Wow, it just got a lot cooler in Batavia, and I’m not just referring to the weather. I was planning to write about how much we enjoyed our extended vacation from school – especially Monday, when the kids and I learned how to make snow by tossing boiling water into the insanely frigid air. Neato!
But then I woke up Thursday morning to news of comments reportedly made by our school district’s former superintendent that left me positively chilled.
The specter of a 13 percent tax-levy hike, unanimously passed by the Batavia School District 101 Board in December, inspired numerous pre-vote emails to the board from concerned citizens, including this one from apparent levy supporter and former Batavia school superintendent Dr. Jack Barshinger. Barshinger retired last June.
“If Tech hasn’t shut off my access to this account, I wanted to share two Mark Twain quotes which I often used with the Board of Education that demonstrate why Boards need to listen to the public, not debate the public ...
‘Never argue with stupid people, they will drag you down to their level and then beat you with experience.’ – Mark Twain
‘Never argue with a fool in public, onlookers may not be able to tell the difference.’ – Mark Twain
The majority want you to pass the full levy. A few, that will never let ‘the facts’ get in the way of their argument, will attempt to represent the majority.
“Stupid people?” “Fool[s]?” Would these stupid people, these fools, be the same folks who fund your rather healthy pension, Mr. Barshinger? And, as you yourself say, did you really “often” employ these quotes when referring to us? Really? This is disheartening, to say the least.
Sadly, Barshinger’s aren’t the only unfortunate comments made by someone with former ties to the school board in advance of its decision. Former school board member Kathy Roberts also engaged in name-calling:
“These gadflies are not interested in the children of Batavia. They will never be satisfied until their school taxes are reduced to zero … .”
I don’t suppose Barshinger and Roberts ever imagined that their insulting comments would see the light of day. But they did, thanks to Sylvia Keppel, a Batavia resident and “Lower the Levy” organizer who unearthed them during her recent review of many emails – many of which, it turns out, were actually written by those opposing the levy – made available to her following her Freedom of Information Act request.
What we have here, among other things, is a beautiful illustration of that thing I’m constantly telling my kids –don’t commit to writing anything you wouldn’t be truly proud to see published in the newspaper or forwarded to your mother.
This isn’t about whether or not I agree or disagree with the levy. This is about the sad truth that these toxic attitudes, and this way of viewing and modeling how to be in what can, at times, be challenging relationships with teachers, staff and residents – whether the issue is curriculum conundrums, taxes or turf – has a way of trickling down to our educators and, eventually, to our children.
Name-calling? Really? Think what happens in the board room has no bearing on the playground? Think again.
Too cool for school, indeed.
• Jennifer DuBose lives in Batavia with her husband, Todd, and their two children, Noah and Holly. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.