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Interesting experience / August 06, 2014

Dear Viewpoint,

What makes life really interesting is first experiences; Mike and I certainly had one on July 31 when we attended our first school board meeting to support the public in our opposition to Dr. Thornton’s contract extension. I am going to try and describe what we experienced because if you weren’t there to witness what took place, you probably still won’t believe it. The room was filled with a large number of real Mecklenburg County citizens. Amongst the real people, there were quite a number of staged actors/Thornton puppets.

The meeting began and Dr. Thornton and Laura Pittard spoke about the plight of the schools. Mrs. Pittard presented a Powerpoint presentation detailing how much salary increases would cost the county and in order to keep our teachers, we must increase their salaries. I believe most people in the county do not have a problem with increasing teacher’s salaries, they just have concerns if this is where the money will actually go. Dr. Thornton spoke up on the condition of the schools and the need to build new schools. He mentioned that currently the Board of Supervisors is sitting on a 9 million dollar capital fund and that they will not release any of these funds to the school board. Well, after what we witnessed last Thursday night, we have to be honest. If we were sitting on the Board of Supervisors, we would not turn over any money to this group either. So we believe as long as we have this school board and this superintendent in place, the school system will not get one more dime than is mandatory. Don’t blame the Board of Supervisors.

Next, we got to the public input section. This is when it became even more obvious that this portion of the meeting had been staged. There was a combination of speakers. There were the real people that spoke and then there were the puppets. The meeting began with an enthusiastic puppet. When she finished speaking, we wondered why we had come at all. Certainly there were NO problems that needed to be addressed. Then another puppet appeared. Finally, a real person gets a chance to speak. The real person didn’t have positive things to say about the current school system. So the public input progressed, with a few real people and then suddenly a string was pulled and another puppet appeared out of the crowd. A student spoke about her troubles with the school, and how she could not even get the classes that she needed for college. It was impossible for her to continue in band and take her college bound classes. She was torn between what she needed for her future and what she enjoyed now. I commend this young lady and her two friends for taking their time to come forward.

Once the public input was done, there were several more items on the agenda to be covered. Of all eight board members that were present, Mr. Edwards was the only one that seemed to be prepared for the meeting. He asked several questions, but usually did not receive any type of real answer. When we reached the “Bills” section on the agenda, Mr. Edwards did question a check that was written for a dog lot. He was guaranteed that a dog lot, nor a dog, had not been purchased, but the accountant would have to look into that particular check. The other members of the school board had no input whatsoever. In fact, from the appearance and facial expressions, we weren’t really sure they were even really present at this meeting.

We also noticed that the public can have an input, but the school board does not have to answer any of the questions. They can just sit there. When DO they have to answer the public’s questions? Why can’t we ask a question and they give us an answer. Interesting for sure.

We finally get to the section on the agenda where the board will vote on the renegotiation of the contract. The moment we have all been waiting for. Prior to attending this meeting, throughout the community, we had heard that Thornton had six puppets on the school board and they would more than likely vote against the public’s wishes. The contract would be extended regardless of what the public wanted. Since our parents taught us that our integrity and ethics were worth more than any amount of money, we certainly thought this couldn’t be true. We certainly believed that people that were supposedly intelligent enough and well respected enough in their communities to be elected to the school board, would actually have the character and the ability to think for themselves. We thought they would certainly represent the wishes of the people that elected them. I mean, after all, that is THEIR JOB. Sandra Tanner was the chosen puppet to speak up. Amazing. She mentioned that while many of her constituents had contacted her and expressed their concerns, once she was able to really explain and give them the correct information on the state of the schools, they truly understood, so much so, that now they were also in favor of extending Dr. Thornton’s contract. She even mentioned how wonderful it was that Dr. Thornton’s own daughter had the courage to come up and speak on his behalf, but so obviously failed to mention the real students that came forward. The public recognized that as well. For all these reasons, she would have to vote yes to the contract extension although she knew it would not be a popular vote. Mrs. Tanner, if you were so able to explain it all to your constituents and create a change of heart in them, why didn’t you do this for those of us at the meeting?

Dora Garner did speak up at this point. She stated that she had watched and listened tonight. (Thank goodness!!) She observed that the only people that spoke in favor of Dr. Thornton were school employees. Not one single person that was outside of the school system was in favor of the extension and since it is her job to vote for the people, her vote would be no.

Then another dog and pony show started. Robert Puryear announced that although this was not required at all, Dr. Thornton had been so gracious as to allow the community to hear about the many changes that were made to his current contract in this extension. At first it was presented that there would be no salary increase just an extension of the contract terms. Mr. Edwards mentioned the fact that the new contract would indeed give Dr. Thornton a county car and although that is not reflected in a paycheck, it is certainly an added benefit that the taxpayers will have to pay. Then Dr. Thornton’s appointed lawyer began to speak. (What happened to our Mecklenburg County lawyer? How was Dr. Thornton able to pick his own? What is going on with our school board? Most on the board were sitting there are like a “Stepford Wife”, for those old enough to remember!) Basically, he just said that the contract extension should take place now. That’s just how it is done. During this entire dog and pony show, not one of his puppets spoke up and explained to the public why the contract needed to be extended now. NOT ONE. Not even their leader, Robert Puryear. Again, not one of them that knew this was absolutely the right thing to do at this time, stepped up and addressed the public’s concerns. Then it happened, right in front of our eyes, the six puppets raised their hands, blatantly and with defiance, voted against the wishes of the people and it was a done deal. Mr. Edwards and Mrs. Garner were the only ones that represented the people and for that, we are very thankful. I don’t know how the six puppets can actually show themselves in public in this small community. In our opinion, IF Dr. Thornton was really into his job for the betterment of the children and not for the money, if he were truly a man of ethics and integrity, he would NOT have accepted a contract extension at this time. The proper thing would have been to acknowledge that the public is not currently satisfied with the job he is doing, but he feels that some really good things are happening. He should have asked that the community give him another year to prove that things are indeed getting better. We would simply readdress this issue next year since he does have a valid contract until June 2016.

There is the lesson that all of us in Mecklenburg County need to learn from this experience. The school board is a LOT more powerful than most of us even imagined. This has been an eye opener for Mike and me. We never really gave it a lot of thought of who was running for the school board. Up until this administration, the children went to school and the teacher’s taught. It seems that our superintendents usually fall out of favor with the school board, but the community at large has never been in an uproar of this magnitude. A strong school system is paramount to enticing new businesses to locate in Mecklenburg County. It is very important to elect a school board that the Board of Supervisors can respect since they hold the purse strings. I hope in 2015, we will be able to find a new group of school board members that will be able to think for themselves, that will refuse to be a puppet, and will once again gain the respect of the Board of Supervisors so that we can make some much needed progress in this county. The search for good candidates who live in the districts Thornton’s puppets represent needs to start now. Dr. Thornton managed to win this battle, but the citizens of Mecklenburg County have spoken. We live here and we are NOT going away!

Mike and Edna Freeman

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