Friday, December 31, 2010

Theory of the Big Lie

The basic idea of Big Lie Theory is that the masses will more readily believe a big lie than a small one, particularly if it is repeated enough times. The Big Lie is thus an essential tool of manipulation and it has been used to great advantage by many - from individuals to nation-states. The concept itself is often attributed to the Nazis although they were by no means the only skilled practioners of the Big Lie.

One very stunning example of the Big Lie Theory in action comes from our very own school district. Just today, the district newsletter arrived in my mailbox. On page two, Hunter once again claims that the bond has come in under budget and has a projected ending balance of over $1 million. What he doesn't mention, of course, is that the district borrowed an additional $2 million in Qualified School Construction Bonds and used those monies to finish up various bond projects. At the November Facilities Committee meeting, Mike Maloney even admitted (albeit in a roundabout way) that the bond was over budget (you can listen to the audio recording of his comments below in audio link dated 11/17/2010).

Hunter apparently believes that if he simply repeats the lie over and over that we will all eventually come to believe it.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Board Meeting Date Change

The board meeting originally scheduled for January 10 has been switched to January 3. Two board members reportedly have tickets to the Oregon-Auburn game (an presumably at least some of the others want to watch the game on TV) which would have made it difficult to ensure a quorum for the meeting if it was held on the 10th. Hope to see you there on January 3 - there are a lot of important issues coming up in the next couple of months.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Vacant Board Position

At the December board meeting, the board was once again unable to make a decision regarding the vacant board position. At the November meeting, the vote had split 3-3 between Preston Baxter and Steve Moser. Prior to the December meeting, rumors began circulating that Sarah Ramirez intended to change her vote from Preston to Steve and that her stated reason for doing so was that she had concluded that Preston and his wife did not support teachers. Preston addressed these rumors when given the opportunity at the meeting (See Part 6 of the video posted on 12/12 below). When it came time to vote, everyone voted as they had in November but Sarah abstained. Since the board needs four votes (a majority of a seven person board) to make an appointment, the position will remain vacant until school board elections this spring. To give credit, several board members (but not Sarah) had the good manners to apologize to Preston and Rory Baxter for the unpleasantness they had endured simply because Preston had applied for the vacant board position.

Preston has decided to run for the position in May and has started a Facebook page ("Preston Baxter for Central 13J School Board") to introduce himself to the community. I would encourage you to take a look - I'm sure he'll be adding more as time goes on.

As the election approaches, I'm hoping to put together a public forum for board candidates. It would be great to have some real dialog about the issues we are confronting. I'm also hoping that others will consider running for the three positions that will be decided this spring. We need to get beyond the notion that running against an incumbent is an insult to them. If any one's feelings are that easily hurt, they should probably stay out of the public arena. We need real candidates who will stand up and make the case that they should represent us. The all too frequent uncontested "non-races" we have had in the past have not served us very well. I would like to see several candidates for each position and I would like to see them actually campaign. If education is important, it's worth fighting for.

For now, we can probably expect more deadlock on the board. Given the current state of affairs, that may not be an entirely bad thing. I'm very glad to see that board members no longer fall into lock step with one another and even have debates and real differences of opinion. Nor do they just "go along to get along." When I first joined the board back in 2006, board members often behaved like rubber-stamp robots rather than thinking, questioning leaders. We've come a long way, although there is still much room for improvement.

We've begun the process of revitalizing our local democracy; let's keep that process moving forward.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Bond "Surplus" Meeting 12-16-10 part 1

I've divided the audio from last week's meeting into eight parts (which makes it easier to upload). It's worth listening all the way through to the end. It's difficult at times to know the exact projects they are discussing without access to the documents from the meeting.

Of course, it may be a moot point if it is determined to have been an illegal meeting based on the lack of public notification and the results of the board vote are nullified.

12-16-10 part 1.MP3

Bond "Surplus" Meeting 12-16-10 part 2

Bond "Surplus" Meeting 12-16-10 part 3

Bond "Surplus" Meeting 12-16-10 part 4

Bond "Surplus" Meeting 12-16-10 part 5

Bond "Surplus" Meeting 12-16-10 part 6

Bond "Surplus" Meeting 12-16-10 part 7

Bond "Surplus" Meeting 12-16-10 part 8

Monday, December 20, 2010

Public Meetings

On Thursday of last week (December 16), there was another meeting related to the bond "surplus." There was a quorum of board members present and they did take a vote at the end of the meeting. Notice of this meeting was never posted to the district's website - in fact, there was no public notice whatsoever. According to Oregon's Public Records Law, this renders void any decisions made at the meeting and exposes board members, both individually and collectively, to legal liability. They can be sued in court and and they are subject to investigation by the Governmental Ethics Commission.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The WESD Debacle

If you don't subscribe to the Salem Statesman-Journal, you should be sure to buy a copy of today's edition (Sunday, December 19). There is a special supplement by Tracy Loew detailing the results of her 16 month investigation into the mess at the WESD. Among the problems: no-bid contracts, sweetheart deals, administrators dinging the taxpayers for in-town meals, hiring top administrators on the basis on personal friendships and connections, bullying and intimidation of staff. Does any of this sound familiar? The web of connections stretches into our own Central School District. Jack Stoops, former superintendent for Central, former board chair of WESD, and spouse of our very own board chair, Susan Stoops, figures prominently in the story. Susan herself was a special education administrator at WESD "during the time that state auditors found problems" (p. 7AA). What is perhaps most remarkable is how little oversight exists at any level of our public education system, from the local level all the way to the top. Oversight, particularly of finances, is left largely to local or regional boards of directors. Those boards, however, are told to place their trust in the superintendents whom they hire and to not ask too many questions. My own observations have led me to conclude that board members who do ask questions are regarded as "difficult" and quickly find themselves marginalized by the "team players" on the board. One of the most telling quotes from the report comes from Jack Stoops. "A board has to depend on the word of its superintendent. There's so much detail - expenditure strands, revenue strands. Unless you're into it on a daily basis, you have to depend on what the superintendent says " (p. 6AA). What an extraordinary claim from a former superintendent. Is is really too complicated or is this some kind of "professional courtesy?" It certainly seems to be the guiding philosophy of Central's current board chair and a majority of our other board members (with a couple of notable exceptions). It has, not surprisingly, yielded similar results.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Central 13J School Board Meeting 12062010 Part 12 Final

Central 13J School Board Meeting 12062010 Part 11

Central 13J School Board Meeting 12062010 Part 10

Central 13J School Board Meeting 12062010 Part 9

Central 13J School Board Meeting 12062010 Part 8

Central 13J School Board Meeting 12062010 Part 7

Central 13J School Board Meeting 12062010 Part 6

Central 13J School Board Meeting 12062010 Part 5

Central 13J School Board Meeting 2062010 Part 4

Central 13J School Board Meeting 12062010 Part 3

Central 13J School Board Meeting 12062010 Part 2

Central 13J School Board Meeting 12062010 Part 1

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Complaint Process

Lots of stuff from the board meeting last night so I will have to report bit by bit.

I'll start with an issue I raised related to the complaint process. For some time now, the board has been encouraging the public to use the formal complaint process to address issues related to the superintendent's performance. They have said that their hands are tied until such formal complaints are made and I can see their point. So last month I filed just such a complaint
regarding contractual issues that I think are fairly clear cut.

Since that time, however, I have not received so much as an acknowledgement of that complaint. In other district complaint policies the time limit for responding in each step of the process is between five and ten days. After 35 days, I had nothing. So in the listening session toward the beginning of the meeting I asked about it and about the process in general.

The board chair opted to address the issue once the entire meeting reconvened and gave the following explanation: "When complaints about the superintendent are received, according to our policy, they are first given to the district's legal counsel to be sure it is a legitimate complaint. After all, people can complain about anything, including the suits the superintendent chooses to wear. In this case, the attorney has reviewed the matter and we have hired an investigator to look into it." [This is paraphrased. Once the video is available it will be posted here and you can listen to her explanation directly.]

First of all, let me be very clear - my complaint is not about his suits. Since the board chair has repeatedly claimed that there have been no complaints regarding the superintendent, where did this assertion of frivolous complaints come from?

Secondly, and more importantly, nowhere in policy (Public Complaint Process, Policy KL) is this process spelled out. I don't necessarily object to the process but I think the public has the right to know what the process involves. And, for that matter, so does the rest of the board. I had asked other board members what was going on with my complaint and no one seemed to know. It would appear that the board chair is determining the process on her own, perhaps in consultation with the superintendent (a direct conflict of interest), and leaving the other board members out. If this is in fact what is happening, the board chair is exceeding her authority. The board chair's responsibilities and prerogatives are confined to organizing and running meetings and acting as the spokesperson for the board as a whole. The board, not the chair, is the legally enabled entity charged with making decisions (in public meetings through parliamentary procedures). If they are developing new policy "as they go" they all need to be involved in that process.

Finally, who is the investigator and who will foot the bill? Why can't the board look into this on their own?

Sunday, December 5, 2010


Hello Everyone,
I've been very busy the past couple of weeks and haven't been posting much. I will have more time once I get out from under all of the end of term grading coming my way in the next week. There's been quite a lot going on so stay tuned for updates on:

1) Collective Bargaining - The CEA and the district have settled the contract for the teachers.

2) Community letter of no confidence - Signatures are still being collected and will be presented to the Board in the near future.

3) Bond expenditures and audits

In the meantime, don't forget about the Board meeting tomorrow night (December 6) at 6:30 p.m. in the cafeteria at CHS. Hope to see you there!


Friday, December 3, 2010

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Audio link

I think I have fixed the problem and that you should be able to listen to the audio of the Bond "Surplus" Meeting with this link. Please let me know if it still doesn't work.


Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Bond "Surplus" Meeting on November 9, 2010

The title of this post is a link to the audio recording of the November 9 meeting on the disposition of the bond "surplus." You can click on the link to listen to Mike Maloney's explanation of the fund balance (surplus) remaining in the 2008 high school bond. I've only included the first 16 minutes of so of the meeting but would be happy to post the remainder if anyone is interested in the full two+ hours. Joseph Hunter was sick that evening and did not attend the meeting. The people asking questions are Steve Moser, Mike Ainsworth, Kathy Zehner, Eric Olsen, and Jon Carey. The documents they refer to are reproduced above. Fund 401 is the 2008 bond; Fund 403 is the Capital Improvement Fund that resides within the district's annual operating budget.

There are several issues that come up in this discussion: 1) The so-called "artificial turf" project in Fund 403 includes many elements that were originally part of the bond but are now going to paid for with the new $2 million low-interest stimulus loans; 2) Calling the entirety of the stadium upgrades "turf" is causing confusion and discord - the artificial turf itself, along with the field preparations, cost far less than $1.2 million (around half of the total); 3) The bond is not really under budget - things promised as part of the bond have been shifted to Fund 403 and will be paid for with the new loans.

I do wish someone had asked this question, "Last spring we were told that all bond funds had been either expended or encumbered with only $45,000 remaining in the budget. Now you say we can pay for the eye clinic with bond funds and still have an $831,000 fund balance. Where was this money last April?"

I strongly suspect that this money was hidden away so that the 16th Street project, long desired by Hunter, could proceed as planned.

I doubt that will happen anytime soon. The general sentiment of the group (I was there as an observer, not a participant) is that it makes more sense to leave the portables in place at the high school for the foreseeable future. Four of them are currently in use. If they are moved to the 16th Street site, the teen parents and the alternative education program will once again need to be moved, along with the apartment program that is part of the life skills training for special education students. Mike Maloney suggested that they could move into the high school which is, in my opinion, a terrible and completely unworkable idea. The teen parents need to have the day care restored but the day care cannot and should not be housed in the high school. We already know that the alternative education kids don't do well in the regular high school environment and need an off-site location. And where would we locate the apartment program within the high school?

There was also some discussion about moving any projects currently planned in Fund 403, that can legally be paid for with bond monies, back into the bond budget. These projects would include some elements of the stadium project and all of the HVAC upgrades for other schools. This would pretty much eliminate the bond surplus once some of the small projects (extra lighting, some painting, etc) remaining at the high school are completed. It was suggested by Barb Welander that we could then pay down the principle on the low-interest loans in Fund 403 and lessen the impact of the 16 year repayment schedule on the general fund. Currently, the district will have to pay around $130,000 annually for those loans.

There are obviously a lot of decisions that need to be made. Additional meetings have not yet been scheduled but I'll keep you posted.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Bruce Springsteen - Badlands - Pinkpop 2009

Signed Contract

On October 26, I asked the question on this blog, "Why hasn't Joseph Hunter signed his contract?" Two days later, he did. I still don't know why the contract remained unsigned for four months. In the listening sessions at the board meeting, Paul Evans suggested that it was a kind of solidarity with the teachers - until they had a contract to sign, the superintendent's would not be signed either. That doesn't make much sense to me as his contract had already been negotiated and ratified by the board. I still think the most likely explanation is that he was hoping to still have the option of negotiating a nice settlement package as he leaves our district.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Rampaging Mob

The editorial reproduced above was written by Tom Perry nearly a decade ago. His antipathy toward teachers is long-standing and predates the arrival of Joseph Hunter to our district by several years. I've also included a letter that appeared in the Itemizer-Observer in response to his rant.

If our teachers are really the blood-thirsty, money-grubbing mob described by Mr. Perry, then Joseph Hunter deserves to be fired immediately for leaving them in charge of our children every day.

I'll leave it to you to decide whether his description of the teachers in our district is accurate. My son is a senior this year and I have yet to encounter a teacher who even remotely resembles the monsters he describes here and in the letter he is currently circulating. The teachers I have met care about their students. They come in early, stay late, and give up their own lunch breaks to meet with students. They remember the kids long after they have left their classrooms and come to watch them perform in the high school play, win a basketball championship, and receive a diploma at graduation. To suggest that their main motivation is monetary is laughable - no one goes into teaching for the money (or the prestige or the light work load).

I believe this is just another attempt to create a distraction. The more time people spend worrying about being sued by Mike Maloney, condemned by Stan Peterson, or vilified by Tom Perry, the less time they will have to contemplate Joseph Hunter's failure of leadership. That is the real problem.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Here 'Ya Go

Betty Plude has taken it upon herself to distribute Tom Perry's comments to a wider audience. I don't know why.


I have been provided with a copy of Tom Perry's remarks to the School Board, only a part of which he was allowed to present at last Monday's board meeting. I'm debating whether to post a copy here because it's likely to set off a firestorm. He makes some pretty scurrilous charges against the teacher's union which he incorrectly believes is behind the current letter of no confidence. He has not one shred of evidence for that belief but that doesn't stop him from making the claim.

Let me set the record straight: The letter of no confidence is being circulated by a group of community members who are fed up with the situation in our district. THE TEACHER'S UNION HAS ABSOLUTELY NOTHING TO DO WITH IT. There are no teachers who are part of the group, the letter was not written by teachers, teachers are not signing it. How then did he conclude that the CEA was behind it?

Tom Perry's contempt for our teachers oozes from every sentence of his letter. He urges Joseph Hunter to play hard ball in the on-going contract negotiations and force the teachers to either accept whatever the district is ready to offer or go to strike. And that will improve the quality of education in our district in exactly what way?

I hope that our Board has better sense than to give credence to his unsubstantiated ravings. Following his advice will lead us down a path no one wishes to tread and will do irreparable harm to our children and to our community.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Is The Bond Under Budget?

In a document prepared last April (see first image above), the bond manager recorded $48,111,605 in total bond resources with $48,039,131 either expended or encumbered. That left only $46,279 available in the bond fund.

In a document presented at this month's board meeting (see second image above), the total bond revenues are recorded as $48,194,944. This is consistent with the revenues reported in April as there have been some additions from interest and energy rebates. Yet somehow, miraculously, we now have a surplus in the bond budget of $831,454.

In reality, the surplus would appear to be over $1 million. When the 2010-2011 budget for the district was adopted back in June, there was $207,000 set aside in Fund 403 to pay for the remaining debt incurred in the purchase of the Knowles' eye clinic (third image above). That debt has now been transferred back into the bond - Fund 401.

So somehow, in the six months between April and October, an extra $1 million was found in the bond. Where did it come from? Did they lose track of this money in the budget only to rediscover it later? That doesn't strike me as very competent fiscal management. Did they squirrel it away so they would be sure to have enough to complete the 16th Street project after all? That doesn't strike me as very honest fiscal management.

If we had a surplus, why in the world did we borrow an additional $2 million in Qualified School Construction Bonds? The QSCB loans, by the way, will cost the district approximately $125,000 annually over a repayment period of 16 years.

One possible answer to where the money came from can perhaps be discerned by examining the transfer of bond projects out of the bond and into Fund 403 - the Capital Improvement Fund (fourth image above). The largest expenditure in Fund 403 is $1,230,985 for the athletic facility. According to document 1 above (April 2010), $290,000 of the $1.2 million to be spent on the athletic facility (often referred to erroneously as the "turf project"), was to come from the bond. Instead, the entire cost was transferred to Fund 403, including that $290,000, which will now be paid for using the QSCB bonds. Fund 403 also includes an expenditure of $499,882 for HVAC (heating, ventilation, air conditioning) upgrades at schools throughout the district. These were also to be included in the bond (see the Notice of Bond Election above) although I'm not sure they were ever in the actual bond budget.

So here we have $800,000 in bond projects that have been transferred to Fund 403 and will be paid for using the new QSCB loans and an $800,000 surplus in the original bond. Maybe its just a coincidence?

If the scenario I have sketched out is not correct, we are still left with one essential question: Last spring the bond resources were all expended or encumbered. Now we have a very large surplus. WHERE DID THE SURPLUS COME FROM?

How can the superintendent keep saying that the bond is under budget when the budget has been so obviously manipulated? Is this why he has never provided anyone, including board members who have requested it, with a detailed, line-item bond budget? Did he ask the Board to approve $2 million in new loans so that he could claim to bring the bond in under budget?

Video of School Board Meetings

Thanks to the efforts of an enterprising high school student (and his mother) we now have video of school board meetings. Scroll down to the first one and then work your way up and you can view the first hour and a half of last Monday's meeting. Unfortunately, the meeting went longer than anticipated, the battery wore down, and some of the business meeting was not recorded. We do have most of it and it is especially good to be able to hear the candidates for the Board position and the comments from the public. I will continue to post video of the meetings as they become available.

Many thanks Braeden and Wendy!

Central 13J School Board Meeting 1 November 2010 Part 11

Central 13J School Board Meeting 1 November 2010 Part 9

Central 13J School Board Meeting 1 November 2010 Part 8

Central 13J School Board Meeting 1 November 2010 Part 6

Central 13J School Board Meeting 1 November 2010 Part 5

Central 13J School Board Meeting 1 November 2010 Part 4

Central 13J School Board Meeting 1 November 2010 Part 3

Central 13J School Board Meeting 1 November 2010 Part 2

Central 13J School Board

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Fake Public Participation

Someone sent me this link to the K12 Democracy Project on The organizer, J. H. Snider argues that there is an epidemic of fake democracy in our public schools and that one part of the solution will be to make greater use of new information technologies (blogs perhaps?).

I looked up one of the articles mentioned and made a copy of the first page for you. The scene from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy made me laugh out loud and then cringe due to its eerie similarity to information flows in our own school district.

The full text of the article can be found on-line at The International Journal of Public Participation, Volume 4, Number 1 (Janurary 2010), pp. 89-102. Definitely worth checking out.

Anonymous Comments

After some reflection, I have decided to restore the option of posting comments anonymously because I want us to be able to talk to one another about these issues. Most of the comments posted thus far have been completely appropriate questions or statements of fact or personal opinion. In the future I will be ruthless in deleting any comments that I feel are unwarranted personal attacks, much more so than previously. And yes, I get to decide because it's my blog. If you have other things to say you will have to say them elsewhere.

RSA Animate - Changing Education Paradigms

Waiting for Superman Official Trailer

Race to Nowhere Trailer

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

16th Street Redux

It has been clear from the beginning that Joseph Hunter was determined to move the portables down to the 16th Street site. Now that they have miraculously "found" over $800,000 in the bond budget (more on that very soon!), he may just get his wish.

This meeting is a board work session and is thus open to the public. While it is highly unlikely that they will take public input, it would be a good idea for folks to show up and see what develops. The meeting will be held at 6:30 p.m. next Tuesday (Nov. 9) at the high school.

Noticeably absent from the invitation list is the principal of the high school. Wasn't this the high school bond?

Message from a teacher

I received this message from a teacher following the distribution of the memo that Joseph Hunter sent to all district staff last week. The sentiments expressed are widely shared throughout our district these days.

Robin Olsen continues his quest for financial transparency

This is the message Robin delivered to the Board at Monday's meeting. He's been working on this issue off and on for several years now. Hopefully, with time and persistence, the Board will agree to put the district's financial data and budget on-line in a format that is accessible and easy to use. Thanks for your efforts, Robin.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Unfair Labor Practice

Joseph Hunter appears to have taken complete leave of his senses. On Wednesday of last week, he sent the email memo reproduced above to all district staff. On pages 2-3, he discusses collective bargaining with the Central Education Association. As you may recall, the district and the CEA have been in negotiations since last spring but have been at a standstill for some time now. According to both state and federal labor law, employers must bargain in good faith with the bargaining team chosen by the members of the union. It is absolutely forbidden for management to attempt an end-run around the bargaining team and directly approach rank-and-file union members. Joseph Hunter knows this very well - we had discussions about it when I was on the Board. What can he possibly be thinking? He is now subject to a fine ($1,000 for each unfair labor practice - does each teacher count as one or is it a single violation?) He is also liable for filing fees and attorney fees. Does the district have to foot the bill if the CEA files a complaint or is it his personal responsibility for being so thoughtless?

Saturday, October 30, 2010

"Open and Transparent"

This ad appeared today in the Salem Statesman-Journal. In it, the Salem-Keiser School District invites the public to come and share their thoughts on how to minimize the negative impact of inevitable budget cuts. It represents a marked contrast to decision making in our own school district. In Central SD 13J, the administration (read "superintendent") decided on a series of "tiered cuts" which have been kept secret from the public. Why? I believe it is to prevent any kind of public outcry about particular cuts until it is too late to do anything about them. The district even refused my public records request for this information. While our superintendent likes to use the word "transparency," he is doing everything he can to prevent the very dialog the superintendent in Salem-Keiser in trying to initiate. Do we have openness and transparency in our district? Does our superintendent welcome public input? You be the judge.

Thursday, October 28, 2010


I have, for now, disabled the option of posting comments anonymously. Comments are still welcome, both for and against, but posters will need to have the courage of their convictions and identify themselves. No more sniping from the shadows.

If you have things you would like to say to me privately, information you would like me to track down, or issues you would like me to research further you can contact me at:

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Sticks and Stones

I've now been called a skunk and a liar by Joseph Hunter's supporters but what they have yet to do is provide one shred of evidence to contradict what I have written.

If you think I'm lying and that:

He has the support of his staff? Prove it!

He didn't call us "provincial?" Prove it!

He didn't get paid twice for the same mileage? Prove it!

He didn't get the district to pay for his golf outings? Prove it!

He provided a detailed accounting of the bond? Prove it!

He didn't shift some bond projects into this year's budget? Prove it!

More students are passing the state tests? Prove it!

He has submitted monthly expense reports as required? Prove it!

He hasn't used district money to take his administrators out to lunch? Prove it!

He's already signed his new contract? Prove it!

Administrative costs don't now take up a larger share of our budget? Prove it!

You have the moral high ground in this controversy? Prove it!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Why Hasn't Joseph Hunter Signed His New Contract?

The Board approved the new contract back in July but it still hasn't been signed by Joseph Hunter or by Susan Stoops on behalf of the Board. As you may recall, under the old contract he would be paid the remainder of his three-year contract should the Board seek to terminate his employment. Because of changes to Oregon Revised Statute, the new contract does not offer that. Instead he would be allowed to work out the remainder of his three-year contract. The new law prohibits paying public employees for work they have not done. For someone looking at possibly being terminated, then, the old contract is obviously better. I can see where Hunter would not want to sign the new one. What is not clear is why Stoops has not insisted that he do so. The Board voted to accept the new contract and, from what I have heard, she has not discussed the missing signatures with the other Board members. Is she once again setting aside a decision of the entire Board and acting as a free agent (as she did with the meetings format)? Is she conspiring with Hunter to make sure he gets a nice pay-out when he gets fired? Against the wishes of the Board? Is it time to call in State officials to clean up this mess?

Democracy? Not Here!

Believe it or not, the district has refused to release the names of the people who have applied to fill the vacant Board position prior to next Monday's meeting. Even though they will be appointed by the Board, they are supposed to represent the public. So why doesn't the public even have the right to know who they are? Because the Board members have not requested that information in advance. So we have no right to know it either. The commitment to basic democratic principles in our school district is almost nonexistent. We not only need a new superintendent, we need a new School Board, and we need a new set of rules. Democratic ones this time!


The community group that is currently circulating the letter of no confidence regarding Joseph Hunter's performance as superintendent has issued the retraction reproduced above. It will be appearing in next week's Itemizer-Observer as a paid display ad.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010


Signed letters should be returned to:

Ron and Charlotte Williamson
770 Sacre Lane
Monmouth, Oregon 97361


Thursday, October 14, 2010

Stirring the Pot

Since some of you may not read the Polk County Itemizer-Observer regularly, I've made copies of the text of an article that appeared on the front page of yesterday's edition. I've also included the letter to the editor written by the superintendent's friend.

I repeat my challenge to them - if you think my reporting on this blog is inaccurate, then prove it.

And for the record, Susan, I started this blog only three months ago - more than a year after the staff vote of no confidence. Saying that the current situation is the result of the blog requires a rather serious re-writing of the history of this district.

I stirred the pot and turned up the heat but I didn't make the stew. The recipe and ingredients were provided by the superintendent. It's left a bad taste and the community has had a belly full.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010


If the allegations against the superintendent are inaccurate "half-truths" then it's time for him and his supporters to step up and provide evidence to refute them. I don't think they can.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

October Board Meeting

It was a doozey - Where to begin?

Robert's Rules of Order

The meeting kicked off with a challenge from the audience. Last month, you may recall, the Board voted to change the meeting format. Particularly controversial were the changes to the public input segment. Many people felt that the new format was designed to minimize public participation and keep critics of the district away from the microphone. Well, immediately prior to this meeting, the word had gotten out that the new format was not going to be implemented this month after all.

The challenge, from a teacher of American Government, focused on the Board's failure to adhere to Robert's Rules of Order and their own policies. According to Board policy (and Oregon Revised Statute, I would add) once the Board has made a decision to change their policies, those changes become effective the very next day. All of the other changes (location, shortened business portion, work session at the end) to the meeting format that they agreed to last month were implemented except for the public input portion. It may seem strange that teachers and members of the public who had disagreed with the changes were now angry that they were not being implemented. But here's the thing - teachers had prepared themselves for the new format and a large number of them had come to the Board meeting for the proposed "small group listening sessions" only to be told at the last minute that it was not going to happen. Dealing with the Board seems like a constantly shifting terrain in which the rules change in ways designed to keep public participation to a minimum. The public would like to maximize its participation - hard to do when then the rules keep changing.

Susan Stoops, the Board Chair admitted that she and Joseph Hunter had agreed between the two of them to delay implementation of that single part of the new plan. She was obviously flustered and asked for a short recess so that the Board could consider how to proceed in the face of the challenge only to be reminded by the audience that the Board was to conduct all deliberations in open meetings. They recessed anyway and when they reconvened a few minutes later Traci Hamilton offered the opinion that since it was not a policy change it was OK for the Board Chair to decide whether it had to be implemented or not. First of all, it was a policy change. Board policy BDDH specifies how public input at meetings is to be gathered so, whether they explicitly stated that this was a change to Policy BDDH or not, it was in fact a policy change. Secondly, when a duly elected Board votes on anything, policy changes or not, it is binding. The Board Chair cannot set aside any part of decisions made by the Board as a whole. If the Board wants to avoid a complaint to the Secretary of State's Office, I would recommend a refresher course on parliamentary procedures from the high school teachers who teach this stuff to kids. The abridged version: Majority rules, votes count. I was disappointed that none of the other Board members spoke up in protest. I was particularly disappointed in Paul Evans who knows better but who nonetheless sat there like a bump on a log. The end result was that they went along with the Chair's dictates.

The Board did take public comment at the beginning of the meeting as they have done in the past. Although the stated policy is that they will not comment on anything heard in "comments from the floor," the reality is that they do when they want to - usually to disagree with something that has been voiced and when the speaker has no opportunity to respond. When they don't want to engage, they hide behind the policy. I think a little consistency is in order. For my part, I would appreciate more actual back and forth discussion with the public.

Circling the Wagons

After a short business meeting, the Board adjourned and went into work session. The Chair announced that they would not take comments or questions and then they moved the tables into a circle (a square actually but the effect was the same) in which they were all facing one another and the public was totally excluded. The had their backs to us and we could neither see them nor hear them very well. It was a rather stunning demonstration of apparent contempt that left most of us shaking our heads in disbelief. As critical as I have been of the School Board, even I have trouble believing that this was their intent. Hopefully, they won't do it again.

As usually happens, the public was not furnished with the documents the Board discussed including the bond report and the superintendent's report on the print shop issue. It gives every appearance of trying to keep us out of the loop and uninformed. And, based on the part of the discussion we could hear, it would seem that they still don't have a real bond budget to look at. I hate to say I told you so but see the post below titled "The Run Around."

While the work session is separate from the "business agenda," they do conduct business. Paul Evans, for example, moved to restore the half-time position to the print shop. He, Kathy Zehner, and Mary Shellenbarger voted "yes" and Susan Stoops voted "no." Sara Ramirez and Traci Hamilton both abstained and later said that they felt rushed and overwhelmed. The issue will apparently be revisited next month once they have more information about where the money will come from. I have some suggestions although I doubt they will ask me. I thought the Board asked the supt. last month to figure out a way to restore staffing at the print shop but all he did was reiterate his initial decision.

Another topic that came up was the debate on what to do with the modulars at the high school. Hunter seemed to be suggesting that the City of Independence was forcing the district to move them. People have checked with the city, however, and they said all the district needs to do is apply for a variance and they can stay where they are currently. The superintendent has been eager to move them down 16th Street to the lot across from Talmadge. The original plan for the 16th St. property was to construct two new athletic practice fields and to use the modulars to create a new campus for district wide programs. The total cost of $1.6 million was deemed too high. $1.3 million of that was for the practice fields which would have been inconveniently located and difficult and expensive to maintain. A citizen's group was successful in convincing the Board to scrap that plan in favor of artificial turf which was not only more useful but cost half as much. So the development of 16th St. is officially on hold. In the meantime it looks like they have already begun to build the road into the property. I'm not sure where that money is coming from and I know the Board has not yet approved the plan to relocate the buildings. In my experience, the superintendent generally does whatever he wants and then maneuvers the Board into rubber-stamping his decisions. I hope that is not what is happening now.

Working Without a Contract

Teachers spoke out at the meeting and begged the district to come back to the bargaining table. I've sat through three bargaining sessions now as an observer and it doesn't seem to me that the union and the district are too far apart on money issues. I could certainly feel the teachers' frustration - no matter what they offered it was never enough. The difference between the two sides on insurance costs, for example, is only about $40,000 which is about half of what the district allocated this year for travel and administrative mileage. Surely health insurance for the teachers is more important? The superintendent is playing a dangerous game, demanding steep concessions from the teachers while maintaining his own salary and benefits. If the two sides go to mediation the clock will start ticking down to a possible strike. The Board, unfortunately, did not order the superintendent to go back to bargaining and our teachers are now working without a contract. This has necessitated changes in school schedules as the old agreement on the Professional Learning Communities and early release for students on Mondays has now expired.

Sorry this post rambles. There was a lot that happened. Some of it I will have to cover later after I get clarification on the wording of their final business which was conducted after the Board emerged from executive session at 10:15 pm.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Letter to School Board

This is the letter submitted to the School Board by community member Robin Olsen. Seem like good suggestions to me.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Letter of No Confidence

There is currently a letter of no confidence regarding Joseph Hunter's performance as superintendent circulating in the community.

Letters can be obtained from Ron and Charlotte Williamson.
Phone: 503-838-5205 (home)
503-580-6451 (Charlotte's cell)
503-559-2545 (Ron's cell)

They are asking that signed letters be returned to them so that they can be presented to the Board as a package. No letters will be turned in to the Board until a sufficient number have been collected.

I would urge staff members who wish to sign to proceed cautiously. My own reading of the legal issues (and keep in mind that I am not an attorney) is that you are probably protected if you publicly criticize elected officials, like Board members, but that you may not be if you criticize your boss. If you have representation, it would be advisable to check with your union's attorney. I don't see any reason why your family members and friends couldn't sign.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Political Alliances

I saw this poster on Facebook and thought it seemed apropos. If anyone knows the name of the artist please let me know so that I can give proper credit. (After doing some checking, I believe the artist's name is Al Haug)

There is an unusual political alliance taking shape in our school district right now and it has me reflecting on what unites us as Americans. Our concerns over the performance of our superintendent and school board have people from both the left (like me) and from the right of the political spectrum coming together to demand change. In other circumstances we would disagree with one another, vehemently I'm guessing, about the proper role of government, to whose advantage we believe the "playing field" currently tilts, and the direction in which we believe the country should be heading.

But left, right, or center, there are certain things we do agree on. We believe that public institutions, like our school district, belong to us and not to the people who run them for us. We believe that those individuals should be responsible and responsive to the public. When it comes to accountability and transparency we believe they've got to "walk the walk," not just "talk the talk." We really hate the idea that someone might use their public office or public employment to feather their own nest or benefit their friends. Or that the people in charge would simply look the other way. Especially in tough economic times we expect careful stewardship of resources, budget cuts that protect the educational mission of the district, and good value for our money. We expect the guardians of our resources to justify every expenditure and demonstrate its impact on the education of our children. We expect full and complete honesty from the people we have elected and hired to run our school district. We want frequent, open, two-way communication about the issues we confront.

This is our school district. It belongs to us. We are not afraid and we will not be bullied or intimidated any longer. We're coming together and we're going to put our house in order.

Monday, September 27, 2010

New Poll

There is a new poll in the upper right-hand corner. Don't forget to vote this week. If you have other ideas for polls please pass them along and I'll try to post a new one each week.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Opening on School Board

Betty Plude has resigned from the School Board effective immediately. Over the years she has given her time very generously to our schools, to the Independence Public Library, to the School Board, and in her writing workshops. We are very fortunate to have her as a neighbor and community member. Betty is a lovely person who truly cares about our kids. She was too nice to be a School Board member and I think the stress wore her down.

Our current superintendent is, in my opinion, a skilled manipulator. To be effective, Board members need to be a bit cynical. They need to be willing to ask difficult questions, to demand full and complete answers, and to fight through the obfuscation and half-truths. There's no need for outright belligerence but now is not the time to play nice. We need someone who will represent US.

I'm hoping we have some individuals out there who are willing to take on this difficult challenge and apply for the vacant spot. The Board will be appointing someone to serve the remainder of Betty's term which expires next June. Whoever is selected will have to run for election in May if they wish to remain on the Board. The applicant (and later candidate) must reside in Zone 1, which is all of Independence north of Monmouth Avenue within the city limits. Their letter of application must be received at the district office by 4:30 pm on October 8. Although it hasn't been announced, I'm assuming the Board will make their selection known at the November School Board meeting.

Now one of the things I've heard recently is that they have already decided that Steve Moser will serve out Betty's term. If so, they have violated the open meetings law that requires that all such deliberations take place in public. It certainly seemed to many of us at the high school dedication ceremony that Hunter was setting Steve up to be Betty's successor (it was already known that she did not intend to seek re-election) by making it seem as if he had single-handedly gotten the bond passed for us. He did work on the bond campaign, and deserves our thanks, but there were plenty of other people who worked just as hard. Why Steve? Well he has already spoken publicly on several occasions about what a great job he thinks Hunter and Maloney have been doing. I'm sure Hunter would love to have him on the Board! But here's the thing - the Board is supposed to represent the public, not the superintendent.

If you know someone who would make a good Board member, encourage them to apply. It may all be for naught if the Board has decided to appoint a "yes man" for Hunter but we will get to decide for ourselves next May.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Don't Forget to Vote

There is a poll for my readers in the top right-hand corner of this page. There are four more days to vote.

Monday, September 20, 2010

The Superintendent's "Raise"

Did the superintendent receive a raise this year? It's a matter of interpretation. His salary last year was supposed to be $121,856. Last year, administrator's "gave back" days to alleviate the budget crisis. This reduced the superintendent's actual salary to $112,409. This year his salary is at the level it was supposed to be last year. Is that a raise? Compared to what he actually received last year, yes it is. Compared to what he was supposed to be paid last year, no it's not.

It should also be noted that the superintendent sold back ten "unused" vacation days last year which allowed him to recoup lost salary. No other employee is allowed to do that.

Protections for Whistleblowers

It was reported last week that the former business director of the WESD is suing the district, the former superintendent, and the deputy superintendent for violations of Oregon's whistleblower laws. These laws are intended to protect public employees from retaliation when they come forward with information regarding illegal, unethical, or incompetent actions on the part of their employers. Given that the state investigation substantiated many of the former business director's claims of financial improprieties at the WESD, it would seem she has a fairly strong case. She is asking for $1.58 million in damages.

I think people are more fearful than they need be about reporting wrong-doing in public agencies. If employees of the Central School District go to the Board or a state agency with information they believe is true and accurate regarding misconduct within our district they are protected by law from retaliation. A whistleblower's identity cannot even be disclosed without their written permission. There are legal remedies when reprisals do occur. While it would still be advisable to consult an attorney before engaging in any whistleblowing, it is not necessary to live in fear.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Suing Mr. Boyack

I've heard that Joseph Hunter is trying to sue John Boyack for bringing up Mike Maloney's history on his blog and at last week's school board meeting. I'm not sure that will fly since everything Mr. Boyack relayed is a matter of public record. For any of you legal eagles out there, can it be defamation if its true? And I certainly hope that Hunter is not using district legal staff to investigate this. Why should we foot the bill to try to defend Mr. Maloney for something that happened before he even arrived in our district?

The Run-Around

At the August 2 Board meeting, Board Member Kathy Zehner requested a monthly report of bond expenditures and revenue. She stated that she did so in the interest of transparency and because of persistent questions from the community regarding bond expenditures. Her motion was seconded and passed unanimously.

What the Board received as a report is reproduced, in its entirety, above. Mike Maloney was not available to answer questions, or hear criticisms, regarding the document he had produced which is clearly inadequate. It is inadequate to the point of being profoundly disrespectful of the Board. He knew what they were asking him for and he was either unable or unwilling to produce it. This is, in my opinion, deliberate non-compliance with a directive from the Board. We're talking about a $47 million bond. The document provided by Mr. Maloney only includes the most general information about the part of the bond administered by LCG Pence, the general contractor. The GMP estimate summary provided by LCG Pence in April of 2009 was 61 pages of details (a copy can be found on the district website). How can the actual expenditures be summarized in only 2 pages? What about the other $10 million that was not part of the Pence bid?

Ms. Zehner had to reiterate her request and hope to receive the required information next month. I wish her, and the rest of the Board, luck. This is exactly the kind of response I received as a Board member when I requested information or documentation. They will hear that he just didn't understand what it was they wanted; they will tell him again; there will be another ridiculous document presented; they will be annoyed; they will hear that he just didn't understand what they wanted and so on and so on. I went through that rigmarole month after month while trying to get regular reports on expenditures from the 2006 bond. I finally gave up (NOT to my credit, by the way) and so all we ever had was a hit-and-miss narrative in which the numbers never added up. I hope the current Board will be more determined to get the information they have requested, even if it is rather after-the-fact. And I hope they will let it be known that when they give directives to staff, they except them to comply, not give them the run-around.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Glimmers of Hope

Monday's Board meeting was contentious. Teachers are particularly upset with cut-backs at the print shop. With only one person working there, and only on a half-time basis, teachers will only be able to print around 85 pages of material per student for the entire year. Teachers in attendance spoke eloquently to the detrimental effects this will have on students from kindergarten through AP History. Over the past few years teachers have increasingly used copied materials to make up for the lack of text books and readers. Cut-backs at the print shop translate directly into lack of instructional materials for students.

Another bone of contention was the proposed changes to the meeting format, particularly the public input portion of the meeting. The proposal called for individual Board members to meet informally with small groups at the start of each meeting, to listen to their concerns, to reconvene for the business portion of the meeting, and then adjourn to a work session in which Board members would summarize what they had heard in their small groups and discuss those issues with the rest of the Board. Many of those in attendance perceived this as an attempt to silence public criticism rather than as an attempt to improve communication.

As part of the proposed reforms Board members will also "adopt" a school to visit regularly and get to know the staff and students there by volunteering their time in classrooms and other activities. When a teacher asked when the Board would begin to interact and communicate with the community (and yes, asking questions is against the rules but this question was very grudgingly allowed), two Board members became very upset. Their "How dare you criticize us?" attitude does not play well with either staff or the community. This would have been the perfect opportunity to ask the teacher, "What do you have in mind? How do you think we can accomplish that?" Instead, they launched into an angry and defensive tirade.

If they truly want to improve communication they need to sit down for honest heart-to-heart discussions with the various stakeholders in this district. The Board needs to move beyond their comfort zone and start asking people what they want - something they have never done. What's wrong with collectively brainstorming solutions to our current crisis? Without that, whatever they decide is going to feel like an imposition rather than a solution.

So what were the glimmers of hope?

1) The Board directed the superintendent to re-visit the issue of print shop cut-backs and find the money to restore this essential service. I doubt this made the superintendent happy and I see it as a sign of assertiveness on the part of the Board. They listened to the teacher's arguments and they directed their employee (the superintendent) to make it right. Good for them!

2) The second glimmer came from the suggestion of a Board member to allow for on-the-record public comment at the end of each meeting. This is definitely an improvement over the proposed changes as originally presented although it doesn't go far enough. If the public can't comment before business is concluded then they will not be able to affect the decisions that are made. Commenting at the end of the meeting would negate the very responsiveness of the Board that I identified as my first "glimmer" above. Hopefully there will be further deliberation on this before a final decision is made.

Parents and teachers alike know that criticizing children for bad behavior needs to go hand-in-hand with praising them when they are good. The Board deserves credit for listening to concerns and trying to respond to them. I think they do genuinely want to rebuild trust with the community. They are not always sure how to do this. Help them in this process by letting them know what you think. We criticize the Board for failing to supervise their one direct employee, the superintendent. We need to ask ourselves - Are we providing guidance and direction for our employees/representatives on the Board? If not, it's a good time to start!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Board Meeting

There is a School Board Meeting Monday, September 13 at 6:30 pm in the cafeteria at Ash Creek. One of the items on the agenda is changes to the meeting format, particularly the public comments portion of each meeting. For more information on the proposed changes see the post entitiled "August 18th Worksession" below. Come make your views known - it may be your last chance to speak publicly at a Board meeting!


My second round of public records requests have finally started arriving and here are some of the things I've been able to discover:

1) The district has paid $1,603 for the superintendent to play golf. On one occasion, the district paid for the superintendent's entry fees to a high school golf tournament while other staff members paid their own way.

2) The district has paid for the superintendent to attend the Panther Club Auction and paid for his meal while "volunteering" at golf clinic organized by a student as a senior project. For heaven's sake, even the people who organize the Panther Club Auction buy their own tickets. Like the golf tournaments, it's supposed to be a fund-raiser, not a fund transfer.

3) The district has paid over $1,500 for the superintendent to eat lunch with his own administrators at local restaurants. "Working lunches" for teachers usually involve a sandwich from home, a stack of papers to be graded, and a desk. Why are we paying for the superintendent's lunch? It's one thing to buy his lunch if he is at a meeting in Portland, it's quite another when it's just a regular work day. Lots of people talk about work while eating lunch with co-workers. I'll bet most of our district staff does. Would the superintendent be willing to pay for their meals on a regular basis or is that a perk he reserves for himself?

4) The district gives the superintendent $75 per month to pay for his personal cell phone. (At least that is what was agreed upon back in 2006 - I'll try to verify the current amount and update this post when I have the info)

5) Since 2007, the district has reimbursed the superintendent $1,705.04 for mileage outside of the district. Prior to 2007, the superintendent received $300 per month as a stipend to cover his travel within the district and he was required to submit mileage for reimbursement when he had to attend meetings outside of the district (see the page marked 1 above). Beginning in 2007, his in-district stipend was increased to $500 per month and he was given a $150 per month stipend to cover out-of-district travel (see page marked 2 above). This was at his request as he found it inconvenient to keep track of and submit his mileage. The stipend was to REPLACE the mileage reimbursement system - that was the whole point. Instead, he has been receiving both!

6) Between the stipends and the mileage reimbursements, the district has paid the superintendent more than $34,000 to drive his own car these past five years.

7) For 2005-06, the superintendent's budget for expenses was $3,500; he spent $7,241. For 2006-07, his budget was $4,000; he spent $6,416. For 2007-08 his budget was $4,000 and he spent $7,276. For those three years, he overspent his expense budget by 82%. If you look at the page marked 1 above you will see that his expenses were to be approved by the Board or within prescribed limits. 82% over budget is well outside prescribed limits! The Board was never informed of any of this and the only reason I have this information now is because of a public records request. I will post the information for the most recent two years as soon as I receive it.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

History Repeats Itself

History Repeats Itself - First Time as Tragedy, Second Time as Farce

I've just learned that the district recently paid $600 to the Chamber of Commerce for two teams to play in the Chamber golf tournament. This time, however, because of my earlier reporting on similar incidents in the past, no one actually played. We're laying off teachers, classroom aides, and support staff, cutting student activities, cutting classroom and instructional supplies, and yet we have money to throw away?



Terms describing wrongful conduct by public officials:

Nonfeasance - failure to act that results in harm; occurs when someone owes a duty of care that they fail to adequately perform

Misfeasance - failure to perform duties properly; unintentional wrongdoing through mistake or negligence

Malfeasance - intentional wrongdoing; involves dishonesty, illegality or knowingly exceeding authority

Monday, August 30, 2010

What Price a Child?

I've heard through the grapevine that there are already several students who have let it be known that they won't be able to return to school this year due to the closing of the teen parent center. It is pathetic and immoral the way this district has redirected resources upward toward district administrators and away from students. How do you live with yourselves?

Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Double-Reverse Trick Play

Someone had asked earlier about the 142 hour reversal that appeared in the superintendent's vacation leave record. The document in question is reproduced below under "Paid Vacations."

I made some inquiries and this is what I was told:

I was first told that they would have to access the back-up documents in order to explain why 142 hours had been restored to his leave account. But no one could find any back-up documents.

I was then told that during the period in question several different individuals had been entering his leave and that they had mistakenly marked him as "absent" when he was out of the office but on district business. Other alleged mistakes were that on 7/2/07 they had indicated 56 hours taken instead of eight and on 12/21/07 they had indicated 80 hours taken instead of eight. I was told that the 142 hour reversal was to correct these various errors in record keeping.

I challenged that explanation to district staff. If you look at the entry for 7/2/07, for example, under "Remarks" it notes the dates 6/18-22 and 6/25 and 6/26. That's seven days and seven days x eight hours per day = 56 hours. That also corresponds to a trip to Europe taken by the superintendent according to several people's recollections. It also appears, based on the "Remarks," that the 80 hours on 12/21/07 was in fact a "pay-out" for ten days of unused vacation. After I shared my perception of the leave record, I was told that, yes, I was correct and that those two entries were not, in fact, mistakes. The question remains: If those two entries, totalling 136 hours, were not incorrect, why the 142 hour reversal? No one seems to know.

According to the leave record, the superintendent was given 432 hours of vacation leave for 2007-08. That is the equivalent of 54 days. Without the 142 hour reversal it's 36.25 days. According to his contract he receives 22 days of vacation, ten of which can be transferred to the following year. Assuming he had 10 days carried over from the previous year, that's only 32 days. So for 2007-08, he received anywhere from 4 to 22 extra days of vacation. He also received 9 days of sick leave/personal leave. Altogether he missed as much as three months of work.

Of course, the next year he supposedly only took 4.75 days of vacation for all of 2008-09. Perhaps he was making up for his time off the year before by working on Christmas Eve, over Spring Break and all the other days the schools are closed but that are not legal holidays. I find that as unbelievable as the explanations given for the 142 hour vacation reversal.