadership that listens” is even Schafer’s campaign slogan. Yet the value of “listening” all depends upon whom you’re listening to. Schafer listens really well to the Superintendent, administration and staff; not so well to student parents or public in general. This is evidenced most recently by the “equity policy stakeholders group” which was near 80% District employees versus as little as 8% parents. Listening also requires more than a scant 3 minutes for individual public comments during Board meetings.
Although “listening then collaborating” may sound like a plan, there is a critical component between the two that Schafer rejects: debate. Logical reasoning requires a three step process: premise (statement for the basis of logical argument); argument (the logical reasoning about the premise); conclusion (the logical end point of the argument based upon the premise). This is very much akin to the “scientific method” which also has three analogous parts: create a hypothesis (based upon observation); test the hypothesis (experimental proof); and draw conclusions (scientific fact or refine the hypothesis).
In essence the central component of logical reasoning and the scientific method is “debate” in the form of reasoning and experimentation. To omit debate in any decision making process is to eliminate the process of reasoning in the formation of logical, scientifically proven policy conclusions. Skip debate and you’re left with listening to a myriad of different competing voices, skipping over definition of the problem and developing valid potential solutions and jumping directly into collaborative action which may solve nothing except the need to “do something”. Indeed such collaborations can wind up exacerbating the problem through the waste of time, effort and money as they detract from real solutions to real problems.
This is a critical reason why the Clover Park School District continues to fail academically. My review of 123 Board minutes from 2016 to present revealed that the Board seldom if ever really debates issues to include policy development which is one of their primary responsibilities. Indeed when debate of the issues is requested the typical Board response is to squash it by not seconding the motion or voting it down 4-1. Board member Paul Wagemann who was re-elected to the Board in 2019 with a 61% plurality can attest to this situation personally.
So why is that?
Systems are limited to functioning in the manner in which they were designed. When Board President Schafer disavows “debate” you don’t get any! So why has lack of “debate” become the hallmark of the current school Board? Most current Board members are uncomfortable with the process! Debate can be messy unless Board members can agree to disagree without being disagreeable. Debate takes individual research in order to develop each of the three steps mentioned previously: it is often hard work. Debate requires critical independent thinking: it’s not about going along just to get along. Debates are based upon facts not just opinions. Debate is difficult! It’s so much easier to just avoid it and let someone else do it.
This current state of affairs is due to the Board abrogating their responsibility for debate to the Superintendent. It is the Superintendent who has taken over the function of debate within the District’s administration and staff. However, that “debate” is conducted within the boundaries of administration and staff employee values, principals and objectives; not necessarily those of the public which elected Board members to represent them. The results are policies like the “equity policy” which considered District administration, staff and teachers as the most important “stakeholders” and parents the least important.
Debate is the “furnace” through which ideas are refined, sharpened and turned into “cutting edge” policies that could advance the CPSD’s academic performance greatly. That will not happen as long as current Board members disavow debate in favor of a “go along to get along” mentality and allow the Superintendent to do their job for them. Want informed debate on the Board? Then elect David Anderson and Jeff Brown to the Board on 2 November 2021. Along with Board member Paul Wagemann we can expect their plurality on the Board to flip the narrative from passive acquiescence to one of informed debate resulting in positive changes to the District’s academic performance that our children, parents and tax payers deserve.