Unnecessary oversight

Southwest Harbor selectmen recently discussed assigning board members as official “liaisons” to various groups and committees within the community. Of particular interest was a suggestion that one of the selectmen be assigned to keep an eye on the school board and attend all their meetings.

On its face, this seems a perfectly harmless and innocent suggestion. In reality, however, it would be a major breach of protocol and impinge on separation of powers and duties outlined in law. Also it would be a major change in the traditional relationship between the two bodies.

At the very least, the notion that selectmen need to keep an eye on the school board suggests a lack of trust in the school board’s ability to faithfully discharge its duties.

The current system requires the school board alone to focus on the education budget. Selectmen have a chance to weigh in on how the school board has done its job prior to the entire municipal budget being acted upon at town meeting each spring.

While selectmen have a vested interest in maintaining a tight rein on the budget to keep the overall tax rate as low as possible, the school board’s primary responsibility is the education of the town’s children. It is up to the citizenry, not the selectmen, to pass ultimate judgment on whether or not the board’s recommendations are justified.

Any selectman can attend any school board meeting at any time, just as any citizen is entitled to do. Selectmen also can offer input when public comment is sought or when specifically invited by the school board to do so. They should avoid, however, approaching the relationship like a proctor watching to make sure no one is cheating on a test.

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