A disturbing pattern is developing with the Oshkosh Area School District. Over the past few weeks we have set up interviews with principals and school board members to discuss certain topics--only to have Superintendent Stan Mack swoop in and demand to be the person interviewed instead. This has especially been true for stories pertaining to the unhappiness expressed by some parents over the changes in elementary school bus routes.
The latest example of this was last Thursday, when we had booked Boardmember Allison Garner to talk with Bob Burnell on the WOSH Morning News Focus about discussions with Kobussen Buses on developing new routes that wouldn't require kids to be dropped off for classes so early in the morning. My reporter, Emily Roberts, was contacted by Superintendent Mack's office later that same day telling her that he is the only person who will be commenting on the bus route situation--and that Boardmembers are no longer to be contacted on the topic. Needless to say, this is not a situation the voters of Oshkosh should accept.
Having a single source of information and comment is not that unusual in the public or the private sector. Individual police officers and firemen defer comment to their Public Information Officers all of the time. City Managers or Mayors usually serve as the mouthpieces for questions and issues at City Hall. But Department heads and Battalion Chiefs aren't elected officials--and aren't directly accountable to the voters to explain their actions and decisions like members of a School Board are. And that is what makes this "gag order" that Stan Mack has placed on his bosses so disturbing.
Of course, I probably shouldn't be that surprised that it's the Oshkosh School Board doing this. "Group speak" and "Group thought" have been the hallmark of this body for years. In fact, it is a stated goal of the Board to have no public dissent when it comes to any issue--no matter how controversial it is. Apparently, the way to make sure that doesn't happen is to no longer make those Boardmembers available to the media for any comment--lest they mistakenly fail to echo the party line, or share a personal opinion that might differ from what Superintendent Mack wants the public to believe.
So if you are ever wondering why Oshkosh School Boardmembers aren't chiming in on the bus route situation--or any other issue that doesn't come with a big smiley face sticker attached--now you know why. That is how they are staying "open and accountable" to you, the voter the and the taxpayer.