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More budget season distractions 

By Dr. Judith Brooks-Buck

An opinion written in the Suffolk News-Herald titled “Johnson a dangerous consideration for the board” (by Miller Cary, Feb. 21) surfaced late Saturday night and as usual, for those who misuse, misstate and misunderstand facts, this article needs some serious corrections.

First and foremost, it must be stated that former Mayor Linda T. Johnson must be highly respected and powerful, because the small group of people who fear the 5-foot-1-inch woman spend a great deal of time and resources trying to hurt her reputation. Since her name was announced as a candidate for a 10-month School Board post, the same group of individuals has made unnecessary and unwarranted attempts to block her application. The individuals, easily identified on the same few Facebook pages, claim to be anonymous on some days and give names on others. Unfortunately, the subject matter gives them away. The subject matter is always associated with the Suffolk School Board case that is being appealed, a petty insult about the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), transparency, and the Suffolk Public Schools budget.

As evidence that she is no longer wanted in public service, this writer touts the fact that 71% of voters rejected the former mayor. The point is rendered moot when one considers the fact that 58% of voters did not vote for the candidate who won the election. Math works that way when several candidates run for the same office. In low-level politics, top-tier candidates have been known to find individuals to run in elections who have no chance of winning to skim votes from competitors. For example, they find minorities who run against minorities; women against women; same-issue candidates against one another, and so on.

The fact is that each year, just before the School Board votes on the budget in Suffolk, there is some type of budget season distraction. The Suffolk Public Schools Audit Report has been completed and found to be “clean,” meaning without violations, for more than 10 years. The auditors are selected and hired by the city of Suffolk. The majority of School Board funds come from the commonwealth of Virginia, and if Suffolk Public Schools were violating the state law, Suffolk Public Schools would not get money from the state. The format used that has been so strongly criticized, is the same one used by the other four major Southside cities, Norfolk, Portsmouth, Chesapeake and Virginia Beach. One new aspect of this year’s budget season distraction is based upon a very old idea tried in the 1980s, which involved schools being run like businesses. The practice allowed individual schools to pay their own bills and control their own funds. The idea failed primarily because many needed goods, services and programs were better when centralized. Like some private schools, the schools had some types of governing boards, made up of community leaders, teachers and parents. The idea, called “Site-Based Management,” died after a short-lived existence.

Additionally, the baseless claim that the public hearing on the vacant Sleepy Hole School Board seat was somehow used to prevent the public from contributing is false. The purpose of the public hearing was not to allow disgruntled citizens to insult applicants. The purpose of the hearing was to get feedback, primarily from Sleepy Hole residents, about characteristics they would like to see in the replacement for their elected School Board member. No one came to speak!

Lastly, as a former teacher of students with disabilities in four states and West Germany, I feel qualified to suggest that remediation is needed. First, understanding multi-million dollar budgets may be difficult. There may be some members of the public who do not understand all the details, but the fault does not lie with some covert action on the part of the Suffolk Public Schools. Next, understanding is needed in the appropriate use of the Freedom of Information Act. Some have weaponized the law to harm and manipulate people instead of using it for the intended purpose — to inform the public.

Most importantly, a character lesson is badly needed. Disagreeing without being disagreeable is permissible. Knowingly making false statements about people is unconscionable, inappropriate and harmful!

Dr. Judith Brooks-Buck is chair of the Suffolk School Board, but this is her personal opinion and she is not speaking on behalf of the board.