Rich Dahman, the Milton School District’s new superintendent, begins his tenure facing criticism about his commitment to transparency.
It’s a bad sign that similar criticism dogged his predecessor, Tim Schigur, who resigned after a weeks-long inquiry into the process used to secure him a $10,500 bonus.
In an August editorial, we touted Dahman’s arrival as interim superintendent as a fresh start, but now we’re not so sure.
He botched the district’s response to an incident involving a group of students forming a swastika with their bodies on the high school gym floor. Instead of explaining what happened, he issued a vague statement and claimed providing details would violate student confidentiality. That’s nonsense because The Gazette never asked him to identify the students. The Gazette then filed an open records request to uncover details about the incident, and the district’s response also was a disappointment. The documents shed little light on what happened, indicating the district either kept inadequate records about the incident or failed to release all relevant records.
When a reporter called Dahman to ask questions about the records, Dahman ended the call.
The episode reminded us too much of Schigur’s tenure.
A major challenge for Dahman will be confronting the poor leadership often offered by the Milton School Board, which is arguably at the root of the district’s secrecy problem. Recall that former board President Tom Westrick took the blame for failing to bring Schigur’s bonus to the full board for approval. Westrick alone approved the bonus. Though Schigur should have known better, he was led astray.
Joe Martin took over as president and immediately ran his fingernails over a chalkboard by scolding the public for filing open records requests. Open records requests are “adding up” and “causing a tremendous burden on our staff,” Martin complained at a June school board meeting.
“We have a lot of staff time involved, and, quite frankly, that’s pulling them away from the stuff that we need them to do,” Martin said.
So when Martin said last month he felt “very confident that our response was appropriate” to the swastika incident, we took it as an endorsement of Dahman’s secretive handling of it.
Dahman would be wise to question advice he gets from the school board on transparency issues. He’s likely to become frustrated if he follows its lead. Just ask Tim Schigur. He learned the hard way about the consequences of treating transparency like an afterthought.
The good news is Dahman was hired as the Schigur’s permanent replacement only last week. There’s still time for Dahman to make transparency a top priority.