Cowardice: Board members failed Wood County students

Tuesday evening’s Wood County Board of Education meeting resulted in both an incredible betrayal of public trust and the laying bare of a disappointing lack of courage — not to mention willingness to do what is best for all students — in some board members.

“The problem is, there’s not enough people on this board with the intestinal fortitude to face the pressure,” said Board President Lawrence Hasbargen. ” … You’ve really created a mess.”

Board members Ron Tice, Rick Tennant and Peggy Smith did worse than give in to the small minority interested in saving an unnecessary school or ignoring the multiple site studies that show a former industrial site has no environmental issues that prevent building a new school there. They thumbed their noses at the tens of thousands of Wood County voters who were willing to pass a $41 million facilities bond to give our kids the school system they deserve.

“Unless we find property within a reasonable amount of time, probably within the next six months, we can’t sell the bonds, so you’ve basically nullified 21,000 voters,” said school board legal counsel Sean Francisco.

Meanwhile, Superintendent John Flint and the rest of the administration can hardly be surprised by the results of the meeting, after months in which a lack of guidance and support, and failure to facilitate further discussion likely contributed to the ease with which Tice, Tennant and Smith were swayed.

Poor behavior from public bullies was a constant in recent months as those folks woke up to the year-long process that was threatening their very narrow view of what might be easier for a small group of kids. Some of those people could not leave well enough alone even after Tuesday’s meeting and continued to harass board member Jim Asbury, who, along with Hasbargen, voted to try to uphold his responsibility to students and voters. Officials were right to clear the building once their jeering victory dance got out of hand, but such behavior has no place in public discourse.

Board members and Wood County School administrators have very little time to make this right. The consequences for board members, aptly described by Williamstown parent Melissa Weppler as having “used this process to manipulate the residents of Wood County,” will be next to nothing compared to the consequences for Wood County’s youth –all of them.

Tice, Tennant and Smith must only hope it is not too late. “You have destroyed everything we’ve built,” said Williamstown Elementary School Principal Heather Bretthauer.

Once they have found a little grit — borrowed it, if they have to — the board must spend the next few months dedicating everything they have to cleaning up the mess they made for Wood County’s kids.