Transparent-you is or you ain’t

After being a long time supporter of our SAU, I’ve recently become critical of the school board. I have no personal vendettas against any individual but as a group, I believe the majority of the board is making poor decisions. Let me be clear. I love teachers and kids. But it’s time the administration stopped hiding things from us. It’s not helping. Our community is completely capable of showing its support for the school as long as it is given all the information.

So what happened to me? This past voting cycle I volunteered my time to help the SAU get their message out to the voters by making a video explaining the warrant articles and their endless need for money.

When I found out that the information I had brought to you regarding the proposed teachers’ contract was missing important facts regarding pay raises, I got really pissed off. Opinions are one thing, but helping a School Board member share incomplete information disguised as fact is quite another. I want no part of that. I decided to try and right my wrong by digging deep for the facts and sharing them with you.

As many have seen on FaceBook, I share my opinions but try to show how I arrive at them with some factual information including public documents. To get this information, I request it from the SAU by using our “right to know” law. Originally, they were responding in a timely manner to my requests……until I started posting my views with public information on a public forum.

After that, the responses to my requests for information seemed to slow down and at one point my request for information was completely ignored for six weeks, even though the law requires a response within five days. I finally sent the School Board a letter that stated that I would be forced to take them to court. This prompted a reply from the acting Superintendent that: “…..I did not interpret your emails dated on April 6th, 2019 and April 12, 2019 as RSA 91-A request…..” , even though all my email requests prior to that had been answered and I had stated that my emails were 91A requests. Replies to my requests have recently improved.

I get it. The administrators don’t like what I am doing. Their reactions appear to be decisions designed to circle the wagons and keep you in the dark. Why several Board members interpret my efforts to shine some sunlight as personal attacks is a mystery to me. The more I ask for transparency, the less cooperation I get. Gullible Board members are being misled into supporting this approach as the tail continues to wag the dog.

The latest example is the denial of the public’s access to the Health Insurance Committee meetings. Clearview Community TV asked to be allowed to film these meetings for you and was denied. The excuse is that these meetings are part of “negotiations” between the SAU and the Teachers Union. Negotiations are protected by collective bargaining laws. I disagree that these meetings qualify as negotiations. First, these committee members have no power to negotiate at all. Second, there have been informational presentations from insurance carriers that the public might wish to consider. My position is that they should have allowed public access to these informational sessions. When it came time to discuss their recommendations, they could have gone into non public to do that.

I would agree that for some, this issue may be in the “gray area” regarding the law, but our School Board members are supposed to be advocating for the public. It’s their job to provide you with information about how they arrived at the expenses included in your tax bill. They can let the Union advocate for its members, something it does very well.

Remember…. back in March, the proposed money amount (School District Ballot Article 2) for the teachers’ contract was rejected by both the Budget Committee (5-5) and the people of Wakefield (532 No, 435 Yes). This disapproval basically sent the SAU and Teachers Union back to the drawing board to try and find a contract solution that everyone can support.

A significant portion of teachers compensation is the health insurance benefit included. The cost of the teachers Cadillac insurance plan is very high. The public pays 82.5% of this cost. This has been a sticking point for some members of the public and Budget Committee. FYI- administrators and affiliated teachers get a much better health insurance plan than employees who work for the Town of Wakefield. I will show you these plans including costs in another post.

There was an agreement to form a committee to look for alternative cost saving plans and make a non binding recommendation to the parties who will negotiate the contract behind closed doors as is required by collective bargaining laws.

Here is the description of the committee from the proposed FY 2020 Teachers contract:
“ A joint committee shall be established to review and make recommendations for changes to health insurance. The committee shall consist of six members, three appointed by the Association and three appointed by the School Board. The committee shall begin meeting no later than May 1, 2019, and shall submit its recommendations in writing to the Association and to the School Board no later than December 1, 2019. The committee’s recommendations shall not be binding upon either the Association or the Board. If, after receiving the committee’s recommendations, the Association and the School Board agree to change health insurance provisions, the changes shall be placed in writing and appended to the collective bargaining agreement.”

The SAU administrators maintain that their lawyers back them up as they attempt to keep these informational meetings from you. Further, the Health Insurance Committee meetings are not posted and there are no minutes being taken. Here is the Superintendent’s response to my request for them:

“We are declining your request for minutes and discussions by the joint School Board/Union health insurance committee for the following reasons. The joint committee is part of Board/Union collective bargaining and the committee proceedings are non-meetings under RSA 91-A:2, I(a), so minutes are not required to be taken or disclosed under to Right to Know Law. Because it is a joint Board/Union committee that will make recommendations to both Board and Union, it is not a public body. Any records of the joint committee are exempt from disclosure because they are confidential per RSA 91-A:5, IV, and RSA 98-E:3.”

So , there’s a committee meeting going on but it’s a “….non-meeting….”? No posting, No minutes? No public observance allowed? This lawyer-speak sounds like a big loophole to me.

This could have been handled so much better. The public could have been invited to be part of the solution when appropriate. If you knew what was being talked about, you could contact your school board member with your comments. This result might have been increased support for the new contract. Instead of asking for your input, their actions appear to indicate that they don’t want our help. Could it be that they don’t want us watching them?

MORE OPINION: I think this committee is a stacked deck. Except for Relf Fogg, the two others on the SAU side of the committee are Superintendent Jerry Gregoire and Tracey Kolb. How can JG possibly advocate cutting teacher compensation costs when he is getting a bigger check and huge benefits himself? Didn’t TK also bring you the last proposal? It sure doesn’t look like they have figured out that next time around you will have ALL the details of what you will be voting on. The last smoke and mirror show didn’t help the teachers or the kids. We’re gonna have a clear view this time when we vote, so we need to be part of it. Transparency doesn’t come in degrees.


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One Comment

  1. Ruth A Hall said:

    Hi Jim,
    I read this all with interest and want to thank you for following up so doggedly. All public employees may have to tighten their belts regarding health insurance; perhaps getting on the Medicare For All bandwagon would give them common cause with taxpayers, as Medicare has proven to be an effective and reasonable program. I find it hard to support contracts involving large healthcare benefits when I am on Medicare and no supplement, and avoid going to the doctor because of costs.

    June 20, 2019

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