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Critical comments don’t warrant censure

October 15, 2009
Island Reporter, Captiva Current, Sanibel-Captiva Islander

Oh, my. Regular followers of Lee County school board meetings have been greeted recently with sights reminiscent of old high school clique conflicts played out around cafeteria tables reserved for the "in" crowd.

We have the hero who calls the plays and carries the ball. We have the cheerleaders who think everything is just wonderful no matter the score on the board.

And we have the rebel with a cause who has the audacity to open up his brown bag of common fare as he plunks down among the elite seats upon which outsiders seldom are invited to sit.

Bad boy board member Bob Chilmonik is about as welcome as the kid wearing the wrong style du jour. Meanwhile, the star quarterback, Superintendent Jim Browder gets a ride, even when he strides off the field - or out of the meeting room - with minutes left on the clock.

Educrats frequently share traits with the students they teach and the you're-either-one-of-us-or-not attitude is one that's readily discernable. Especially here in Lee County.

The School Board of Lee County is set to consider censuring Mr. Chilmonik, a frequent critic of apparently unimportant things like low student achievement ratings, the fact most 10th grade students aren't reading at grade level, budget expenditures and, most recently, Dr. Browder's decision to delay play of President Obama's address to students across the nation until the administration could review the speech for suitability.

Mr. Chilmonik, who failed to get the board to agree that Dr. Browder's decision was the wrong one, took it upon himself to write an apology letter to the president decrying that decision as "a disservice to our children and community" in sore need of a motivational boost.

For this and other actions "extremely critical of the school district, its staff and its students" and ... "detrimental to the successful operation of the Lee County School Board," Mr. Chilmonik is in violation of his oath of office, maintains Board Member Jeanne Dozier, who has proposed the censure resolution she hopes her fellow board members will adopt.

Well, there are lots of ways public officials can violate their oath of office, but dissent - especially dissent on issues of public interest - is not one of them.

Mr. Chilmonik has not only been duly elected, but duly re-elected in a three-way primary where he easily culled more than 50 percent of the vote.

The voters have no issue with Mr. Chilmonik's approach and it is to the voters that Mr. Chilmonik is accountable, not his fellow board members, and certainly not the school district administration whose own behavior has crossed the line of propriety more than once - including Dr. Browder's recent walkout while a meeting was in progress because he was unhappy with Mr. Chilmonik's letter to the president.

We suggest a couple of things.

One, we suggest that Ms. Dozier reconsider her decision to place the censure resolution on the Oct. 20 school board agenda. If the measure does comes forward, we suggest the board vote it down. Censure is a serious action, and Mr. Chilmonik's actions do not warrant a board reprimand.

Two, that the board examine its double standard.

Dr. Browder's actions have been given pretty much free rein by the board. We've yet to hear a reprimand. And they want to chastise one of their own?

Please. If there is a lack of professionalism, bad boy Bobby isn't the only one coming to the table with an empty tray.

The board needs to concentrate on the more pressing issues at hand.

- Reporter editorial



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