BY MIKE FUHRMAN
If Iredell-Statesville Schools Board of Education Vice Chairman Mike Kubiniec has any ideas for improving educational outcomes for students, he’s yet to share them with his fellow board members.
During this week’s Committee of the Whole meeting, Kubiniec pitched his latest, greatest proposal for creating more distractions and disruptions for the board and administration to deal with at a time when the district needs less of those.
The vice chair’s newest big idea — on the heels of his recent war on books and parental rights — is to turn the monthly public comment period into a “discussion” between board members and the public.
Under its current policy, which resembles those of the Mooresville Graded School District, the Iredell County Board of Commissioners and local municipalities, the I-SS board allows members of the public to express their concerns to the board for up to three minutes at one meeting each month. The I-SS policy expressly states that the board will not engage with the speakers.
Not surprisingly, Kubiniec thinks his way is better. He said his proposal would strengthen the board’s relationship with its constituents at a time when he claims “public trust in government institutions is at an all-time low.”
“Don’t you think they would like some affirmation of being heard or should we sit here like stone-faced, emotionless bureaucrats without providing a speaker any confirmation?” the vice chair said in his plea for the policy change.
It’s more than slightly ironic that Kubiniec, who has repeatedly ignored the state’s open meetings laws by engaging in secret discussions about school business with a quorum of other board members via text message throughout his entire tenure as an elected school board member, would offer a solution for repairing the public’s trust when he has repeatedly violated that very trust.
Fortunately, the other board members saw the vice chair’s latest grandstanding for exactly what it was — a horrible idea.
Board member Doug Knight said he could envision a scenario in which a back and forth between a member of the public and a board member rapidly deteriorated into a situation that blows up on social media or makes the evening news.
“We’re setting ourselves up to go viral,” Knight told Chairman Bill Howell. “You think we’re the best show in town right now, Mr. Howell? We’ll be the best show in the state.”
“Do I want to be on Fox News? No,” Knight said. “Do I want to be on Queen City News? No.”
“I want to … do the business of the schools and educate the students the best we can. We’ve got enough problems there,” he added.
The purpose of the public comment period is for speakers to have their say, Knight explained, and not have board members “fire back at them.”
Board member Charles Kelly also opposed Kubiniec’s proposal, saying the current policy was carefully crafted and has served the district well. The public comment period, he said, provides an opportunity for the board to listen to students, parents and other stakeholders.
During the public comment period, members of the public are addressing the entire board, he explained, and no individual board member can respond on behalf of the entire board when the board has not discussed the matter and reached a consensus on the board’s view on whatever the issue is.
Furthermore, engaging in a debate with an individual who comes to the meeting looking for a fight would give them exactly what they want, Kelly added.
“You do not want to do this. You do not want to get into that,” he said.
Board member Anita Kurn expressed her support for the policy change.
Board member Abby Trent said she supported the existing policy, and Chairman Howell said Kubiniec’s revised policy could “create big problems” for the board.
“I can’t go for this,” Howell said.
The chairman said the board would vote on the proposed policy change in 30 days.
Trent takes issue with board member’s criticism
During the board member comment period of Tuesday’s meeting, board member Abby Trent took issue with another board member’s criticism of her for missing the Statesville High School graduation ceremony this spring.
“Last board meeting Anita Kurn initiated yet another Moms for Liberty-style attack when she stated that I did not attend the Statesville High School graduation,” Trent said.
“Had she or anyone else taken the time to ask, they would have known the reason that I was not able to be there,” she added. “Not that I owe anyone an explanation, but a few days before Statesville High’s graduation I was hospitalized and put on bed rest by my doctor. I had lengthy conversations with Dr. James and Principal Parker about my personal health issues.”
Trent, who stated that she wished she could have attended the graduation ceremony, offered some advice for Kurn.
“For future reference, it is important to obtain all the facts before you attempt to defame, slander or belittle someone,” Trent said. “It’s a shame that this rift between us has been made public. I thought all of this hatred and immaturity was put to bed months ago — but evidently not.”
Kurn offered an apology, which was not well received by Trent. Kurn then quickly made a motion to adjourn the meeting, which did not receive the support of the majority of board members.
Kurn has little credibility when it comes to telling other school board members how to do their job. Her public criticism of Trent came several months after Kurn joked in a text message with other board members that Statesville High School students with discipline issues should fight in a Thunderdome. Board member Brian Sloan suggested that the district could charge admission to the fights.
Trent, meanwhile, has served lunch to Statesville High staff members and tutored elementary students, and she recently helped organize a Fun Day for all N.B. Mills students.
Kurn and Kubiniec may be scoring points with their political supporters, but neither has done anything of substance to support and advance the interests of district students and staff members. That’s what they were elected to do.
Mike Fuhrman is the editor of Iredell Free News.