Are two local school board members betraying voters by changing their views on school-closing issues?
The change of heart experienced by two Lawrence school board members concerning school consolidation issues in the district illustrates a couple of old axioms.
One is that things change. The other is that real issues almost never are as black and white as campaign slogans.
A Journal-World reporter who has covered the local board for a number of years went back in the files this week to see what two current school board members, Leni Salkind and Austin Turney, said during their 1997 election campaigns about closing schools. Both said at that time that they wouldn't support closing schools.
However, faced with the current reality of school district funding and shifting population, both Salkind and Turney also have shifted their view. To their credit they are willing to acknowledge that shift and explain why their opinions have changed.
Turney explained: "I'm still for neighborhood schools, but I'm not for every school in every circumstance." One of those circumstances is the cluster of four elementary schools Cordley, Centennial, Schwegler and Broken Arrow in the central part of the city.
Salkind also acknowledges the inability to offer a full range of services in the district's smallest elementary schools. "I believe in neighborhood schools," she said. "I never agreed to have a neighborhood school every five blocks."
Their comments raise the issue of what constitutes a "neighborhood" school. Lawrence was a much smaller city when many of the central-city elementary schools were built. Neighborhoods were smaller, as were the number of services people expected their schools to provide.
Interestingly, both Turney and Salkind live in central-city neighborhoods. The fact that Turney lives at 1502 Pa. and Salkind in Old West Lawrence gives their stand on school closures a different spin. They obviously care about their older neighborhoods and what schools mean to those neighborhoods. And yet, when faced with far more information than most Lawrence residents have examined, they see a need to realign some of those schools.
Some people will, no doubt, feel that they have been betrayed by these two candidates who campaigned on keeping schools open and, five years later, revised their opinion. That's understandable, but it's well to remember that school board members are elected to represent the best interests of the community and the school district as different circumstances and challenges arise.
As Salkind said, "I think the situation was different then. I was not elected to stand my ground without taking into consideration new information."
Certainly not. Candidates shouldn't misrepresent their position on an issue or blithely make promises just to gain votes, but stands sometimes can evolve over time. Whether or not residents agree with whatever school-closing recommendations the board eventually makes, it would be wrong to expect them to blindly stand by a campaign pledge they believe no longer makes sense.