Pembroke trustee responds to editorial on school board accountability
Letter from Ed Levinstein:
I am writing in response to your recent editorial article; “School boards get a failing grade on transparency with voters.” Contrary to your claim of “group conformity,” I am writing this without asking for approval from my fellow Pembroke Central School District board members or our superintendent. I want you and your readers to know, I have never felt the need or pressure to seek approval. Speaking only for myself, but with a suspicion that my fellow board members at Pembroke and elsewhere may agree, I take exception to your article.
I wish to begin by noting where you and I agree; that school board members are elected individually and that the public has a right to know where we stand. I wholeheartedly agree and there is no debating this in my mind. However, our board’s decision to ask our President to answer your questions about reopening school on our behalf, in no way equates to avoiding public accountability. Please keep in mind that the board and administration grappled with this plan for weeks. As a team, we developed a plan that everyone had input on and is fully supportive of and unanimously approved. The lack of any disagreement does not indicate that any of us are hiding our true opinions or having them suppressed.
I would like to add that I did respond to Mr. Pettinella’s email after your exchange with our President, John Cima, where you asked again for individual responses. Granted, my response was still in agreement with John, but this should not imply that I was in some way unwilling or not allowed to give my opinion. I believe my fellow board members also replied after your second request but this was not included in your follow up Facebook post.
With all due respect to you and other journalists who play an extremely important role in our society, board members are not obligated to respond to your questions. Your inference from our individual silence that we are being stifled or manipulated is speculative at best, deceptive at worst. The tone of your article and the responses you gave John imply that you think we are answerable to you and that if our responses don’t conform to your formatting and expectation, then we are being obstructive or just too stupid to understand our “assignment.” This unfair treatment by some media may be why some board members and districts prefer to have a gatekeeper of sorts to prevent being misunderstood.
As a Pembroke Central School Board member, I very much recognize my responsibility to the students and constituents. I applaud that you and other publications are covering important matters including the reopening plans of districts. However, I feel you are doing a disservice to the community by creating a perception about our transparency that in my opinion, is not fair or accurate. If you had cared about the original topic, I imagine we would have seen an article that discussed the reopening plans of districts in the region.
Your perception is based simply on our group responses to a couple open-ended questions that I imagine most board members agree on anyway by this point. Regarding our transparency, please know that the discussions and vote on the plan were held in open meetings that you and the public are always welcome to attend. Also, the minutes to those meetings are available on our website and upon a request. I’m also personally available to any constituent who wants to know where I stand on a school issue.
Finally, I want you and your readers to understand that aside from the satisfaction of working to provide opportunities for and improve the lives of children, being on a school board is a tough job that we take on cheerfully but very seriously. It includes a lot of hard work, long hours, long meetings and is completely volunteer. Most of us do not have high aspirations for public office. We just want to help the kids in our district be successful and lead happy, productive lives.
I feel that it is a great privilege to work with a board that is able to work so well together and I hope that the voters in my district will entrust me for another term when the time comes. It seems almost out of place in this day and age that a group of elected officials can work so well together, which is maybe why you felt the need to create the perception of controversy where there is none.
Pembroke Central School Board