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Morgan Hill
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December 2, 2021

Thoughtful discourse should be encouraged

It was discouraging to hear school board trustee Peter Mandel
chide colleague Shelle Thomas, who just so happened to have the
audacity to disagree with the majority of the board. Shame on
Mandel for discouraging dissenting views.
Reaction was disappointing

It was discouraging to hear school board trustee Peter Mandel chide colleague Shelle Thomas, who just so happened to have the audacity to disagree with the majority of the board. Shame on Mandel for discouraging dissenting views.

The back-and-forth took place as the board discussed the retirement of Superintendent Dr. Alan Nishino and Assistant Superintendent of Educational Services Michael Johnson, and their interim contracts with the district at last week’s board meeting.

Thomas said she would have preferred letting Nishino’s remaining leadership team, led by Deputy Superintendent Bonnie Tognazzini, step in.

“From my perspective, economically … we got through this before without having an interim superintendent step in. With the times we have now, without knowing how much money we have here, ($61,000) plays an important role,” Thomas said, referring to the interim contracts.

All opinions should be welcomed

But Mandel objected, saying Thomas was “building a straw man” argument in which if the trustees approved the interim contracts they must then believe that there aren’t talented district administrators.

“There are lots of people who are very, very talented in our district. For you to insinuate (that we don’t think so) is insulting and unprofessional in my mind. I want to provide as much continuity as possible, and we should not be taking all of the work of these two people and adding it to our district,” Mandel said.

And, despite whether Thomas is right or wrong, dissenting opinions should be, if not welcomed, at least respected. Boards need dissenting opinions, and Thomas is not one to always espouse differing opinions regardless of the topic. She is a thoughtful and diligent board member.

Argument doesn’t hold water

Thomas’s motion to separate the agenda items, with a vote accepting the retirement of Nishino and another vote approving his interim contract, hung in the thick air and died without a second. Thomas made the same motion for Johnson’s retirement and interim contract, and again it fell on deaf ears.

“You don’t have the will of the board behind you,” Mandel continued. “Which I find also to be … It’s not the most positive way to address people ending their careers. I’m disappointed.”

The notion that boards must have unanimous votes to show solidarity and support is a “straw man” argument in and of itself. Just because a differing opinion is out there, does not mean the majority opinion is not supported. Any one of the other board members could have easily said, “even though I disagree with you, I’ll second the motion for discussion.” That way the board could have a thoughtful discourse about what is best. Instead, Thomas was chastised. The reaction is shortsighted. Differing points of views are healthy and should be encouraged. And, this applies to all boards and committees.

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