My last post was about being kind to people. In this post I am critical of the School Board. I took some time to contemplate whether I am practicing what I preach. My post "Be the River" was in response to attitudes where a whole group of people were being labeled because of a few bad experiences.
Calling out elected officials for poor decisions is quite different. Our government was specifically set up to keep the power in the hands of the people. We elect a few to represent us. Unfortunately, inexperience and a poor understanding of the process often lead to our elected officials ignoring established rules and even making things up as they go along. They end up representing themselves instead of the folks who placed them in office. I feel it's important, even patriotic, to make our concerns known. It's unfortunate that there are folks who equate criticism of actions with personal attacks. They need to realize that when you run for office, you volunteer yourself for scrutiny.
I had someone recently tell me that they thought I was being a "tattle tale" and "watchdog" on our local government. My only response to that is summed up with one question: What do you think would happen if nobody ever said anything?
The School Board 9-3-19 meeting is yet another example of the divert, deflect and distract tactic being used to keep public focus away from transparency and accountability. They continue to bring in their big guns to their meeting, a lawyer and now a state DRA representative as some silly show of power to reinforce the Board's questionable decisions. The message is clear. They are going to spend our tax dollars any way they want, and they can without DRA intervention. The tragedy of this doubling down is the apparent assumption that these lectures will validate the School Board’s mismanagement and silence those who dare to ask questions.
No matter how divided we may be at times, I think everyone will agree that all we want is to be able to trust our School Board members to be honest with us and spend our tax dollars wisely for the benefit of our children. Instead of embracing the community and working together with supporters and critics alike, the School Board, under pseudo-chairman Tracey Kolb, appear to be building a bigger wall to keep us from having our say and knowing the full story.
Let’s look at some facts from the past year:
1: It was the SB (and teachers Union) that lied to us last March about the teachers contract when they said it was only a 2% raise. When all is tallied, it is more like a 6%-9% raise. Their idea of solving this problem is to put the SAME people back on the negotiating team this year! It’s time that they were out front with everything that you are asked to pay for.
2: It was the SB that ignored the SAU withdrawal plan that we had previously voted on when they made expensive changes to SAU staff. This was done without ANY public input. Does anyone else remember that a major incentive for creating our own SAU was a costs savings of about $100k a year? It’s gone now. Why do we bother to vote if our choices are ignored? The people should have been involved in any changes needed to the plan.
3: It was the SB that asked the Budget committee for emergency help (about $100,000) supposedly due to cost overruns that never materialized. (FYI- Relf Fogg was the only SB member who maintained that there was no deficit)
4: It was the School Board that has already created a cost overrun of over $80,000 in the current year by making the Superintendent full time. ($80k was budgeted. New cost is about $161K) Before you make any move like that, you better be able to show where the additional money is going to come from….without hurting the kids. If you have $80K to throw around, there are many needs that could be addressed with it.
At a recent 8-27-19 Budget Committee meeting, SB member Tracey Kolb made a statement that when special education costs go over budget, the money has to be made up at the expense of the regular education students. Why wasn’t she thinking that when she advocated paying our Superintendent-in-training over $80k more than was originally budgeted?
Our new, inexperienced Superintendent is the highest paid tax funded Town employee and makes more money and benefits than Earl Sussman, who is the Superintendent of the Milton’s schools. Earl has over 20 years experience. In addition to Milton’s grammar school, they have a high school. We don’t.
We seem to have a transparency problem with our school board. Our laws are pretty clear that most of the business of the board is to be available for public view. Our inexperienced Superintendent spends a lot of time on the phone running up the tab with the Board’s lawyer. Cameras were forbidden from showing the public some simple insurance proposals heard by a committee. These lawyer fee overruns are then blamed on a few people whose only (non)crime is to ask for public information.
Foot-dragging on the release of public information is just wrong. Now it’s also being alleged by SB member Relf Fogg that certain discussions are being dragged into non-public sessions where they don’t belong.
We all want to trust those we have elected to represent us. Based on factual events from the past year, I have no confidence in our current School Board. I don’t trust them to spend my tax dollars wisely for the good of the kids. Salaries are still going up and the school still under-performs. It’s ironic that folks who have been elected to administrate a school appear to have an aversion to learning anything. They would apparently rather double down on their mistakes.
So they tell us that all we need to do is support them. The facts show that we already are....and have been for a long time.
March 2018 ballot including warrant articles: $9,792,720
March 2019 ballot including warrant articles: $11,351,813
That’s an increase in funding from last year to the current year of $1,559,093 or THIRTEEN PERCENT!
Your December 2019 tax bill will reflect these increases. You will not like it.
So what can we do to stop this runaway train? We stay informed and vote accordingly. We cull the administration’s rubber-stampers from the Board beginning with McCawley next March. We find a candidate that reflects values of openness, accountability and willingness to listen. We require that student test scores rise equally with salaries. We make our voices heard to our Budget Committee. We continue to have our say in an appropriate manner. We tear down the wall that is being created by a few SB members who feel the need to be right even when they are wrong. At the end of the day, the voters still have the last say…..as long as they are willing to do the work and stay involved. Perhaps we should be the ones doubling down on requiring our elected School Board to represent us instead of themselves.