Open Letter on School Board Reorganization (updated 07/02/2015)

Mr. Chair and Honorable School Board Members:

In advance of your annual reorganization meeting on Thursday, July 2, I write to encourage a change of chairperson. Although I have warm personal feelings toward Chair Bridgeford and consider him an exemplary human being in many respects, for the following reasons I believe he should step down as chair: 1) rotation of elected leadership is healthy for elected bodies; and 2) taking responsibility for leadership failure is essential to maintaining a credible public entity.

Regarding the first point, I believe every organization with a cadre of elected officers benefits from changing the people in those positions on a regular basis. The board of my former church and my civic league, the Hampton Roads Planning District Commission, Hampton Roads Transportation Planning Organization, and Transportation District Commission of Hampton Roads, to name a few examples, all rotate their leaders typically on an annual or biennial basis. Doing so affords those organizations opportunities to adjust to varied perspectives and develop the talents of more individuals as leaders. I think the School Board would derive similar benefits from adopting that approach. Certainly, we have no dearth of capable individuals from which to select new leaders. We should take advantage of that talent pool.
My second point is that the Board needs to demonstrate its commitment to adhering to the requirements of the Virginia Freedom of Information Act. In a democratic republic, keeping the public informed is not a nicety of doing business as an elected body; rather, it is integral to the mission, credibility and integrity of that body. As the press reported several months ago, during the school superintendent candidate interview period, the Board met in secret on several occasions without fulfilling its public notice obligations. The principle responsibility for that compliance failure lies with the chair. I believe, therefore, that he should take ownership of the responsibility, apologize for breaking faith with the citizenry, and step away from the chair position.
Please let me know if you need additional information.
Mark Geduldig-Yatrofsky
School Board Member Claude Parent replied to the original eMail message as follows:
Mr. Bridgeford has done an outstanding job as Chairman. As far as the failure to notify the public of the Superintendent’s interviews, it has always been the responsibility of the Clerk of the Board to send notices to the media and for some unknown reason, this was not done. The Board honored the potential candidates’ request to keep the interviews confidential as to protect them. Regardless of what was not done, Mr. Bridgeford is a man of high integrity and has given untiring service to our students and employees and I will be proud to nominate him as our Chairman.

Thank you.

Our reply was:

Board Member Parent:

Whether or not my elected officials agree with my perspectives, I am always interested in their thought processes. We disagree about where “the buck stops” in regard to public notice, including informing the media. Had the Board done with regard to the superintendent interviews what City Council has with those for city manager — i. e., voting in open session to hold future closed sessions within the city at undisclosed times and unspecified locations during a finite time span — the FOIA provisions would have been satisfied. That responsibility does not appear to me to fall within the purvue of the clerk but rather with your legal counsel at the request of the chair or Board. I do agree with your assessment of the chair as a man of integrity and tireless service to our community. He nonetheless has legal responsibilities that go with his position. Please note also that I have not called for a grand jury proceeding in this matter. I do, however, believe some act contrition is in order.
To date, no other school board member has responded in any fashion.

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