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Reasoned Snyder will be missed on board

By GREG HAMILTON
© St. Petersburg Times
published January 13, 2002

To absolutely no one's surprise, School Board member Carol Snyder announced this week that she would not seek re-election when her term expires in November.

I'll take her at her word when she says the decision was based solely on her husband's health and not at all on the fireworks she ignited last year because of her stand on the separation of church and state.

But she would be only human if she allowed her decision to be influenced by the hurtful responses she received from many citizens because of her views.

Snyder, 65, a relative newcomer to Citrus, did what very few other retirees do when they arrive here: She offered her services as an elected official. Her opponents may say that's because she wanted to push her agenda on the rest of the county. To some, she embodied the detested expression, "That's how we did it up north."

But that ignores all of the personal sacrifices she and her family have made as she campaigned for office and fulfilled her duties as a board member. How many other retirees simply ease into their well-earned golden years?

She got involved, and as a reward for her community service, she received an avalanche of grief. I wonder if her experience has deterred others from seeking office.

It didn't take long for her to start making waves. At her first board meeting after taking over for departed member Mark Stone, Snyder offered a list of issues that she felt were important for the board to consider. Deep on the list was an interest in changing the invocation at board meetings to be inclusive of all of the religions present in the county.

She felt it was a minor matter. The invocation, like the Pledge of Allegiance, is part of the formalities of public meetings -- important, sure, but not the most serious business at hand.

Maybe Snyder didn't understand her new community well enough to anticipate the reaction, but it was overwhelming. You would have thought she was calling for the burning of Bibles.

She tried to explain her reasoning. "I don't want to do away with prayer," she said at the time. "I want to find a prayer that will be inclusive. . . . If I were a Jewish person sitting in the audience, I'd think that they didn't want me there. I have been a Christian all of my life, but I believe that we are all brothers and sisters in God's eyes, and I want to include and show respect for everyone."

Adding fuel to the fire, she questioned the propriety of a Fellowship of Christian Athletes meeting at Inverness Middle School around the holidays. She pointed out that the FCA event was not just an end-of-the-school year party but a revival meeting, with youth pastors actively recruiting students and brow-beating others on the matter of their faith.

Snyder did what she was supposed to do as a School Board member, she asked questions, only to see her reasoned stance grossly twisted by other board members and citizens into an attack on Christianity in general and the FCA in particular.

All of the flak that she received from her new neighbors no doubt left scars, but Snyder prefers to take the high road and say those battles did not lead her to decide not to seek another term.

Snyder may be dreaming but she hopes that the religion issues do not define her time on the board. It's useful, therefore, to recall some of the other topics she has tackled:

She strongly opposes the district's practice of including half-days on the student calendar, saying they are taking away from education. "We should be getting more time in class. We should be talking about a longer school day if not a longer school year."

She pushed for televising School Board meetings so the public can be more involved in the business of education. The idea was rejected.

For safety reasons, Snyder does not want students selling items door to door in school fundraisers. However, she also is concerned about the money that must be raised through such sales, noting that the district should look at its own budget "and maybe we could support more of these things" rather than having children raise the money.

Snyder has pushed for alternatives to expulsion and out-of-school suspensions for students. "I don't think that putting any kid out on the street is ever a good idea. Once you put a kid out on the streets, you've lost him."

Snyder was one of the loudest voices questioning the district's methods of budgeting, especially after administrators acknowledged there is padding in the budget.

In the tradition of how this county treats School Board members who criticize the establishment (see: Herndon, Janet and Whitelaw, Sheila -- the persecution of same) Snyder was flayed for daring to speak out. And we wonder why some things never change.

At the height of the prayer controversy, Snyder wrote an open letter to the community to explain her views. It's worth repeating a slice of that message:

"I will continue to be a voice for what I believe is right and best for the students of Citrus County. It was not and is not my intent to be a disruptive force, but if working for the betterment of the schools and abiding by the law of the land (which I swore an oath to do) is considered disruptive, so be it."

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