To the Editor:
Singling out newly-hired Superintendent Brian White as the focal point for your editorial about Region 4’s finances is misplaced and distracting. (“Hard look at Region 4” September 29. 2019.)
Mr. White became superintendent of Region 4 Schools in July 2019 (only three months ago) when Dr. Ruth Levy retired after 11 years in office with two years remaining under her current contract. By the time of his arrival, the district had also changed facilities directors, business managers and many board members from those involved in the Mislick property purchase and decisions about capital accounting.
So it is not the case that “the vast majority” of the problems with R4’s finances predated his hire – actually ALL them did. Not only was Mr. White working elsewhere when the district purchased the Mislick property, it was through his efforts that an outside advisor was brought in to enable the current board to talk frankly and more accurately about the capital deficit caused by the property purchase, lapses in oversight and loose bookkeeping and capital budgeting practices.
While I applaud your letting sunlight shine on Region 4’s finances and governance practices, if you want to grab the mantle of fairness, thoroughness and objectivity in your reporting and comment, you must be more discerning in where you seek public accountability.
While Julia Werth’s article did a creditable job of reporting what happened at a public meeting to discuss R4’s capital deficit, the problems with R4’s capital accounting were years in the making. Mr. White seems to bring a thoughtful and deliberate approach to solving them and the current R4 board appears responsive.
There’s more at stake than whether Mr. White immediately responds to the demands of the constant news cycle. If you want to take a “hard look at Region 4”, your editorial page should focus elsewhere.
The Editor responds:
I appreciate Mr. Hammond’s thoughtful response, and defense of Superintendent White, but I believe that a portion of his comments are mistaken.
In particular, his paraphrase of my statement that “To be sure, the vast majority of the problems outlined in Julia Werth’s story date to before his hire,” which states instead that “So it is not the case that ‘the vast majority’ of the problems with R4’s finances predated his hire – actually ALL them did.”
White, who was only hired three month ago, was not responsible for the financial problems outlined in the story. In fact — and perhaps I should have been more clear about this — the point of my editorial was not one of misdeeds, or problems of finances at all, but of accountability. And accountability, in our view, carries the burden of speaking to the press (within reason).
If the takeaway is simply one of replacing ‘bad’ staff and board members with ‘good,’ I think we miss an essential point. The reason that these things happened for years is because few (or not enough) people knew, and there was hardly a press really to report it.
It is a message intended not just for Superintendent White, who appears a marked change in the right direction, but for other districts and policies which encourage elected officials and superintendents to duck the essential (if at times unpleasant) task of answering questions, including from the press. -g.s.