Work Together On School Board

A disconcerting division seems to have emerged on the Ohio County Board of Education. For the good of local public school students, let us hope the split is only temporary.

Since November 2012, the board has required service employees such as bus drivers, maintenance workers and cafeteria staff to wear uniforms to work. It costs the school district about $60,000 a year to provide and launder the outfits.

When the policy was adopted, by a 4-1 vote, officials said it was because of safety considerations. “We have people who are out interacting with our students where there might not be adult supervision. A uniform is an identifying factor,” said board member Shane Mallett.

But Mallett, now president of the board, has had second thoughts. On Monday, board members voted 3-2 to eliminate a stipulation that employees failing to wear uniforms to work can be fired. Board members Mallett, Tim Birch and Gary Kestner voted in favor of the motion. Kestner had voted against the original requirement in 2012. Birch is new on the board.

Board members Christine Carder and Sarah Koegler voted against the motion on Monday. Both suggested the policy be reconsidered, not eliminated.

Left in place is a requirement that service employees wear uniforms to work. No doubt some will continue to do so. But without any teeth in the policy – which stipulated that firing could occur only after the sixth offense of failing to wear a uniform – some workers will ignore it.

Birch pointed out the district still has a policy requiring employees to dress professionally. But in terms of safety – students and others being able to easily identify school employees – there is a difference between dressing professionally and wearing a uniform.

Perhaps the matter can be addressed through a suggestion made earlier this month, that all employees be required to wear identification badges.

But the vote on uniforms was not the only time acrimony was on display Monday night. It also surfaced on a few other matters.

No public body should be free of disagreements or vote unanimously all the time. That implies boards, commissions and councils are acting as mere rubber stamps for administrators.

At the same time, frequent 3-2 divisions on the school board are not a good thing. They send a distinctly mixed message to students, parents, staff members and taxpayers.

Again, let us hope board members can, in effect, agree to disagree on some issues while not allowing disputes to stand in the way of what is best for Ohio County students.