Opinion: Youth Sports and Community Building
I just can’t figure if what we are witnessing lately at Greendale school board meetings is high drama, bad soap opera or a tragedy.
Typically, school board meetings are dry affairs with very low public attendance. They don’t lend themselves to much real drama. However, the actions (or inactions) of school board and John Tharp continue to be at the center of attention in Greendale.
Just prior to Monday’s meeting, I’d say that at least some of the members of the school board and administration looked tense. Who can blame them? Lately, this school board has presided over public controversies that have drifted very close to Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey territory. They were facing another full house.
The dozens seated in the gallery were joined by three Village trustees — I consider that notable. The school board candidates were in attendance as well. Then came the citizen comments. The school board heard from a string of basketball and soccer parents, football coaches and league commissioners.
Their comments seemed to share similar threads. First, the board heard loud and clear (again) that many in the room support John Tharp and his youth sports initiatives. I think it is great that Tharp supports youth sports. I even hear he is a youth basketball coach over at St. Als. No problem with that.
Another theme was that youth sports are vital to the well-being of the Village’s children and families. As a former kid, I hereby attest that my youth and high school sports experiences in Greendale were a highlight of my childhood. It think it is pretty hard to argue against the value youth sports organizations bring to our Village and its families. That is a no brainer. To be against youth sports in the Village would almost be like being against the veterans.
Then, I heard that our community’s kids should be given priority access to school facilities over the Park and Recreation Department. Here is where I think we hit a main sticking point.
Superintendent John Tharp unilaterally decided in 2013 that Greendale youth sports leagues should be given priority over Park and Recreation Department programs for use of district facilities. I’ve also heard that fees have been waived these groups.
The nitty-gritty is that his decisions fly contrary to long-standing policies voted on and approved by the Greendale School board. School board policy provides the general direction as to what the School Board wishes to accomplish while delegating implementation of policy to the administration.
Board policy governs both Park and Recreation and the schools. There are also long-standing cooperative agreements between Village Hall, Park and Recreation and the school district for maintenance and scheduling of fields like Lions Park and The Community Center facilities. Upkeep and improvements at those facilities is not free. Many feel his decision took money out pockets of both the Village of Greendale and the Park and Recreation Department and gave it to the youth sports groups.
Scattered among criticism, there was a smattering of very tepid support of the Park and Rec Department from the youth sports contingent. What was notable was that not a single board member, the superintendent or even the long-time businesses manager spoke up about the hard work and value the Park and Recreation Department brings to our Village and schools. Not a peep.
Only a lone resident stepped up to the microphone and stuck up for the Park and Recreation Department, perhaps out of exasperation. Joe Crapitto did manage a statement that at least tried to clarify the school board policy. Frankly, it came off a bit weak. As near as I can tell, he said the school board might be taking a fresh look at the policy. I’m not sure.
A review of board policy is part of what the youth sports groups are asking for. I think it is a perfectly reasonable request and something that could have been hashed out in 2013. One would think that collaboration, consensus and communication among stakeholders is the preferred way forward to progress. Instead, the superintendent has again chosen the path that invites conflict and division while board choses a path of inaction.
As one impartial observer at Monday’s meeting asked me, “Why is everyone so angry?”
Conflict is natural. Conflict, to differing degrees, occurs daily in everyone’s life. Conflict in and of itself is not necessarily good or bad. It’s the way that conflict is handled that makes the outcome positive or negative.
The tradition in Greendale is for a wide range of groups to work together as much as possible for the common good of the community. It is part of Greendale’s DNA. However, the DNA of the Greendale School District has mutated.
As one Village leader wondered out loud, “Is the school district part of the community or is the community part of the school district?”
I think that is a fair question to ask.