Originally created 11/21/00

PR skills needed 112100 - The Augusta Chronicle



One would have to be terribly cynical to believe the Aiken County School Board's post-election vote to meet every week, instead of twice monthly, is designed to double their paycheck (trustees get paid by the meeting).

The record shows that Board Chairman John Bradley's explanation is correct: meetings are running too long into the evening and that increasing their frequency should cut back on their length, not to mention being less tiresome and more efficient.

Board members are also smarting from criticism that they spend too much time - nearly 60 percent of it - in executive session, i.e., behind closed doors. Their explanation is that, in accordance with exemptions allowed by the state's open meetings law, they're discussing sensitive personnel and confidential student issues.

There's no reason to doubt them, but it's also true that this particular board spends more time on executive matters than other elected entities in the region, including school boards.

That should concern them, not because they're pulling the wool over the public's eye, but because it appears they might be. Certainly their critics think so and, as the recent election indicates, there's a growing sense among many Aiken countians that this board has been secretive, arrogant, anti-teacher and wasteful of taxpayers' money.

In reality, this board, for the most part, has done a good job. The schools are doing better, SAT scores are rising, the school superintendent is tops. This newspaper endorsed all the incumbents.

But, and this is especially true in politics, perception often trumps reality. We hope trustees, in addition to meeting more often, will find a way to spend more time in open than in closed sessions - and give critics more time and opportunities to speak out at board meetings.

If the board doesn't brush up on its PR skills, it could plunge back into the bitter, divisive days of the late '80s and early '90s when North Augusta wanted to break away from the consolidated district.