Our Voice: School board’s process casts shadow on choice

Transparency is a good thing for those elected to lead our local governments and boards. And it’s a necessary one, required by law.

But time and again we see those who should know better fail in that important process.

Whether it’s taking the word of an adviser on what is allowed or blatantly ignoring the law that requires much of their business to be handled in a public forum, we have seen several examples lately of elected officials wrongly using closed-door sessions to make decisions.

One such case is the process undertaken by the Pasco School Board in its search for a new superintendent. We pushed for more transparency and public input in the process, and received too little, too late.

The State Attorney General’s Office has now weighed in, saying the school board violated state open meetings law when it made decisions in executive sessions regarding how it would seek its next superintendent.

Some members of the public have criticized the board for its rush to hire and the murkiness of the process, and for the failure of its members to discuss the search with parents.

Five candidates were announced for the job, and a decision was made eight days later. That hardly gave time for people to do their homework.

It’s unfortunate that the board chose to handle the situation so poorly, and improperly at that.

This process has put a cloud over the person selected for the job, Michelle Whitney.

As the only internal candidate for the job, Whitney was already likely to face more criticism and insider chatter. The fact that her superintendent credentials were lighter than the rest of the field of candidates, added to the fodder.

That’s a shame.

If the school board had handled things as required to by law, Whitney likely would have gotten a better reception. Sure, there are always folks who enjoy second-guessing decisions and there would still have been grumbling, but it would have been just gossip.

Instead, the school board made it look like it had something to hide in the hiring process.

That isn’t fair to Whitney, who has been with the district for nearly two decades, and worked as a teacher, principal and administrator. She knows the challenges of the district, as well as its strengths. From what we’ve seen of her, we expect more transparency from the district under her leadership.

In many ways, Whitney’s hiring is a bonus for Pasco. Her in-depth knowledge of the district and the community would have been a learning curve for an outsider, but she has a headstart on dealing with major issues at hand. Let’s just hope the public understands the school board is at fault in the process, not Whitney. She deserves the chance to do her job without a cloud of doubt overshadowing her abilities.