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