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SCHOOL TRUSTEES MUST PLAY BY DIFFERENT RULES

"Gag rule"? The first two words of headline over the August 20 Buffalo News editorial about Williamsville schools caught my attention. Having served 14 years, three of them as president, on the Williamsville Board of Education, I have experience with the role and responsibility of a school trustee.

The four board members -- Ralph J. Argen, Barry S. Eckert, William Paluch and Ken Smith -- did nothing illegal in going together to visit the St. Mary of the Angels Motherhouse with town officials to determine possible school district use. Nor was it illegal to call the newspaper with their ideas.

Both of those actions, however, were unethical and smacked of poor boardsmanship. Once a board member takes the oath of office, he or she is no longer an ordinary citizen. That board member is an agent of the state and needs to carefully weigh his/her language and actions for the sake of the children and youth they serve.

At the board's reorganization meeting, all nine members voted affirmatively, without debate, for the district policy book, which includes the code of conduct for the board. They agreed that the president would be the board spokesperson. This policy is recommended at every county, state and national school-board workshop so that the school community will not be misled with conflicting information.

This does not mean that there is not to be open debate at the board table or that members cannot visit school or community sites. However, issues need to be brought to the attention of the entire board, including the superintendent of schools. Why were they not contacted before the visit? The use of the motherhouse is an idea worthy of everyone's examination. If administrators are caught by surprise, they are cut off at the knees.

I am most concerned that an officer of the board was among the four. Vice President Dr. Barry S. Eckert said during his campaign that he was not a member of a taxpayers' group and described himself as an independent consensus-builder. When I asked if he would support majority decisions even if he were in the minority, he said: "If you mean, will I run to the newspapers with my story? No." As a part of the Williamsville Alliance for Quality Education, I endorsed him. So far, his public record and this action make his campaign promises ring hollow.

I encourage the presence of The Buffalo News at all Williamsville Board of Education meetings. There has always been open debate on all issues in that public forum. No one has ever been gagged at these meetings. In America, majority rules. I have been in the minority in a number of issues but supported the votes of the majority.

With the apparent change in the rules by "the four," the Williamsville school district may be in for a bumpy ride this year. Parents, take note.

JEAN M. WOOD Williamsville