The Marsh Valley School District has been in the news lately for all the wrong reasons.
The new chairman of the district's school board was correct during last week's meeting when he said there's "a lot of turmoil" and negativity surrounding the district right now. The recent admission by the new chair, K.G. Fonnesbeck, that the board's been violating the Idaho open meetings law for years regarding how it's handled Superintendent Marvin Hansen's evaluations and pay increases has further fueled tensions.
The complaints from district residents have started to receive media coverage and in many ways Hansen seems to be at the center of the controversy but this mess goes well beyond him and really comes down to the relationship between all of the district's leaders and their constituents.
We give Fonnesbeck a lot of credit for owning up to the fact that the board's longtime practice of handling Hansen's entire evaluation and pay behind closed doors was illegal. Fonnesbeck said the school board's members didn't know they were violating the law and will handle such issues involving Hansen in front of the public in the future.
Fonnesbeck also said that a big problem in the district right now is poor communication and he's right.
The district's leaders bristle at the scrutiny they're currently under by some district residents, but like it or not such scrutiny is part of being in government these days.
Our advice to the Marsh Valley school board and district administrators is to not take being questioned by their constituents personally but realize it's part of the job of leading a school district.
Being a school board member makes you not only part of "the government," but you're also making decisions that impact people's children. So it shouldn't be a surprise that being on a school board in Marsh Valley or anywhere else puts one's actions under a bit of a microscope.
The Marsh Valley school board has been its own worst enemy when it comes to reacting to this scrutiny as evidenced by its refusal to let a district resident talk at one of its recent meetings as well as its decision to have armed sheriff's deputies present at its meetings.
But missteps are part of life and government entities such as school boards make them.
We're encouraged by Fonnesbeck's tone at last week's school board meeting and we're confident that under his leadership the Marsh Valley School District's leaders and constituents can have a better relationship.
Our advice to the district's leaders is to welcome public input and go overboard to give people an opportunity to be heard on district matters.
If mistakes are made, like with the handling of the superintendent's evaluation and pay, own up to them, apologize and correct them, and move on.
No relationship between a government entity and the people it governs is going to be perfect but there's a lot of room for improvement in Marsh Valley. The good news is that we believe the unpaid volunteers who serve on the Marsh Valley school board are there for the right reasons and they realize that things need to change between them and their constituents.
Questions from a member of the audience at a school board meeting should never be viewed as some sort of personal attack on the district's leaders.
Fonnesbeck needs to get that point across to the rest of the board and district administrators so all the recent negative publicity about the Marsh Valley School District begins to fade into the rear-view mirror.
If his words during his first meeting as board chair are any indication, we think he's up to the task.