Reaffirming commitment to Re-2 coverage
“It sends a large message that you need to be responsive to your constituents, your teachers and your community.”
That quote was attributed to Susan Harmon in a Denver Post story on the successful recall of three Jefferson County school board members last Tuesday. Harmon, an attorney in Lakewood, was tapped by voters in Colorado’s second largest school district to replace John Newkirk, one of the three more conservative board members ousted Tuesday. The board garnered scrutiny and national attention due to controversial reform measure implemented by the board.
If you’re wondering why I am talking about a school board election in Jefferson County, it’s because we had an election ourselves — thankfully one that was not even remotely as contentious.
First and foremost, I want congratulate Tara Rumery on being elected to the Garfield Re-2 Board of Education. Equally important, I thank Meriya Stickler for her effort in running for the same seat, as well as her pledge to stay involved in the district — specifically the search for a new superintendent because she believes it is important.
I could not agree more with Meriya on that note.
While the race here in Garfield Re-2 and every other Colorado school district did not receive the intense media focus as the one in Jefferson County, where the education Web site Chalkbeat Colorado reported turnout of 45 percent in the off election year, I would argue that the position on the Re-2 board is no less important.
Many times in this space, I’ve thanked our public servants and residents for their participation in the process, while at the same time lamenting the seeming shortage in this area.
“This job requires me to sit through a countless number of meetings: city council, town trustees, school board, this advisory board and that advisory board,” I wrote in September following the Rifle City Council election. “It is part of the reason why I respect our fellow residents who take the time to serve on these bodies. Aside from a few regulars at these various meetings, it is usually the local officials and myself in the meeting room.”
That last fact is especially true for school board meetings, and I am guilty as well. While covering the local school district was my favorite beat at my last job, our coverage of Garfield Re-2 has been admittedly pitiful for most of my time here.
Board meetings are held on Tuesdays, the same day I’m putting together the paper, and despite my initial intention to be at every board meeting, I was not. Thankfully, our contributor Jerimie Richardson was able to make it to some meetings early on and report some important stories on expulsion rates, the budget and others.
I hold firm to my belief that to accurately cover a local governing body in this job, you have to at the very least be at all the meetings, or almost all of the meetings. Important stories often go undetected unless there is a reporter listening to the conversation.
Although it pained me, I did not make it to a school board meeting until July, when we first started reporting on the divide between some board members and the former superintendent.
Not coincidently, that was the same time I made a pledge to be at every board meeting possible. With a few exceptions, I’ve managed to keep that promise and now have a greater understanding of the district, its people, its problems, its successes and other matters — all of which have helped my reporting on the district.
School boards, like many governing councils, mostly remain out of the day-to-day thoughts for many people until a wedge forms, as was evident in Jefferson County. However, like many of those other governing boards, they play a critical role as the formers of policy for vital institutions.
School districts affect all of us, even those of us who do not have children. Aside from the crucial task of education, the quality of a school district factors into the increasingly important “quality of life” aspect in the bigger picture.
A good district can tip the scale for a family or employer looking to locate in an area, and conversely, a bad district can be the death blow in the same situation.
Here locally, all three new Re-2 board members have noted there are plenty of issues to tackle. With that in mind, I continue my promise to do everything possible to be at our local school board meetings and increase our coverage of the board’s work on those endeavors.
After all, if constituents and the community are not informed of the work, how can any board be responsive to those groups?
Ryan Hoffman is editor of The Citizen Telegram. He can be reached at 970-685-2103 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Rifle City Council will have five seats open this year come election season, the city announced Tuesday.