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