So, at 7:30 p.m. tonight the Board held and “executive session,” which is a way for them to meet out of the public eye to discuss things that require a degree of privacy such as personnel issues, negotiations, legal issues and the like. Then, at 8:00 p.m. they went into public session to vote on hiring Dr. John Gratto as the District’s new Superintendent, which they did. They did not allow any public input at this meeting. When some members of the public spoke anyway, voicing their displeasure at the Board’s lack of openness during the process of selecting the new Super, the Board did its best to ignore what was being said. Eventually, Theresa Samot, the Board President, asked for a motion to go into executive session again “to discuss personnel issues.” The motion was made, seconded and voted on, and the Board walked out, leaving behind not only the public, but a somewhat stunned looking Dr. John Gratto, who had been expecting a cookies and punch reception.
That’s the bare bones of what happened tonight. There was much more, but I’ll leave it to the local papers to report and speculate about all that. What I would like to draw your attention to in this space, is the very sad fact that our friends and neighbors who serve on the School Board seem to have forgotten that they are also members of the very same community that they ignored and stonewalled tonight. How did that happen? I’ve known one of the Board Members for many years, having served on the Board with her decades ago, and maintained a passing friendship with her every since. I’ve served on committees with two of the other Board Members, and my wife also knows and/or has worked with a couple more. By and large, we like and respect these people, and believe they feel similarly about us. Yet tonight, they were able to build a wall between themselves, in their roles as board members, and their friends and neighbors who were sitting in the audience asking for a chance to be heard. That they were able to create this imaginary wall, and sustain it in the face of public outcry was much more disturbing to me than the fact that these normally caring, concerned and thoughtful people made a bad choice in how they handled the hiring process.
At tonight’s meeting one community member stood up and pleaded with the Board to recognize the many errors they were making by sticking doggedly to the path they had chosen. He asked them, “Is this really how you want to start Dr. Gratto’s tenure in Sag Harbor?” He appealed to their common sense and their humanity. But the Board had apparently checked their humanity at the door.
But why? It didn’t have to be that way. Even in the face of having already committed to Dr. Gratto, the Board could still have listened to what the public had to say. Perhaps it was too late for them to change course, but they could have opted to remember that they are also community members, and listen to what their fellow Sag Harborites had to say. It would have taken so little effort just to listen. Nothing else was necessary. Perhaps they would have heard a comment or two that would lead to a better decision, or at least a better decision making process, but we’ll never know. That’s a loss for everyone; but the people who lost the most tonight were the members of the Sag Harbor Board of Education — they lost their humanity. Not permanently, I’m sure, but for long enough to do damage both to their standing in the community and their own psyches.
Sometimes we just identify too much with the role we are playing at a given moment, and forget that underneath that role, we’re all just human beings. The Board of Education had a collective forgetting tonight. I’m guessing that somewhere along the way they fooled themselves into thinking that because they get to vote on the decisions, that the decisions are really theirs to make. Though they tried mightily to hold onto that illusion, they were reminded tonight, that that’s not how it works. In the end, the community makes the decisions; the Board just implements them.
It’s my hope that the Board wakes up soon from this dream of ‘being in charge’ and remembers that they are us.