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Alone with J

March 10, 2011

By J SWYGART
    It’s every bit as ironic as it is lamentable that the one member of the North Adams school board who seems to have a true handle on the “majority rule” concept of government will soon be the odd-man-out, a victim of the same antiquated method of seating board members that he voted to retain earlier this week.
    But Juan Gutierrez’ lone vote in opposition to a citizens’ petition calling for an elected school board was the correct one, and we appreciate his courage in casting it.
    Gutierrez will soon complete his first term on the North Adams board. His term expires June 30. And because he holds the ridiculous position which commonly is referred to as the “swing” seat on the board — the representation of which alternates every four years between residents of the city of Decatur and those who reside outside the corporation limits — Gutierrez will be forced to the sidelines.
  And that’s regrettable, because during his tenure Gutierrez has been a voice of reason and common sense on most issues that have come before the board. Not that we’ve agreed with him in every instance; quite the contrary.
   But in the most recent board controversy, Gutierrez alone seemed unwilling to allow the tail of public opinion to wag the dog. He voted against the board’s acceptance of a petition — bearing the names of 20 percent of the school district’s registered voters — that called for school board members to be elected.
   And he cast that vote despite his personal belief that an elected board is the way to go. But, as Gutierrez correctly pointed out, there is a tremendous difference between 20 percent (reflected by the names on a petition) and the 50 percent-plus-one majority necessary at the ballot box for any initiative to be able to boast true majority support.
    Like Gutierrez, we believe firmly in the concept of an elected board. And we similarly believe that a majority of the voting public should make that call. Whether or not the 20 percent of voters who signed a petition is truly representative of the school district as a whole is subject to debate. But it’s a debate which likely will never be settled. And that’s unfortunate.

Drug testing? Really?
    Also unfortunate is the apparent willingness of the South Adams school board to press ahead with plans to implement random drug testing for its students. In addition to advancing a “guilty until proven innocent” approach — an unhealthy message, at best, to send to students — the cost of such a program is certain to be substantial. And in these uncertain financial times, when budget cuts and teacher layoffs seem to be the rule rather than the exception, it’s difficult to fathom that South Adams could not find a better way to expend its resources.
    The drug testing conversation also provided an interesting welcome to the board’s newest non-voting members — a pair of student body representatives who expressed unilateral support for the proposed policy.
    It’s difficult to believe a majority of the student body at South Adams truly does support the policy, calling into question the overall effectiveness of the newly-created positions themselves.

Statehouse goofiness
    We have to date withheld comment on the mass exodus of Indiana House Democrats, in large part because the final chapter of that saga is yet to be written.
    While our initial reaction was one of support for the Democrats, who refused to accept a radical legislative agenda being espoused by their GOP colleagues, the current fear is that the mass defection may have run its course and ultimately could prove counter-productive.
    The saga has provided some interesting sound bites, however, including ones where Gov. Mitch Daniels does his impression of a presidential candidate by talking tough and nasty about Democrats.
    Or like Sen. Jim Banks, a Republican from Columbia City who just two days ago in this very space came off like a raging lunatic in his assessment of the need to break public unions.
    Or exiled Democrats, who ridiculously invoked  accounts of Abraham Lincoln jumping out of a window 170 years ago to block a vote on a bill he opposed as justification for their walk-out.
    Or House Speaker Brian Bosma, who canceled House sessions today and tomorrow because of a basketball tournament.
    It’s all just goofiness, and it’s too early to pick winners and losers.
    But stay tuned.

    The writer is the opinion page editor of the Decatur Daily Democrat.
    

    
  

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