Three cheers for transparency

Published 10:09 pm Thursday, May 13, 2010

With a little more than a month to go in the tenure of Dr. Milton Liverman, the superintendent of Suffolk’s public school system for the past 10 years, the city’s School Board has begun one of the most important tasks that its members will ever perform. Finding and then hiring the right replacement for Dr. Liverman will be more important than any single budget, any disciplinary action or any other potential hire that comes before the School Board’s elected members.

Through policymaking and long-term planning, a School Board can set the tone for the schools that fall within its purview. But the school superintendent is the one who works from one day to the next to assure that those policies are implemented and enforced and that school administrators, faculty and teachers all work together toward the goals that have been set by the division’s School Board. In the end, the superintendent’s style, demeanor and priorities all can contribute far more to the combined personality of a school system than the School Board ever could in the span of one meeting a month.

With so much riding on selecting the right candidate for the job, the components of the process of choosing that person are nearly as important as the final choice. Suffolk taxpayers want to be confident that the decisions made in regards to this process have been thoroughly considered, are well-reasoned and are based in a desire for the improvement of public education in Suffolk, rather than a desire to score political points with any specific group of city taxpayers.

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As it began on Thursday what is expected to be a long selection process, the Suffolk School Board may have been tempted to take a secretive approach to the job at hand, cutting members of the public out of the discussion by closing them out of the meeting where plans for replacing Dr. Liverman would be discussed.

It’s unlikely such a choice would have been legal under Virginia’s Freedom of Information Act. Unfortunately, governing bodies around the state have made the wrong choice when faced with similar situations, shutting the doors on the public and thereby giving their constituents little input into the resulting decisions and less reason to buy into the results.

Suffolk’s School Board, on the other hand, has chosen to open its process from the start, giving the public a look at the original planning process on Thursday and promising a public hearing later on the desired attributes of the school system’s next leader.

Suffolk taxpayers can breathe a little easier in the knowledge that the School Board has elected for transparency. Opening up the selection process was a smart decision on the board’s part that shows a commendable level of consideration for Suffolk residents.