Tuesday, October 9, 2007

The Difference between Listening and Hearing

For the second time in less than a week I am impressed by the public vision embraced by the editorial writers for the Northwest Arkansas Times, especially so since their position is at odds with the commands of the Chamber of Cowbirds and the Fayetteville Economic Development Council of which they are paid up and usually compliant members.

Today's editorial takes to task Fayetteville School Board members Howard Hamilton and Steve Percival for trying to squelch public discussion and decision-making about the structure and composition of the high school, that is whether to include 9th grade and whether to have one or two high schools, asking whether they really think, "No matter what new information becomes available, no one is to question the previous decisions or discoveries?" The board previously decided those questions by a 4-3 vote, but last month's election puts them in play once again. The Times editorial noted that it might be "frustrating sometimes when the public doesn’t just snap to it and accept whatever is handed to them," but it also questions the unwelcome result of "apparent indifference to changing circumstances, all in the name of preserving a prior decision the public never entirely bought."

We have been having a robust community conversation for the better part of this year, and residents and patrons expect their views to be taken seriously. "
Could it be that the school board deciding what it wants is only a small part of the process of the school district’s future plans? Maybe, just maybe, the school board is going to have to make sure its deliberations help bring the community along with it. Perhaps what it does has as much to do with leading the community as it does making a decision today, right now," noted the editorial with unusual political acumen. "If school board members don’t lead, even the best decisions will be rendered fruitless if the public doesn’t embrace them. Especially those decisions that will require a millage vote at the polls."

The editorial concludes that "To make a thorough, serious recommendation, a committee needs to be able to respond to today’s realities, not yesterday’s assumptions. And the best decision to come from all of this will be the one that isn’t boxed in by arbitrary rules about what can and can’t be reconsidered." Good point. It is also good that the majority of the school board will likely agree and move beyond the inflexible demands of Hamilton and Percival to ignore informed public opinion.

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