Community Comment:

School Board understands task of choosing a candidate

From the letters that have appeared on these pages the past several weeks, it's apparent that more than one resident is outraged, concerned or confused about the recent actions of the School Board in its deliberations over the selection of a superintendent.

Many feel a huge injustice has been done to interim Superintendent Robert Yeager, an Evansville native, who they believe was treated unfairly by being one of two finalists for the position and then later being told there were not sufficient votes among board members to give him the job permanently.

These actions, and the controversy, have prompted some to hurl unfair insults at board members, with one commentator portraying them with dunce caps, as if they were deserving of some public punishment.

This rush to judgment over an extremely important personnel decision is highly unfair and demonstrates a number of things, not the least of which is our yearning for instant gratification and quick solutions to lingering, long-term problems confronting our school corporation.

The decision, however, reflects an even bigger problem that confronts our community. Let's face it, Evansville is a dysfunctional community that continues to suffer from a serious mid-life crisis.

First, we have the power elite. These people, who attend Rotary meetings, join the chamber of commerce and other private groups, are very comfortable in their elevated economic status. For the most part, their children probably attend private or parochial schools, and they cannot be bothered with the mundane obligations of public service. They see no reason for much to change with Evansville.

As proponents of the status quo, their viewpoints oddly can be seen in the observations of the board of the Evansville Teachers Association, which, while engaged in various aspects of school business, has a parochial interest as a union for Evansville-Vanderburgh School Corp. employees.

Second, we have another segment of the community that sees the problems before us as an economic region but lacks the real commercial and political clout to move the community forward.

Their interests can be seen and heard among the voices of the black ministers, Congregations Allied for Justice and Equality, the Vanderburgh County Taxpayers Association and others that have increased scrutiny on the school system in the past several years.

For the most part, they receive media attention but do not have a seat at the table.

In between, we have the greater middle-class public at large. Its kids may attend public schools, but, more likely, its members are retired. Lacking specific knowledge of what transpires in the schools, they are alarmed at their increasing property tax bills and wonder to themselves if they should not be able to expect more for their hard-earned tax dollars.

Finally, we have the urban poor. They live in a gray fog of bewilderment but understand that the only hope their children may have to grasp the first rungs of the ladder out of poverty is a quality education. They are the ones who have the most to lose in the grand scheme of things but have probably lost most of whatever hope they may have once had in the system.

Within this mix and heaps of intense media scrutiny thrown in for good measure it must be understood that the School Board is a deliberative, organic, legislative body. A decision taken at one point in time may not be appropriate at a later date, based upon information, timing and changes in the local environment.

The School Board is a group of concerned citizens brought together by fate, concern for their community and an imperfect electoral process that cries out for reform.

With little in common from the standpoint of background and professional experience, other than a concern for the education of our kids, they are brought together by a seriously disengaged public. They are then expected to quickly make a personnel decision to fill the position of superintendent of a school corporation with a $200 million-plus budget and manifold administrative and performance problems.

All things considered, I believe it is time to cut the board some slack. The selection of a superintendent is among the most important decisions this board will make prior to the next election. It should not be rushed because of a few negative comments.

A change in the entire culture of the EVSC is required, and apparently a majority of School Board members understand that. While we may not be pleased with the process, the impatience and instant outrage of some people are proof that they do not understand that the system is working, and that the board is taking its duties very seriously.

I applaud the board for its efforts and wish its members well as they continue to search for the right candidate.

David Coker is the president of the Vanderburgh County Taxpayers Association.