Sunday, April 4, 2010

A Confluence of Public Events (Part II)

As promised, I've cleared a few hours out of my ultimately lovely afternoon (I hope everyone is enjoying theirs as well) to update regarding recent community meetings I've attended. And yes, there are notes!

the School Board Meeting:

I'd arrived a few minutes shy of the school board beginning its proceedings, and sat with other friends and neighbors directly in the front. There were a few comments made from various members of the board about the microphones, they seemed unaccustomed to their use and noted "never having to use them before [today]" They seemed to imply the public interest in the issues on the docket was both notable and out of the ordinary, and seemed to be slightly off put by
the presence of so many. (The turn out seemed to quite justify use of the Auditorium at the high school, as there had to have been a 50-70 persons there of the community. Cheers for the investment, folks)

The following is from my hastily jotted observations:

  • This having been my first EAHS board meeting I was quick to note how...procedural, the entire process was. Here we had somewhat terse persons speaking dryly into a microphone, in their best monotone. And I'm aware much of bureacracy is rooted in this sort of rigid procedure, it was just striking how much of the meeting was bogged down in this capacity.
  • The first order of business was a presentation by the Director of Administrative Services of the York County School District, who seemed to have been hired in an evaluative capacity (or representing A.S.B.O- or the Assoc. of School Business Officials ). The Director spent quite a bit of time(after introducing himself and getting the name of the town he'd come to wrong) illuminating a rather exhaustive study titled "Facilities Staffing Review" some objectives of which were to a.) review staffing levels and b.) supervisory levels for custodial staff and similar personnel. On the whole, the Director noted that he was largely impressed with the size and scope of Easton's custodial operation. You'll be happy to note that among the data he was unloading, it was found that Easton spends "less than average per square foot than comparatively sized school districts" ( roughly 10 cents, ). Has a combined staff =15,000 persons per square foot (this method I found puzzling because of its odd comparative measure, and I was almost curious enough to ask about how one goes about coming to this number). He also noted that EAHS has an "unusual number of day custodians @ the middle school" , and recommended that school custodians could benefit by having "identifiable uniforms for staff purposes". He recommended that the board fix the custodial budget at or around 1%, and made note of a large volume of overtime, specifically allocated for substitute custodial staff.
  • Ms. Fisher, the President of the school board maneuvered the various items on the board's agenda with a noted imperial and decidedly...icy tone. The very presence of so many citizens with matters to address seemed unpalatable, and the overall attitude of the board seemed unresponsive to the interests of the citizenry assembled.
  • When the meeting was opened for public comment, each were allowed a very brief 2 minutes to address a grievance, which was timed on a stopwatch on one of the computer monitor displays. I kept thinking those on the board seemed more interested in the stopwatch time than they did the actual speakers- the majority of whom offered a broad am mount of insight on both the tax increase issue and several others.
  • As expected the bulk of the conversation revolved around the tax increase, with some people (perhaps sagely) asking about accountability/ transparency from the School Board involving earlier mismanagement. Others trying to get the board to consider a spending freeze or cap.
  • One compelling counter argument came from a local elementary school teacher who felt compelled to add some nuance to the finger pointing (between the teacher's union, the taxpayers, and the school board) . She wanted it on the record that she felt that the school board was "not proactive enough about the budget previously", and felt that budget cuts would only serve to "impact overall morale" for what she suggested were already very put upon teachers. She insisted that the students at the end of the day would be the ones losing out should these sort of alleged cuts go through.
  • A high school student (and there were quite a few present for the meeting, commendably) seemed concerned about the possibility of "angling to force the teachers out" and was concerned about the possibility of the suggested spending freezes would not "punish the students."
  • Another student presented a compelling argument against an apparent ban on musical instruments on school busses that cost students the ability to practice and prepare for their futures. He also emplored the board not to deny funding to local winners of a prestegious confrence invitation (called the 8D?) that some members of the band were talented enough to recieve.
  • Other discussion was brought to the panel regarding the disparity between male sports (predominantly EAHS's football and wrestling programs) and female sports and the Arts, which have seen cuts and are not considered equally. One speaker confronted the board voicing concern over the gender disparity and accounts she'd heard about decidedly apathetic councilors and teachers. She spoke of interest in encouraging the clearly involved and engaging teachers like the one who'd spoke previously and vetting those who aren't suitably engaging in their work. The dialouge about sports funding drew direct, and almost immediate and acidic rebuttal from one member of the board. It seemed unfair in that the speaker in question was allowed 2 minutes to voice a concern, did so without personal attack, and yet was not allowed to clarify her position after the boardmember called her to the proverbial carpet. I thought it was in particularly poor taste.
  • An address from the superintendent Susan McGinley struck an interesting note. She encouraged respect, and addressed some of the misconceptions about the issues discussed to date at the meeting. She stressed that the way to recovery (economic, I presume) would involve a "collaberation effort" , and felt that "volitile issues were dividing the community". She felt (and I think many may agree) that Easton as a school district is "not living within its means", and was quick to point out that neither she, nor the business manager were not present during the earlier misapripriations. She proposed we as a community move forward focusing on "wants vs needs" , and that people would "have to take on multiple roles" in order to do so.
  • Finally, the Board took time to congradulate Valarie Davis , one of Easton's Art Teachers who recently had a sculpture accepted into the White House, quite an acomplishment. She gave a very impressive speech about her motivation and drive to make the piece and gave the audience insight on the benifits of an art education and the power of "dreams actualized". She stressed self belief, personal self esteem and gave a lot of very credible evidence as to the importance of the Arts.
  • This was about the point where the aforementioned Boardmember who took exception to questioning the validity of football funding while other areas suffered, took his opportunity to remind us that Valerie recieved her scholarships through her participation in track (this does not overlook the idea that girls track is still vulnerable to underfunding) and suggested the complaints about sports funding was groundless.
  • One last note of interest from the meeting was that the soliciter informed us that "section 11-24 of the school code explains the only acceptable reasons for staff reduction (i.e- hiring or reducing the number ot teachers during this budget problem): 1.) At the recomendation of the superintendent 2.) school board or 3.) Department of education. He made it sound as though they were locked in the current teacher capacity and the collective "hands" of the board given these codes are tied.

More on last week's Boys & Girls Club meeting later. Have a good week.




    David Caines said...

    While I go out of my way to not think about my highschool years goodd or bad. Looking back I must say that I had the benefit of exceptional schools. Our schools were some of the top in the nation, our sports teams have achieved some national prominence and that trend continues to this day. Personally I played soccer for 13 years, I was in the political science club, the Chess club, dance club, and debated for a year. And I was sort of a "Fringe kid". Like any number of others at my school, senior year I took a few college classes (at the local community college) and as such had a few credits behind me by the time I graduated. I wasn't even in the top ten percent, this was just the nature of the schools.
    So it is not without some foundation that I look at our local schools and realize the horrible disservice we are doing these kids, our city, ourselves and our world on the whole.
    I still favor bringing the state in if they can be made to come in, not because I don't think that something might eventually be worked out, but because I am deeply personally aware of the huge disaddvantage these kids are under and equally aware that time is of the essence.
    If we whipe the board, If we clean up and go forward with better schools today, we might make some positive change in the lives of this years freshmen, and those who will come after them but the die is already somewhat cast for the sophmores and juniors and this years graduating class will be out in the world and ill prepared for it, long before any change takes place.
    Thank you,

    peterkc said...

    I read all these posts with great interest, especially those about the EASD Board, which -- despite a couple of excellent members -- seems to be largely dysfunctional.

    When did they cut the time for public comment to 2 minutes!? For years, they've had a three-minute limit. [Although that is also pretty ridiculous.]

    Could they make it any clearer that they don't want citizens to speak!?

    I wonder if limiting it to 2 minutes is even legal -- and if it is, could they limit it to 1 minute if they feel like it!?

    The Sunshine Act says 'If the board or council determines that there is not sufficient time at a meeting for residents of the political subdivision or of the authority created by a political subdivision or for taxpayers of the political subdivision or of the authority created by a political subdivision or for both to comment, the board or council may defer the comment period to the next regular meeting or to a special meeting occurring in advance of the next regular meeting.'


    Anonymous said...

    I *believe* Val Davis excelled in many sports, not just track. If my old memory serves, Val to this day holds the record for most athletic letters won by a woman in EAHS history.
    Val Davis is a person who drives herself to succeed in everything she does, and with grace and class.
    For a School Board member to use Val to make his point to support his position makes me ill.

    Carinne said...

    Correction, it is still 3 minutes per public comment, not 2. I will say that after hearing the manner in which Madam President Fisher warns each tax paying citizen that they can not speak a second longer than 3, and strictly demanding that the timer above the board be watched, one may feel rushed.
    At the meeting (and mentioned in Gavin’s post), I used my 3 minutes to make a few points. Aside from giving my respect to the Tracey Elementary teacher who spoke, I wanted to support the students I saw present in the auditorium. I shared my opinion that it is the musicians, artists, and writers that made up the body of students that are afraid of suffering from budget cuts or losing out completely (later in the meeting I was even more disgusted to learn that the business programs are also in jeopardy). I stated that spoiling our male athletic programs is a mismanagement of funds, pointing out not one person was present in fear of a cut to football, who recently received millions for astroturf. Lastly I shared my recent knowledge of female sports being the only proposed cut for the sports programs and stated that spending more on boy sports than girls was not only wrong, but illegal based on title 9.
    It was my comments that were then used by Mr. Myers to manipulate and turn Val Davis’s extreme artistic achievement into a proud result of EASD overspending on sports. Not only was this confusing (Val not only being an artist there to speak of the importance of art, but also a former FEMALE athlete), but also rude. Myers also aggressively stated I used the word “privileged” when talking about our athletes, and told the audience that Val came from the “projects”. Instead of stewing his anger to the point of misquoting me, he should have been paying attention to the superintendent’s advice of being respectful in the speech she gave just before. Mr. Myers is a fine example of what can go wrong when a school district spoils its male jocks. With a separate VIP like entrance for his athletic department it’s no wonder he gives off an arrogant celebrity like attitude when confronting the comments of a concerned tax payer.
    Thanks Gavin for your post, and the reminder that I should have an opportunity to respond 

    David Caines said...

    I'll apologize here, because the rest of this may offend a bit.
    The fact that after three years in corrective action the school board is still debating sports over academic achievement tells anyone willing to listen Exactly how little academic achievement means to the EASD. If academic achievement mattered to EASD, or following the law, or simply doing the job...this argument could not exist.
    My opinion is that the bunch of them have been too long in the monkey house.
    I'm happy to think that perhaps some lights are shining now on the board..but seriously. They need to go lock, stock and barrel. Probably the teachers as well, janitorial, everyone and everything.
    On a positive note, helped out at the bike rodeo today, spent some time around the kids...some good some semi-functional even on their best behavior. EPD provided a pair of bike patrol officers who did their bit (they were friendly and talked with the kids and parents), the organizer (Scott) handed out free helmets and some folks checked bikes and the like.
    Signs of life...pretty cool really.

    noel jones said...

    In today's Express Times, there is an article announcing that the AARP has requested to meet with EASD Board President Pat Fisher over this tax increase. There has been a lot of talk about the impact on working or unemployed residents, teachers and students, but another group that will be hurt by a tax hike in this economy is our senior citizens.

    Like other residents who have been speaking up at the School Board meetings, senior citizens are asking the the administrators to be willing to take pay cuts, in addition to other cuts to spending. This is what the teachers union has been suggesting as well, as a step toward renegotiating the teachers contract, but we have yet to hear a commitment on the part of the board to cut administrators salaries.

    Cathy said...

    Yes the bike rodeo was a success (hooray for the organizer Scott who pedaled all the way from Bethlehem and back.) The location was excellent - spacious and safe. Located near EACC helped for water runs and first aid. So many kids showed up without bikes! Do they not have bikes? Or forgot them? Some benefited from the rodeo set up but some needed to learn how to just ride. We did set up a canopy for adults to sit under while radiating love and encouragement to the kids. I hope the community will sponsor more of these rodeos throughout the summer. Its an opportunity to address what Nikkita brings up in her post about being able to speak to our neighbors kids.

    David Caines said...

    I'm going to take moment here to try to put my first comment into perspective. Jeanette tells me I don't do that as well as I used to.
    I was something of an "at risk" kid. Honestly had I ended up in any other school system, I would probably at the very least have spent most of my life as a "guest of the state".
    Truth be told even in that school system I more than fell through the cracks.
    Thankfully, that school dragged me along, the peer groups, a few exceptional teachers, and just the general atmosphere that said loud and clear that failure would not be tolerated much less encouraged. Stupid was not cool, and if you wanted to date, have friends, etc...then you had to be able to display some education.
    I really don't think about that time in my life much, but in retrospect that school system probably saved my life. For me, that's the "Bar", that's what I want for the kids of Easton . And I know that it is possible to achieve that. Unless someone really wants to take the opposing argument that these kids somehow deserve less.

    Anonymous said...

    I agree with David Caines' comment about debating sports over academic achievement. While sports are important, has anyone read anything written by some students at EAHS? So many are lacking in basic grammatical and spelling skills. How many don't know how to write a sentence? How many cannot identify a verb from a noun from an adjective, etc. Why isn't the concern more on literacy and less on sports?

    David Caines said...

    I tursed this to be a racist thing...those (enter ethnicity) are only good at sports.
    In the modern age, it seems to be a way to justify turning teachers into proffesional baby sitters while we wait to arrest the gradutes.
    What I would like to see is a genreal addmision by all involved that "WE" have failed.
    That we are all eqyally culpable, that we have all droped the ball.
    This should not come as no great addmition as the federal and state governments have held us to thier "bar" and we did not pass the test.
    We have all failed, the board, the parents, the citizens of this city, the teachers ...all.
    And I will make this addmition to the children of this city, I have failed.
    That I am disabled, that i was focused on surviving here are reasons, but not an excuse.
    Excepting the repetition of past failures, I don't much care what has happened in our past. But I do demand that all involved admit this failure and address it. With a promise to carry forward with that fact in mind. And fact it is..we have been measured by the rod of a greater authirity and we have not passed the test.
    What I would like to see from all involved (teachers, board) is a simple addmision of this stark fact. And it has not been offred.
    And that tells me that anything that goses on within the board or the union is dissingenuous.
    I have been shopping around both the idea of s protest, and that of a pettion.
    A protest is likely , but I will take no part as these people are "Pissed" and will most likely breach the law in stating thier displeasure. As to the pettition, most eastonians feel there is no point. they do nnot only feel unheard, but theyt feel powerless.This is not the apathy most of us belive, it is a deeply felt viocelessness that pervades my area.
    I have taken the counter point, bu tit is lost in the despair and hatred of hte many.