Among the criticisms the Hartford Board of Education heaped on Superintendent Christina Kishimoto was a concern over her communication skills, knocking her for what they said was a failure to keep the board and parents in the loop as she made decisions. Board members said she needed to do better, and she promised she would.
But when Kishimoto and the board got together Tuesday night for a meeting that would decide the future of her tenure – and the future direction of the state’s second-largest school district – both sides made a familiar retreat behind closed doors, leaving parents once again in the dark.
It’s all legal. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
Connecticut’s Freedom of Information Act permits – but does not require – agencies to hold executive sessions to discuss “the appointment, employment, performance, evaluation, health or dismissal of a public officer or employee.” Tuesday’s gathering, at which the board unanimously voted against extending Kishimoto’s contract, certainly met that criteria. But why choose to shut out parents and other members of the public?
Operating out of the public eye promotes a level of candor revered by those in government. But the officials who assembled Tuesday night should remember that their primary duty is to the people of Hartford, and they should resist any urge to have one level of honesty for the public and an enhanced level of honesty that comes out only in private.
Tuesday’s vote was not a surprise, and both Kishimoto and various board members have been transparent in expressing their views. This was not a shady back-room deal. But when the conflict between the board and Kishimoto reached a crescendo with a closed meeting that stretched longer than 90 minutes, those involved seemed to lose sight of an important adage: that in a democracy, the people’s business really is the people’s business.
To a Hartford resident, the schools superintendent may be the most important official in the city. The decision on whether she stays or goes is a big deal. So memo to all involved: Next time there’s a discussion as significant as Tuesday night’s, consider leaving the doors open and letting the real bosses see what’s being done on their behalf.