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A trustee responds / July 24, 2013

Dear Viewpoint,

I would like to address the Mecklenburg Sun’s July 17th edition coverage of the July 15 Mecklenburg County School Board meeting.

The following is a REAL quote from Mark Twain and has become a favorite of mine. He said, “If you don’t read the newspaper, you’re uninformed. If you do read the newspaper, you’re misinformed.”

If your news gatherers are going to use quotes from anyone, I suggest a best practice for them would be to actually use what they said — either by watching the meeting video, or if they can’t wait for that to be online before press time, they could tape record the meeting themselves. They could also simply ask for a quote directly from the person. Another best practice would be to verify the facts before publishing inaccuracies.

I am excited that all the school board meetings are now posted online (as well as line by line budget, bills, meeting agenda, and policies) because people who cannot attend meetings can see for themselves. But I realize many people don’t have the time or bandwidth to watch a meeting and they depend on the newspaper for accurate reporting. Newspapers have a lot of power to influence public opinion. And as originally said by Voltaire, and most recently in Spider-Man, “with great power comes great responsibility.” Of course your opinions on the editorial page are you views, but your reporters should strive for an accurate picture of an event.

I’ll first address the drama implied by the headline “Testy trustees SPAR over finances — School Board members exchange JABS on need for finance committee.” Your paper makes it sound like I need boxing gloves for these meetings! Everyone I have asked who was at the meeting said it was very civil. All aspects of an issue should be discussed — that’s what boards do. I’m sure drama may sell newspapers, but your publication may become known as the sensationalist tabloid of Mecklenburg County instead of a serious news organization.

I never said I was opposed to a finance committee, much less repeating my opposition to having one. I look forward to hearing the guidelines and recommendations at next month’s meeting. If the majority of the board sees a need — I will try to be at every meeting. I did express my opinion that I felt financial decisions were so important that the entire board needed to be involved and I did question why we needed a committee to do what the entire board does now. During the last budget preparation cycle, I did feel extremely thankful for our fiscally responsible administration that enables us to do more with less. I was reading frequent news articles from around Virginia about school systems struggling with school closures and lay-offs. It was shocking to read some measures that some school divisions were considering — such as paying to play sports and even eliminating middle school sports. I am also thankful that the Board of Supervisors supported our budget.

When your reporter, Susan Kyte did actually use quotation marks in her coverage of my remarks, they were around words that never came out of my mouth. “The word on the street” could be interpreted as something that could be true. What I said was that a petition was being circulated saying that I had misappropriated funds — which is disturbing. It’s disturbing because it is impossible for an individual board member to misappropriate funds. The board acts as an entity. Everyone should realize that the only time a board member as any more authority than any other member of the public is at a legally advertised school board meeting. As a board member, I cannot interfere with the operation of any school any more than any other citizen and I certainly don’t have access to any funds. So this petition is purposefully trying to mislead people and a personal attack on me.

When Scott Pulley spoke during public input at the June 3 school board meeting (taken from the meeting video) — he said that the board and Dr. Thornton should respond and not stay silent when rumors are circulating. He really made me think and I took his suggestion to heart. I admit that I have been hesitant to respond to lies in the past because they seemed ridiculous and frankly I do not have time to engage in a back and forth verbal volley either in the newspaper or online. I will address any misinformation at meetings. A lot of misinformation is being tossed out there so I encourage the public to be fact checkers as well.

I did make a remark to Mr. Edwards AFTER the meeting was over that indeed $10,000 for robotics was a line item in the 2013-2014 budget. I was trying to clear up misinformation. I admit I may have been a bit sarcastic — but again the drama — the article said I made a sharp retort and made it sound like I responded in the meeting. Dr. Thornton could not have responded it was not funded. He tried to explain it was $20,000 last year and was not used so it was reduced to $10,000 in the 2013-2014 budget. The fact is robotics is funded $10,000. For the life of me, I cannot figure out how your reporter got this wrong. Our line by line budget is online in Board Docs of Feb. 18th meeting. I have requested it be moved to our main webpage, which may help in the future.

Also every board member received an email from Dr. Thornton that $5000 was available for each band in their school’s instructional budget.

Another fact is Cenergistic is saving the school system money. The school board entered into a contract with Cenergistic solely to save money by creating a climate of energy conservation and extreme awareness of energy usage. They have helped many school districts in Virginia.

I agreed with Bill Gates when he said, “Education is where any improvement you make benefits every other sector of the economy.” We are lucky to live in a wonderful community where so many individuals and businesses realize this and are willing to help our schools. Investing in our school system is investing in our future. The work ahead of us in Mecklenburg is too important to be sidetracked by negative spin.

Joan Wagstaff

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