School Board meetings don’t need a referee

Charleston County School Board meeting are contentious and some members can become ill-mannered. They gum things up and confuse the public. And they intimidate school district staff.

But the answer is not, as the board is now considering, to hire a parliamentarian. The school board should be able to manage its own meetings, while deferring to the chairman to keep order.

Hiring a parliamentarian would take money away from education, and would offer an easy target for school district critics.

Miss Manners herself would probably fail to change the tenor of school board meetings.

And the idea of limiting debate on agenda items to two minutes per member also is ill-advised. Yes, some members might go on too long, lose direction and add little to the debate. But some need more time to state their cases, and board rules should not stifle them.

The fact is, voters chose the people to represent them on the school board. If voters don’t like what they’re doing, or how they’re doing it, they should say so with their votes.

Superintendent Nancy McGinley certainly was within her authority writing the board and asking them to treat employees with respect. We hope members are chastened by the fact that she even had to make such a request.

The board is composed of grown-ups who ought to know to treat all people with respect.

Even so, it is important for members to voice their opinions and discuss their differences. Sometimes they will take issue with the superintendent and her staff. And sometimes tempers will flare.

Sometimes that’s just part of an open exchange of differing points of view. But it shouldn’t be the predominant board meeting mood.

The Charleston County School Board has been contentious for decades — no surprise when members have included strong personalities like John Graham Altman III and Arthur Ravenel, both of whom were not afraid to stand firm on their principles.

Occasionally, it takes a bludgeon to make a point. More often, people score points by being thoughtful, considerate and informed. Being cantankerous only offends others and makes them less inclined to listen.

Elected school board members should do their utmost to behave as dignified adults.

But if they can’t do that on their own, don’t expect a parliamentarian to make a difference.