Archive for July, 2009

Who needs Reality TV?

Thursday, July 2nd, 2009
Melissa Stagnaro

Some people watch Reality TV in order to get their daily dose of drama, but I don’t need to. I get all I could ever ask for and more at all the school board meetings I am privileged enough (read: forced as a condition of my employment) to attend. I’m pretty sure I attend more in a month than an  actual board member and I still don’t make it to every one in my coverage area.

If you’ve gone to one in the past year, you’ve probably seen me: I’m the one sitting off the side taking frantic notes. I’ve found that my compulsion to document every second of the meeting not only comes in handy when writing up my articles, but also keeps me awake during the dry bits. (Like internal audit reports – no offense Clyde.)

I usually leave with a notebook full of what would appear to the untrained eye as pure chicken scratch, not to mention agendas and other handouts with notes scribbled in the margins. It always makes piecing everything together at 6:30 in the morning highly entertaining.

Whether it’s tension on the board itself or near-riot during public comment, there are times when these board meetings are anything but as boring as their name might imply. I’m constantly amazed by some of the topics which cause the most controversy.

I’ll go in thinking that people will be up at arms about one thing, only to see them get riled about something else entirely. You just never know what your are going to get. To the average person off the street or the uninitiated the topic or incident which sparks controversy might seem mundane, but at a school board meeting it’s serious stuff.

Then there are the executive sessions. On occasion, a lengthy one will fall smack dab in the middle of an already long agenda. Yes, they can be tiresome, but they also provide an opportunity to bond with others in attendance. Conversation usually starts will speculation about what is being discussed behind closed doors and commentary on other items on the agenda, but by the end, nearly any topic is fair game. Sometimes I’m almost disappointed when the board finally returns to render their decision. Being stuck in so many meetings, it’s the closest thing I can get to having an actual social life. Sad, I know.

I’ll be honest with you, I don’t enjoy the drama. Sure it makes for a juicy story and flashy headlines, but as a thinking, feeling human being, I could do without all the conflict. With all of the intrigue, squabbling, in-fighting, personal agendas, bitter diatribe and other assorted story lines which would be more appropriate for a low budget mini-series, I often leave with a headache.

But I haven’t given up hope that some day they’ll move past all of that and actually focus on why they’re all in the room in the first place: to ensure that Chenango County’s sons and daughters receive a first class education which will prepare them to become productive, successful, engaged citizens.

Maybe then I can go back to getting my regular dose of drama from TV like everyone else.