When I first discovered that the Springboro Board of Education released their contract proposals in the midst of negotiations with the Springboro Education Association, I must admit that my first response was quite enthusiastic. After so many months of looking for the opportunity to invite local residents to participate in their local government on an open platform it seemed like open contract negotiations was my moment to shine. But when I found the proposals were actually poorly scanned PDF documents, I knew I had my work cut out for me.
It took four solid days of scanning, editing, and typing to transcribe the documents into a machine readable format. But what to do with the new format wasn’t immediately obvious. It took some more research to find the right platform that was open and required no additional coding to make use of it for open contract negotiations. The platform I chose was RapGenius, a next-generation lyrics site that allowed users to add their own annotations in order to describe the verses. After I had uploaded all the pages of the document, I went about adding the proposals as annotations, and dividing all the articles into album tracks in order to fit their format.
A few days later, the Editor in Chief at RapGenius sent me a message letting me know how excited their staff and their executive team were about my creative use of the platform. They offered to help generate national attention around the issue, provided I could connect it to a larger issue. The first name they threw at me was the Huffington Post, which I knew to be a liberal news agency, requiring me to find a connection to their predominately liberal readership. So I set about researching something as tantalizing as the recent controversies surrounding the Boards decision to put creationism on the books, and was shocked to discover their efforts towards promoting charter schools, not only in Springboro, but across Ohio.
The piece I wrote was published recently in the Huffington Post, and I must say that I am somewhat troubled by the decision to contribute more controversy to such a highly divisive issue. Open Government is meant to create a space where everyone can contribute their ideas and vote for the best one. But in my appearance to take sides with the Springboro Education Association, I fear the Board will ultimately view my efforts as a means of undermining their goals to be as transparent as possible in the negotiations with the local teachers Union.
I would like to clarify that I do indeed fear that privatizing our local schools would make it more difficult for the community to have a voice in our children’s education. The illusion of choice offers nothing so great as the authority to manage our own schools. That said, in my research for the article, I discovered a lot of great ideas that emerged from the original “small schools” movement which proceeded the current charter schools movement. While the Springboro school system continues to grow at its current pace, having the choice to provide smaller schools with greater attention on the needs of our students may well be something we could all get behind.
At the end of the day, I’m proud of my accomplishments to bring more attention to the contract negotiations. But I know that my decision to publish my article in the Huffington Post has cast a partisan shadow on my work, which will require that I put more effort into explaining the benefits of Open Government over the politics which continue to divide our community.