Vacant talk for a vacancy 

I have to admit. It was a relief last week to plop down in the Johnson High School auditorium to listen to the four candidates vie for our vacant school superintendent job.

I didn’t have to go to the meeting. I could have read about it the next morning. I could have caught the highlights on television. If I wanted to see fireworks -- which I didn’t really expect -- I could have slipped into a Sand Gnats game.

But after spending most of the week working my way through a to-do list of home repairs, sitting down inside was a good excuse to clean up, put on some decent clothes and rest somewhere cool -- even if I don’t do the actual home repairs myself unless you count cleaning up after the skilled worker, shlepping to the lumber yard with a list I don’t understand, shlepping a second time to return what I incorrectly bought in the first place and managing some unskilled painting.

Unless you count writing the checks.

Like many people around me -- and in the lines at Home Depot -- summer seems a good time to paint, to replace broken windows, to spruce up. Not that any of this starts off in the plural. Usually it’s one thing, one task. For me it was hanging a fan.

Then what follows is always the same. Once you’re in the house and you’ve engaged the services of someone with certain skills, the dance begins.

“I’m going to paint the house in a few months,” I mention in passing as we unwrap the packaging of fan parts.

“Really?” he says skeptically. “Then you might want to replace a few of those rotten boards.”

Get out the checkbook.

“This is money in the bank to people like me,” he says later, as a piece of siding crumbles in his hands.

The good part about being the boss and writing the checks is this: you can take long lunches; you can leave the worksite anytime you want.

“I’ll be back,” I say. “Have to go to a meeting.”

Want to go to a meeting. Want to see who is crazy enough to apply for the job of superintendent. Want to see the kinds of questions people ask.

Because if there’s anything that drives me crazy when I look at the breakdown of my taxes, it’s the amount of money paid to the schools.

Because if there’s any bigger problem in this town -- other than the trafficking of drugs and its ugly side effects -- I don’t know it.

Johnson’s a comfortable school. The seats in the auditorium come with side flaps you can swing over and write on. Plenty of leg room, too.

But as soon as I sat down, heard the candidates echo one another (“I agree with everything that’s been said ahead of me”), I started to nod off.

I was tired, I knew. Nothing like a little manual labor to do you in. It was the end of the week. I was sitting too far back.

I reshifted my position, re-crossed my legs, tried leaning forward on my knees. This is important, I implored my inner self. Pay attention!

Nothing worked. I felt as if I were back in college microbiology.

Either I couldn’t stop thinking about what needed doing next on my house -- better screens, the possibility of burglar bars, how to reshift some funds -- or there was nothing going on in front of me.

I know they’re very accomplished individuals, very professional, very different from one another. But I couldn’t tell them apart.

I couldn’t get through the rhetoric. I wasn’t hearing anything new.

My own questions seemed too mundane, like why do schools spend so much money on those freestanding message boards that never announce anything other than word of the week (“character,” “loyalty,” “honesty”), dates of vacation, book of the month, dates of the next test.

What can schools do to counter this ridiculous emphasis on testing? Why about more foreign languages? What about art and gym?

What’s the holdup on technical schools, for goodness sake? What can we do about bullies? Why aren’t front offices more receptive to volunteers?

No one caught fire for me. I didn’t want to think this. I didn’t want to be negative. But it all sounded like more of the same.

Accountability. Academic outcomes. And more visits to the checkbook.

E-mail Jane at gofish5@earthlink.net


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Jane Fishman

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