Respect and civility still count in public life

Our View

Good news, Dr. Michael Mugits, principal of Molly Stark Elementary School, has decided to stay.

The widely respected principal submitted his resignation — effective at the end of the school year — to the Bennington School District board on Feb. 1 just a few weeks after a meeting where he was openly disrespected by certain board members during a discussion over field trip funding.

The board refused to accept his resignation.

At the time, Mugits said it was not one issue, incident, or person that led to his decision, but what he told the Banner Thursday, a few days after town meeting where three BSD incumbents were voted out, certainly indicates that the board's make-up had something to do with it.

"I think the fact that the community elected four new board members may very well have an impact on the scope and direction of the board," said Mugits.

On Tuesday, voters elected Daniel Monks, Christopher Murphy, and Chaila Sekora to the BSD board. They defeated incumbents Kenneth Swierad — Who was the board's chairman — Eugene Rowley, and Marie DeCoff.

All three newcomers expressed support for Mugits during their campaigns.

In January, Mugits and the board talked about fundraising for a fifth grade field trip to Nature's Classroom in Silver Bay, N.Y. Mugits was concerned about the cost and had been given permission by the board to explore other, less expensive, locations for the trip, however the board changed its mind at the Jan. 19 meeting and said the trip had to be to Nature's Classroom.

It was not a pretty conversation. At the end of it, Mugits suggested that he might not be in the right school district, to which Rowley replied "I'm glad you were the one to say it."

No one on the board contradicted Rowley and their support of Mugits afterward was tepid at best.

It's perfectly natural for boards and administrators to have disagreements, even major ones, but for good decisions to be made that the school and community can get behind a certain level of mutual respect needs to be maintained. Without it, choices get made based on personalities, not logic. We can't say that Rowley and the others were voted out solely over the incident with Mugits, but it was likely a major factor.

If it was, they're not the only board members being held accountable for what they say and how they treat people.

On Wednesday, Shaftsbury School Board member Francis Kinney lost his chairmanship after refusing to apologize for referring to certain community members as "idiots" when stating his thoughts on a ventilation project.

We've already editorialized on a Bennington Select Board member's disparaging online comments regarding residents.

As far as we know, there's only one politician in the United States right now who's seemingly immune to blowback from bad behavior. His immunity doesn't even extend to his own cabinet, much less trickle down to local school boards. Most local officials understand this. By and large, meetings are calm and respectful, however even at the best of times the town-level political process can be intimidating. We don't need boards that make people, constituents or employees, feel disrespected.


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