Monday, March 10, 2008

The Thin Red Line

...the one that separates political advocacy from representing your school.

The split came to mind when I read this article from the Yakima Herald. The Yakima City Council was set to take up a motion to endorse the school levy issue they ran last month (and passed with better than 60% of the vote), but before they approved it in a 6-0 vote there was a good discussion about whether the city council even had any business taking sides in a matter like school levies.

To my mind, I think they should, and they did the right thing. The health of the schools directly impacts the health of the city, and by taking a stand for the levy the city council was properly exercising their authority.

What's interesting to me is what happened next:

Soria was so upset with the council's impromptu and very public squabble over the levy during a hearing two weeks before the Feb. 19 election that he sent letters afterwards to three members of the council who had questioned the process of endorsements.

Obtained by the Herald-Republic, the letters show that Soria was especially unhappy with Councilman Rick Ensey.

"Your public comments with regard to the ... Maintenance and Operation Levy border on recklessness and callousness," Soria wrote.

The superintendent also got after Councilman Bill Lover, intimating the council might have hurt the levy's chances by engaging in a dispute while voters were deciding the issue in the mail-only election.

"A person sitting at home viewing the proceedings and/or reading about it in the newspaper would immediately wonder, if the City Council cannot publicly as a body support the Maintenance and Operation Levy for the district, there must be something wrong," Soria wrote in his letter to Lover.

To me this just seems like bad politics on Soria's part. No institution, not even the schools, is above deliberation, and the conversation at the city council meeting was more about the process than the actual levy issue itself. Calling the councilmembers reckless and callous just for having a discussion seems silly; it looks more like a bully trying to force his will than a reasonable person having a conversation, and that's not a good impression to give.

As superintendent I know Dr. Soria is uniquely positioned in his district, in that he's the only one who can engage in the political process on the job and get away with it. Here, though, I think he went a bridge too far.

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