Monday, February 28, 2011

Good News

Good news - we don't melt! And despite a rainy, cold day we collected lots of signatures and handed out a lot of literature. We're on our way!

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Kick-Off Events

Signature Gathering for the Recall Susan Meikle Stoops Campaign has begun! Bring a friend and come sign a petition.

We will have tables set up at:
Independence Plaza
Monmouth Volunteer Hall (144 S Warren)

From 4 - 7 PM on:
Monday, February 28
Thursday, March 3
Tuesday, March 8
Thursday, March 10

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Recall Susan Meikle-Stoops

The Recall Susan Meikle-Stoops Campaign is officially underway. Citizens for 13J Excellence filed the paperwork and received approval from the county clerk to begin circulating petitions yesterday.

Here's how the process works:

The group has 90 days (until May 23) to collect the signatures of 1,001 registered voters in the school district. Signing the petition does not remove her from office; the signatures are required to request a recall election.

Once the signatures have been verified by the county clerk, Meikle-Stoops has five days in which to resign. If she does not, a recall election must be held within thirty-five days. At that time, she may provide a statement of justification explaining why she should retain her seat on the school board. Both her statement of justification and the recall statement will be printed on the ballots that will be mailed to all registered voters in the district. Whether she remains on the board will be decided by a simple majority of votes cast.

Citizens for 13J Excellence pays all costs related to gathering signatures; the school district pays for the cost of the recall election. In today's edition of the Itemizer-Observer, Meikle-Stoops estimated that cost at $3,000-$5,000 and fretted about the budgetary consequences. I feel compelled to point out that it is less than the hidden raise she negotiated for the superintendent and that her resignation would spare the district the expense of an election.

The exact time-line depends on how quickly signatures are gathered. While the group has 90 days to collect them, that stage ends as soon as the required number has been certified. The next stage (the election) would be completed within 40 days following certification but could conceivably occur within a couple of weeks. The election could be this spring but no later than the end of June. If Meikle-Stoops is removed from office, her successor would be appointed by the board to serve until the next regularly scheduled board elections in May of 2013.

The kick-off events for the recall campaign will begin on Monday, February 28. There will be tables in various locations for those who wish to sign a petition. Once those locations are announced, I will post the information here.

There is a new blog, that functions as a more traditional website, at:

There is also a Facebook page at:!/pages/Citizens-for-13J-Excellence/192641224092836

If you wish to make a donation:
Citizens for 13J Excellence
P.O. Box 534
Monmouth, Oregon

Donations will go towards the cost of petitions, brochures, signs, buttons, newspaper advertising, and mailings. Citizens for 13J Excellence is registered with the State and must report all contributions through the ORESTAR system. The names of those contributing $100 or less are not disclosed to the public. According to the State Elections Division, there is no upper limit to contributions. This will not be a hugely expensive undertaking but it will require some financial resources in order to be successful. Contributions in any amount are welcome.

Watch for signature gatherers on Monday - the campaign begins . . . NOW!

Unfortunate, but True

As most of you already know, Hunter is one of two finalists for the position of superintendent in St. Helens. Members of their search committee are in town today to find out more and to talk to administrators and teachers about their experiences working with Hunter. It is unfortunate but true that St. Helens is more interested in the opinions of Central School District staff than our own board has ever been.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Proposal for Performance Audit

This is the proposal for the performance audit that the board approved at their last meeting. Even then, some board members and some members of the public were expressing skepticism about its focus and scope. Before proceeding further, I certainly hope that the board will take a hard look at this proposal and address some of its obvious weaknesses. There is no point in spending this money if the audit is constructed in such a way that its only purpose is to exonerate the superintendent and bamboozle the public.

There are several things I find troubling in this proposal:

1) On the first page, the superintendent urges the board to consider "the key issue . . . what do you expect the outcome to be which will help with the politics?" He seems to be suggesting that the intended outcome should guide the process, as if the whole process will be constructed in order to yield a desired outcome. This is exactly the kind of nonsense that has led us to a place of deep mistrust. A rigorous and systematic process needs to be developed first; only then will the outcome be reliable.

2) The project manager (i.e., Mike Maloney) will decide who the auditors will interview. But it's his management that is in question! Why will he be allowed to control the evaluation of his performance?

3) At no point in the document is the issue of cost effectiveness addressed. Instead the project performance will be measured in terms of being within the original budget and schedule. We already know it wasn't really under budget since they had to borrow an additional $2 million. But beyond that, we want to know if our money was spent wisely. Did we pay more for some things that we should have? Did we make the most of every dollar? This audit will not tell us that.

4) The proposal does not explicitly address the FF&E purchases which have been the subject of many questions. It was FF&E purchases that were missing the required bid documents in the financial audit. All of the FF&E purchases need to be carefully scrutinized to be sure that they complied with mandated bid procedures. We also need to know just how much we paid companies like Saxton Bradley for their services as purchasing agents.

Anything worth doing is worth doing right. Either do the performance audit correctly or don't waste any more of our money.

School Funding

Saturday, February 19, 2011

December Minutes

At the January board meeting, it was brought to the board's attention that the minutes from their December meeting were inaccurate. The December minutes recorded an announcement of a facilities worksession scheduled for December 16th that was, in fact, not announced. This became a contentious issue and the lack of notification for the December 16th meeting was protested by both myself and the Itemizer-Oberserver newspaper. At the January meeting, the board conceded that the required notification had not been given and voted to remove that statement from the December minutes since it was incorrect.

Well, guess what? The offending statement is still part of the December minutes posted on the district website. According to Policy BCB it is the superintendent's duty, as clerk for the district, to insure that all minutes are an accurate reflection of board business. If the board has officially instructed him, through a formal vote, to remove that statement from the minutes, doesn't he have an obligation to do so? Why hasn't he? Will he? Or will he continue to ignore their directive?

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Personal Services Contract

There has been a fair amount of speculation regarding the personal services contract approved by the board at the end of their executive session on February 7th. I have obtained a copy and it is reproduced above. You can read it more easily by clicking on each page and then enlarging it.

The contract is with Forrest Bell and it states that he will be supervising "the complainants" (in the plural). Bell will essentially be acting as a buffer between Joseph Hunter and staff members who would normally report directly to him as superintendent. It would appear that there have been complaints filed against Hunter by senior level staff members that require bringing in a third party until the complaints are resolved. Forrest Bell's services will cost us $40/hour.

Now, in most situations when there have been multiple complaints filed against someone they are placed on administrative (paid) leave pending the outcome of an investigation. Why didn't that happen in this case? In Part 2c, the contract makes clear that Hunter retains ultimate supervisory authority. How is that supposed to work? If the intent in hiring Bell was to remove any possibility of retaliation against the complainants, this contract has most assuredly not done that. Moreover, Part 2b gives Bell the authority to not only evaluate the complainants but to determine their continued employment! By March 31! Under the direction of the superintendent!

This is how the board protects staff members who come forward to report serious problems? I don't think I would feel very protected - would you? Are they trying to get the district sued? Because that is where it will likely end up if this board continues to behave so irresponsibly. And guess who will pay the bill?

This whole situation is beyond ludicrous . . .

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Is "Kids First" Just a Slogan?

I'm going to revisit an issue I first wrote about on February 5th ("Friends with Benefits") because it has continued to gnaw at me. That issue is the hidden raise given to Joseph Hunter in his new contract negotiated with Susan Stoops and Traci Hamilton.

Under the old contract, Hunter was allowed to cash out up to ten unused vacation days. Under the new contract, he can cash out up to 32 (the 22 days given each year plus the ten he is allowed to carry over from the previous year). If he cashes out all 32 days he can add $15,104 to his base salary of $121,856 -- $10,384 more than under the old contract. That amounts to an 8.5% raise in his base salary.

I think you would be hard pressed to find anyone in our district, in any line of work, who received an 8.5% raise last year. Many people have seen their incomes shrink; some have lost their jobs altogether. Teachers gave back one week's salary in their new contract. Yet our board chair and vice-chair negotiated a very substantial raise for a superintendent who has been facing a barrage of criticism from his staff for nearly three years. What exactly has he done to deserve such a boost in his salary? Did the other two board members who voted to approve this raise (Sarah Ramirez and Betty Plude) even realize it was tucked away in the fine print of the new contract? [Note: Evans, Shellenbarger, and Zehner all voted "No" on the new contract.]

This took place as the district was slashing services to students. Massive budget cuts have reduced the days students will be in class, reduced or eliminated counseling services, reduced the electives that can be offered at the high school, reduced funding for sports and other co-curricular activities. The extra $10,384 given to Joseph Hunter would hardly restore full funding to any of these areas but it could have been used to shore up essential programs. If it helped even one student it would have been money better spent.

Joseph Hunter now receives the following in salary: $121,856 in base salary; up to $15,104 in vacation pay-outs; $7,800 in travel stipends; $1,080 for his personal cell phone. These are paid to him and reported as salary and amount to a whopping $145,840 ($24,000 more than his base salary). It does not include his health insurance, life insurance, PERS, or the three percent tax-deferred annuity paid for him by the district.

At the board meeting last week, school principals spoke eloquently of the devastating impact of job loss, poverty, and family turmoil on the lives of children in our community. Cuts in essential services leave these kids increasingly on their own to manage the crisis as best they can. In this context, giving Joseph Hunter a big raise is not just ill considered, it is immoral. Stoops and Hamilton helped him negotiate that hidden raise and were not very forthcoming with other board members about what they had done. They have a lot to answer for in this matter and I hope the people of this district will hold them accountable.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Three and a Half Months Later . . .

I submitted a formal complaint to the board on November 1 of last year. According to the investigator, they have had his report since December. It's now been three and a half months and the official response from the board has been . . . ABSOLUTELY NOTHING.

New Post

Because I began writing my latest post several days ago, it actually appears below the video of the board meetings. You can find it ("Lies of Omission") on the next page of the blog.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Lies of Omission

Another interesting board meeting this past Monday. Sorry it's taken me so long to get some commentary up on the blog - things are happening now at a rather frantic pace and it's hard to keep up

The highlight of the meeting was the delivery of the community letters of no confidence regarding Hunter's performance as superintendent. He seemed somewhat taken aback - he may have thought we were bluffing or even that things would blow over once the teachers settled their contract. As was stated all along, however, it wasn't just about the teachers but about all of the negative things that have happened in our district.

Once again, the superintendent and board "leadership" have been working overtime to make sure the public is kept in the dark regarding certain issues. Somehow, the most important and potentially controversial documents that they discuss are always left out of the packet of materials provided to the public. The result, as intended, is that we don't know quite what they're talking about.

One very notable example: Last month, the financial audit of the bond noted that four items (out of the 35 sampled by the auditors) lacked the appropriate bid documents. The board asked to know what those were. The public is obviously very interested in knowing too, as evidenced by the repeated calls for a performance audit. The board and the superintendent managed to discuss it on Monday without ever mentioning what those items were or providing the public with the written summary to which they referred.

Another notable example: The board received and approved a proposal for a performance audit. The public was not furnished with a copy of the proposal, however, so it's impossible to tell whether the audit is what was requested. From the discussion it seemed that there was no specific mention in the proposal about including the FF&E purchases. Maybe it's included but, given the number of questions about those purchases and the problems found in the financial audit, this is one part of the bond that deserves special scrutiny. It's also interesting that last month the estimated cost of the performance audit was $30,000 but now that they have an actual proposal the price has dropped to $16,600. As board member Evans pointed out, it is important that the district not accept a partial audit in return for the lower price. What I suspect, however, is that the initial estimate was deliberately inflated by the superintendent as a way of discouraging the board from pursuing it. They did anyway and good for them! Now they need to insure that the audit is a good one and that the superintendent and bond manager not have a hand in limiting its scope. It's particularly important that all expenditures are very carefully examined. Thanks to Wendy for bringing this up at the meeting.

Traci Hamilton lamented the fact that so many people leave the meeting at the conclusion of the business agenda. What she seems to be forgetting, however, is that, with the change in the structure of the meetings, the public is no longer allowed to ask questions or make comments during the "work session." Combined with the lack of printed information about what they are discussing she should be surprised that anyone stays. It seems rather disingenuous to tell the public that their participation is neither desired nor tolerated and then be upset when they decide not to stick around. I'm not even sure why they call the second part of the meeting a "work session." It's not just informational, they can and do take votes and conduct business. Separating the business agenda from the "work session" mostly just seems like another way to cut the public out of the discussion.

In the final comments, Paul Evans encouraged members of the public to volunteer for the budget committee. It's certainly a good way to learn more about the budget but, as he well knows, neither the budget committee nor the board has any real say about how money is spent. The budget committee can vote "Yes" or "No" to send the budget on to the board for approval but they are not allowed to tinker with it. Even the board only gets an "up or down" vote. One of my last acts as a board member two years ago was to vote against the budget for just that reason. There were things left in the budget, like special benefits for administrators, that I felt were inappropriate during a severe recession when instruction was being cut. So I certainly wouldn't discourage anyone from serving on the budget committee but don't go into it thinking you have any control over how money will be allocated.

Nor should we expect to receive any information about proposed cuts. Other districts, most notably Dallas, have been holding meetings at which public input is solicited regarding possible budget cuts. Last year our superintendent put together a "tiered cut" list (proposed cuts based on the different potential shortfalls) but he then refused to share it with anyone. Not even board members were permitted to retain a copy. This leaves everyone - staff, parents, students - in a perpetual state of anxiety and dread. All school districts are facing similar budgetary constraints but some try to bring the various stakeholders into the the conversation while others, like Central, exclude stakeholders and add to their sense of powerlessness.

At the conclusion of the meeting the board went into executive session and then came back out to take action to approve a special services contract. They refused to say who the contract was for or what their duties would be and directed that all inquiries be made to their attorney. Something's up - but what?

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Letters of No Confidence

These are the community letters of no confidence regarding Joseph Hunter's performance as superintendent ready to be delivered to the school board last night.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Her Master's Voice

A picture tells a thousand words and this one tells us quite a lot about the disordered, backward relationships in our school district. Those of you who attend board meetings regularly know that Superintendent Hunter sits next to Board Chairwoman Stoops and whispers instructions to her throughout the meetings. These communications are invariably one-way; we rarely if ever see her giving instructions to the superintendent. But these are the boards's meetings; the superintendent is present as their employee to answer any questions they may have, not to tell them what to do. As a reader pointed out months ago (see the comments to the August 19th "Duties of the Board" post below) the seating arrangements at the board meetings are a clear demonstration that the board does not understand the relationship they are supposed to have to the superintendent. The superintendent works for the board; the board works for the public. But a former board member remarked as she was leaving the board that she had enjoyed working for Dr. Hunter. The board chair, who should know better, apparently believes this as well. This helps to explain the board's unwillingness, for many years now, to provide any real oversight of his activities or behaviors. Moreover, it is instructive to notice how other board members are excluded from the plotting and planning at the head of the table. The chair's role is to run meetings and act as spokesperson for the group; it is not her role to place herself over and above other board members, to make decsions with the superintendent that should properly be made by the board, or to conceal important information from them. This is not the way these relationships are supposed to work.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Friends with Benefits

Before this blog, I experienced several years of impotent frustration dealing with our superintendent and other board members. Those of you who have reading along from the beginning (Thank You!) may remember that there were two issues that provoked me into starting the blog last summer - the closing of the teen parent center and the renegotiation of the superintendent's contract. The latter issue has returned to bite us once again.

The board chair (Susan Stoops) and vice chair (Traci Hamilton) negotiated with the superintendent for the board. The rest of the board got to see the new contract just minutes before they were to approve it. The discussion at the time focused on changes regarding possible termination of the superintendent's contract. For details of that discussion you can see my blog posts from July and also the minutes of the July board meeting which can be found under "School Board" on the district website.

One issue I have no memory of even having been mentioned is the "cash out" for the supposedly unused vacation days. Under the old contract, the superintendent was entitled to receive a cash payment in lieu of up to ten vacation days each year. As I have reported elsewhere on this blog, it is my contention that he has been taking the days off but not reporting it so that he could also receive the cash out. That was bad enough. According to the new contract language he is now allowed to cash out any unused vacation days - up to the max of 22 days. The only reference to this issue in the official minutes of the meeting says "The vacation language is updated to what other employee groups" (p. 4 Board Meeting Minutes 1/12/10). This statement makes no sense because 1) it is an incomplete sentence whose meaning is unclear, and 2) no other employees receive the cash out option.

I don't think board members really noticed the change in language since it is very close to that in the old contract. How could they? They only got to see the new contract at the meeting where they were being asked to approve it. Why didn't the chair and vice-chair, who had been part of the negotiations, make sure to point it out? Why didn't the chair make sure that other board members had a chance to see the contract in advance and review it carefully? The whole thing smacks of trickery and collusion between the chairs and the superintendent. The contract was approved by a vote of 4-3. Stoops, Hamilton, Ramirez, and Plude voted in favor; Evans, Shellenbarger, and Zehner voted against.

And what has been the result? The superintendent cashed out 80 hours of vacation at the end of June at an approximate cost to the district of $4,723. Those 80 hours represent the maximum he was allowed under the old contract which ended on June 30. And now he has cashed out an additional 90 hours (actual cost: $5, 313.60). The timing is also very interesting. The latest cash out occurred on January 21 a few weeks after the investigator's report on my complaint (part of which involved the vacation issue) had been received but not yet seen by most of the board and within days of new complaints apparently being received (based on the agenda of the last two hastily arranged executive sessions).

So here we are in the most serious economic crisis in our lifetimes, the district is facing massive cuts that will seriously impact teachers and students, and the board votes to give him thousands of dollars more in "hidden" compensation. Remember that when Susan Stoops says she is "doing the right things for the district." Remember that when they say "regrettably" that they just don't have money for a performance audit. Remember that when we ask you to sign a recall petition.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Citizens for 13J Excellence

Following the public meeting at the fire station on Monday, the steering committee met and chose "Citizens for 13J Excellence" as the name for our new group. There is much to be done if we are to put our school district back on the right track and the recall effort will be our initial priority.

The next meeting of the "Recall Susan Stoops First" campaign will be on Wednesday, February 9 at 6:30 PM at the Monmouth Library. In the past few days the steering committee has been busy filling out paperwork, establishing a bank account, and developing a strategy for collecting the necessary signatures to put the recall issue on the ballot. It's a big project but many hands make light work. Please join us on Wednesday and lend your time and talents to the effort.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Last Night's Recall Meeting

The meeting last night was well attended and we had a great discussion The group has decided to move forward with the recall effort against Susan Stoops. There will be an article about it in tomorrow's Itemizer-Observer. Stay tuned for further information and meeting times.

The board has scheduled another hastily arranged special meeting/executive session for tonight (Tuesday, February 1) at 6:30 pm in the district office conference room. Don't know what it is about but will let you know when and if I do.