The Greenfield School District is in dire need of improved communication from the administration all the way down to the citizens, and those who make tough decisions need to be held accountable regularly.
That’s the message school board candidates shared at a forum hosted by the Greenfield Parents for Education at the Performing Arts Center at the high school Thursday.
“Instead of being a more inclusive district and opening up the board to public comments and discussions, we’re becoming more closed off,” said Cathy Walsh, a former board member and the leading vote-getter in February’s primary.
Only about two-dozen people attended the forum, which will be broadcast on public access television. And only two-thirds of the candidates participated. Incumbent Rick Moze was joined by Paul Palama, Russ Spahn and Walsh, while Len Cich and Brad Sponholz were absent.
All four participating candidates, who are vying for three open seats in the April 3 election, stressed the importance of open lines of communication and the dissemination of information to the public.
Palama said more information regarding topics to be discussed at board meetings should be available to the public before those meetings take place, specifically by posting it on the district’s website.
“We need to be more open so we can get the big idea of what everyone wants, not just a small picture of what some people want,” Palama said.
All of the candidates feel the district needs a strategic plan to keep it moving forward with defined short- and long-term goals.
“I don’t know if administration has totally bought into that idea,” of strategic planning, Moze said. “You have to get everyone involved from the community: business people, parents, students, teachers, administration.”
Spahn, the city’s former fire chief, said it’s unusual for leadership not to have a plan. He referenced a five-year plan he put in place with the fire department and said general components of it could be carried over to the district.
“Without those components, you have no idea if you’re going in the right direction,” Spahn said.
Palama posed the idea of a district report card.
“Now, if we do this, it’s gone. It’s done,” he said. “Somewhere down the line, we have to held accountable for what we did.”
In conjunction with improved communication and more accountability, all four candidates expressed their desire to increase board meetings to two per month. Walsh said the decision to cut the meeting schedule in half reduced some of the board’s power.
“The public must hold the board accountable and in turn the board must hold the superintendent accountable and the superintendent must hold the teachers accountable,” Walsh said. “It’s not a time to cut back on our meetings. We probably need more, and agendas have to reflect the needs of the community.
“(The board) needs to do a little more micromanaging.”
Moze admitted he and his fellow board members made a mistake with the reduction and agreed going back to two meetings is the right move.
The candidates said the district has many things to be proud of. Walsh praised the facilities and the continuously improving curriculum and programming. Palama echoed Walsh in regards to the facilities and said the district’s teachers are great. Moze singled out the high school’s ROTC program and first-year high school principal Paul Thusius, while Spahn highlighted the district’s sense of community.
“I think our culture and our sense of community is very strong and I guess that’s why some of us are here,” he said. “We have never left.”
Moze said the biggest challenges facing the district are the balance between a world-class education and what taxpayers can afford and a lack of community involvement.
“There are a lot of knowledgeable people in Greenfield,” Moze said. “We need to tap those resources and the people willing to help the district.”
Editor’s note: Greenfield Patch will run another story about the forum soon. Stay tuned!