Trustee Edgar Rodriguez dropped a very colorful ball during the circus that was the most recent Board of Education meeting. In amongst a series of bizarre votes and actions, some of which seem to have been made up on the spot by board members, Rodriguez gave the rest of the board the impression that he thought they were all racist. I'm sure I'll be accused of either being Eurocentric or hopelessly naive for saying so, but I didn't realize we had more than one race among the board members.
Middle School Renovation
Let's back up a bit. Edgar Rodriguez felt outnumberered on the Board of Education from the day he was elected, and from my conversations with him I believed it to be because the other members at the time were very conservative and didn't hold the same philosophies about taxation and education. The debate over the Middle School led at least two of the current members to run for the Board, and I figured that if anything, Edgar had made it into the majority of thought, but apparently the shift still left him out in the cold.
The details of the renovation have been discussed at recent BoE meetings, and last week a fellow Board member told me that Edgar was handing out information to the public that was "just flat-out wrong." In particular, he made notes in the margins of some financial statements that made claims about what the district currently owed that were incorrect - claims that were corrected at the most recent meeting by superintendent Maria Rice, and were also the focus of much of the shenanigans that occured.
To say that Edgar is not quite decided on the fate of the Middle School is both fair and understandable. He voted to move forward with renovation over building anew, a project that would have cost far more in the long run but less per year, but now he's expressing concerns about the senior citizens in New Paltz (although maybe this project will get them moving into Woodland Pond more quickly, so the first residents won't have to pay extra if the facility isn't filled up - a bizarre contract clause that the Woodland Pond Board thought appropriate to foist upon their neighbors . . . but, I digress). I would probably have trouble balancing the needs to the community, too, because the property tax model pits our children against our elderly. I get that.
Let's not let the public see this
At the last meeting, Rodriguez' ambivalence was a focus. Trustee Patrick Rausch, according to the New Paltz Times, wanted to move to executive session to work out the disagreement. That's a creative use of executive session if I ever saw one. I may just try it on the Village Planning Board. Oh, wait, that's right, they would ask me the legal justification for the motion and I'd either talk out my butt or sit there with my mouth agape, because you can't just go into executive session because you disagree. Public meetings are about public debate, right?
Then Rausch tried a different tack, suggesting that they close the meeting and enter a "retreat" to discuss their differences. The fact that they seriously discussed this possibility would lead me to believe that Rausch didn't make this idea up on the spot, but I'm still not convinced. It sounds to me like another way to dodge the Open Meetings Law, like when they denied Rodriguez the right to attend Facilities Committee meetings (even as a spectator) so that the meetings wouldn't have to be open to the public. This kind of secrecy makes me want to vote "no" on anything they bring before me - what could you possibly have to say to each other that you can't say in public? How do you intend on treating this man?
But . . . the race card?
Edgar Rodriguez, who left the meeting early after casting the only vote against not adjourning it, told his fellows trustees he would not go to a retreat with them unless they all attend the "Undoing Racism" course. He was later quoted as saying, ". . . I am getting differential treatment on the board. And I'm starting to believe that it is because of my racial ethnicity."
As I said above, I never thought of Edgar as being a member of a different race than the remainder of the school board. There are three races, I was taught, and they are characterized by physical differences. Edgar does not possess a high melanin content, broad nose and lips, and highly kinked hair; nor does he have an epicantic fold that changes the appearance of his eyes. Granted, his skin lacks the particularly pasty quality of mine, but it's no darker than that of my Italian friends, and I'm certain that I share a race with them.
Did nature evolve a race of people with a genetic predisposition for fluency in Spanish that I am not aware of? Well Dan Torres should be a member of that race and be getting similar treatment. In fact, each of the board members seems to occupy a different racial profile: woman, firefighter, entrepreneur, IBMer . . . aren't these all races? No?
I don't think Edgar is wrong to believe he's being picked on, but I think it's got nothing to do with race, ethnicity, gender, or any of those qualities which he cannot control and from which genuine discrimination springs. Edgar has sat on this board long enough to see it swing from one end of the political continuum to the other and it change from almost entirely white men to a body diverse in ethnicity and representing both genders. I think that if he's still feeling like he's left out in the cold, that it might be more about how he behaves as a trustee of the Board of Education. It's about dispensing inaccurate information, the victim mentality, and not knowing how to conduct yourself when you hold a minority view in an elected body. If you want to be a kid, go trick-or-treating. We need adults handling our schools, thank you.
The Board of Education seems to be an illegally secretive body, but those secrets don't look like they have anything to do with race. I only wish that the much-needed shakeup on this Board could occur before the Middle School matter is voted on by the public, so that we can separate that question from these childish shenangins.