New Castle News

Mitchel Olszak

January 17, 2012

Mitchel Olszak: School board committees offer political lesson

NEW CASTLE — There’s an old saying in politics: Don’t get mad, get even.

It’s something veteran politicians know quite well. The political process is a marathon, not a sprint. And just because you lose one battle doesn’t mean you have lost the war.

In short, a defeat is no reason to surrender. Other opportunities will come by, and there likely will be chances to turn the tables on one’s adversaries.

Unfortunately, this approach to politics wasn’t pursued at a New Castle school board meeting last week. Instead of biding their time and waiting for their chance, some members of the panel basically threw up their hands in defeat.

At issue was the way the president of the city school board, Allan Joseph, metes out committee appointments. One of the perks of being president is the ability to make panel appointments. Several board members are unhappy about how they were treated and weren’t shy about saying so.

(A letter to the editor that appears on this page addresses this issue as well.)

Two board members in particular, Anna Pascarella and Dr. Marilyn Berkely, criticized Joseph for his appointments because they wound up on committees where each was the sole member. While a one-person committee sounds a bit like an oxymoron, you also can be sure such a panel doesn’t have much perceived clout.

Meanwhile, Joseph packed more influential committees — such as those dealing with hiring and athletics — with board members he favored. In the end, Pascarella and Berkely decided that if they were going to be treated unfairly, they didn’t want to serve on any panels.

That was their mistake.

Those of us who have followed the antics of the New Castle school board over the years know how the committee game traditionally is played. Those who get along and can be relied upon for support are rewarded with plum committee slots.

Those who make waves or who question the decisions of the inner circle suffer the equivalent of being sent to Siberia, by receiving committee appointments that no one wants.

Pascarella and Berkely were correct in their assessment that Joseph was shutting them out of more desirable committees. But their ultimate response to the move paints them as quitters.

If the goal of some members on the New Castle school board is to boost its reputation and demand more openness and accountability, it’s difficult to claim any sort of leadership in such efforts when the public perceives them as willing to give up when the going gets tough.

There’s nothing wrong with calling out Joseph at a public meeting. Citizens need to be reminded how the board conducts itself.

But rather than quitting their panel positions, Pascarella and Berkely should have found a way to make the most of them. One of the benefits of being a one-person committee is that you have a lot of leeway when no one’s eying your every move. You might even find yourself wandering far afield of the committee’s professed purpose.

And if more bodies are needed to address an ambitious project, there’s nothing to prevent a single school board member from recruiting citizens to assist with the effort.

In politics, a little grit and a little imagination can take you a long way.

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Mitchel Olszak
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