Friday, March 21, 2008

Remember the "public" in public meetings

Sisters schools superintendent Elaine Drakulich said something very strange at a press conference on Tuesday, March 18.

The press conference was called to announce that Dusty Macauley has been named the Sisters Outlaws’ head football coach. Bob Macauley’s departure from that post has been the focus of ongoing controversy and drew a significant crowd to the last school board meeting, where several community members demanded answers on a range of questions from the school board.

Drakulich apparently took exception to this action and let her feelings be known at the press conference.

“I am extremely disappointed that as a community we continue to use board meetings for that kind of a forum,” she said. “That just divides our community, and we’re a really, really good school system that wants to be the best, but if we continue to do at board meetings things like that where we go back over prior mistakes, prior issues and beat them again and again and again that’s not what’s out there about Sisters School District.

“What’s out there are these negatives; it’s not that we’re a very, very good school system, and we want to be the best, so I’m disappointed in that meeting... I hope we don’t have board meetings like that again.”


Where is the public supposed to go to petition for redress of grievances — or simply to tell the school board what they think? Of course the dialogue should be kept civil and respectful and The Nugget has been the first to call foul when we think people are hitting below the belt.

But vigorous, passionate public participation is a good thing, not something to be avoided. If the superintendent thinks vigorous public debate divides a community, what does she think the impact is of shutting off the public’s voice, of basically telling them to shut up and go away?

That’s not the way America works and it sure isn’t the way Sisters works.

I hope we have a lot more meetings like that last one.

Jim Cornelius, Editor


  1. Elaine Drakulich gave herself a "C" in running the Sisters School District. This may be a case of grade inflation.

    Her latest comments to a news channel following a school board meeting are just another example of hostility to criticism, another closed door to a community that has shown incredible support for our schools.

    Many of those at the meeting she resented are people who have dedicated hundreds of not thousands of hours to Sisters Schools. They are truly stake holders by virtue of their sweat. They have made this district a better place.

    It is unseemly of the superintendent to waltz in late and say these people should shut up and sit down, or simply sit there and applaud.

    That is not to say the mob of Macauley supporters was right. You can't run an organization by mob, by protest and by threats of recall.

    There is no doubt that Bob Macauley is a great football coach. That is out there right on the field of play. That he has touched the lives of many and made those lives better is without question.

    What is less obvious is whether there were compromises made in his role as principal. These are discussions held in executive session, part of performance evaluation. These details are not known by the mob.

    Was Bob Macauley overburdened by his roles? There were some serious mistakes made on his watch. Not necessarily his fault, but possibly the result of too much to do in too little time.

    The resolution to this dilemma, hiring Bob's son Dusty as football coach, was cowardly and a farce. Dusty Macauley is a great young man and may be the finest coach we could have found.

    But where was the process? Does no one smell the reek of conflict of interest, if not nepotism? Does no one care about appearances if not facts?

    This "solution" has a high chance of damaging Dusty and Bob and the schools. It may not, but only if all of us are lucky.

    The school board is floundering for lack of leadership. Drakulich wants to manage perception. Gould is concerned with damage. Smith wants to compromise, regardless of what is on the table. Lasken wants to be liked by everyone, by anyone.

    In the mean time, teachers at the high school must be wondering who is in charge, who knows what is at stake, and where is the openness and commitment to educational excellence.

    Sisters Schools don't need less public involvement. They need more.

  2. Elaine Drakulich fits right in with the way Sisters is run. From the school district board to the city council, the attitude seems to be that they are the only ones who know what's good for Sisters and how things should be done.

    Where do I sign up for the recalls?

  3. Better than signing up for recalls — run for office.

  4. Mr. Cornelius may think the Nugget acts as a watchdog when somebody "hits below the belt". How about your own reporters, Mr. Cornelius. Since the Duerrmeyers have been doing the bulk of reporting for the Nugget it has become very apparent that if spin can be put on a story, then so much the better. What happened to verifying the "facts" before you run with something?

    I venture to suggest that Ms. Drakulich may have simply been expressing her frustration over a bunch of accusations with few facts to back them. She and the School Board are often in a position where they are not allowed to share information that could clear up controversies and are instead heaped with blame and accusation. Think before you start slinging mud or placing blame. What do you REALLY know? Things are seldom what they seem.

  5. How about some specifics anonymous? If there is an inaccuracy, point it out. Where's the spin?

    Public bodies are very seldom in a position where they have information that they are "not allowed" to share.

    That certainly was not the case in the Macauley situation.

  6. Very nice comments about Bob Macauley by a board member:

    "What is less obvious is whether there were compromises made in his role as principal. These are discussions held in executive session, part of performance evaluation. These details are not known by the mob."
    It is amazing that people come together to voice their concerns about how things are run at the top and they are labeled a "Mob".

    I have a new(or lack there of) apprecaiting of the school board and Ms. Drakulich- if you don't like the way things are run, move to another school district!

  7. I think this is all somewhat of a misunderstanding. I think what Ms. Drakulich may have meant is that she is sorry that the community of Sisters can't seem to let go of the past. These comments came in a school board meeting 7 months after Mr. McAuley announced his resignation of his position of the head football coach. Sometimes I think that Sisters enjoys the drama of dragging things out forever. I for one would like to thank our school board members for all the hard work and hours that they voluntarily give to our kids' education and tackling the difficult topics that they have had to face over the past several years. And before I get jumped on for calling them volunteers instead of elected officials, they are not paid for their time, which makes them volunteers in my eyes.

    I think this blog is a good idea, alhtough I don't think people should be able to post anonymously and with this declaration I would like to say that I am Jeff Smith's daughter. I feel that if you feel strongly about something enough to write about you, you ought to have the courage to put your name on it. I will lead by example.

  8. I find the irony over "football and flags" almost humerous! Nothing like gettin Americans all riled up! Macauley's performance as coach is stellar! He should continue at it along with all our ex-NFL help. His legacy of principleship is one of mis-managing a questionable program that has cost our district 1.2 million dollars. He is un-acessable both to students(unless they are football players)and parents. My senior has never seen him in any classes in the last four years!Another mis-guided attempt by the board to right a wrong! I have pulled my other child from our public school.I feel there are a handful of gifted teachers but lack of leadership.I know longer trust the school board nor the "education" that the state mandates.I will vote no on any more money being thrown at such a corrupt system. Thank -you for allowing expressions of views!

  9. I can't believe Sisters had a press conference over a football coach.

    Priorities, people.

  10. Karen .... We should not let go of the past, we should remember it !! It seems we continue to make the same mistakes time and time again. With regards to Ms. Drakulich, her most recent comments suggests that she encourages public discussion. The only problems is that "seems to be code" for public comment that is favorable to the District and how its being run.

  11. Mr./Ms. Anonymous--I agree that we should remember the past. Maybe I should have said that we shouldn't dwell on the past rather than let it go. And again you remain anonymous. I don't think Ms. Drakulich or anyone on the school board has said that they don't want public comment, positive or negative. There is no "code". It seems that you might have some difficulty with taking people for their word.

  12. Karen … I agree with you, dwelling is not the answer and is not what I was getting at. I guess a better choice of words to express my feelings would be “learn”. I feel the current board as well as the prior two, (in general terms) have simply not “learned” from their mistakes and or have taken full responsibility for their actions. They say they do and in some cases write glowing “open letters to the public” explaining/rationalizing their positions. In the end however, the mistakes seem to continue to be made, I could site you a dozen examples over the past 15 years but that would be fruitless. The large outpouring of people (I was not one) whom expressed their concerns to the Board and Ms. Drakulich and were met with a response that we all read about in the paper makes me wonder if the Board in fact is learning from the past. To the contrary, I “take people for their word”. I do not believe that is the issue; I believe the issue is accountability. It’s a Mr. and yes anonymous. I have been a resident for 19 years, never sat on a board (been asked), never been to a meeting (by choice), donated thousands of dollars to our programs and helped many kids along the way …. All anonymously.