Tuesday, March 8, 2011

EASD Tries to Circumvent Pennsylvania Sunshine Law AGAIN As Governor Corbett Proposes Wage Freeze for Teachers

"Let the sunshine....let the sun shine in..."

Posted by: Noël Jones

In yet another unbelievable move by the Easton Area School District to shut out public comment guaranteed in Pennsylvania's Sunshine Law (see my previous post), the district has apparently decided to incur yet another new legal expense, again without the prior approval of our duly elected school board, to hire Paul Blunt of the King Spry law firm to represent the district in addressing the PTA last night to try to convince parents and teachers to not speak up during public comment at public meetings of the board, but to instead funnel all their concerns through Jill Nathanson, President of the Easton PTA. As covered in an article by Samantha Marcus of The Morning Call, Nathanson herself expressed extreme discomfort at the idea of discouraging public
comment by parents and teachers, and I have heard from another resident in attendance that others spoke up to defend the public's right to public input at public meetings as well.

In an email sent out to the PTA by Nathanson prior to the meeting, she passed on the only information she herself had been given about the presentation that Blunt was sent to give:

"Because this is another tough budget year and because last year there was so much misinformation and rumor, the School Board and administration have hired Paul to address the budget deficit and also to be the spokesperson for the district."

Instead, Blunt did not address the budget at all, nor did he explain, when asked, what he and the district meant by "misinformation and rumor," but rather took the opportunity to direct parents and teachers not speak up at public meetings regarding the budget, claiming that, "negotiations do not go well when they're conducted in public." 

This is some very subtle obfuscation going here, so let's break it down:

1. Parents, teachers, taxpayers and students were not upset during last year's budget discussion because of "misinformation and rumor." We were upset about very real options that were, and were not, put on the table.

2. Contract negotiations with the teachers' union never take place in public--they take place behind closed doors. This is a completely bogus attempt to make us feel that by engaging in our democracy as active and concerned citizens, we are somehow responsible for the results of a contract negotiation that does not involve us. By threatening that the district may have to fire as many as 160 teachers to close the budget gap this year, the subtle (and bogus) implication here is that public comment might somehow hurt teachers. 

I smell a rat. What are the chances that this advice is coming from the Pennsylvania School Board Association (PSBA), who advised school boards last year to shut out public comment? The bloated taxpayer-funded agency that  is charging us (the taxpayers) $8,500 to do a search for a Chief Operating Officer for the district to replace Guidry and Kish, so that the administration doesn't have to? The taxpayer-funded agency that we pay for legal advice when taxpayers bring suits against the district? How is it that we have been duped into paying people to oppose us? The taxpayer-funded agency that is charging us thousands to draw up "administrative guidelines" to explain how the school board is to carry out school board policy? How on earth has the school board managed without them all these years?

Last year, when the PSBA advised the school board to shut out public comment, residents fought back and won. Now it seems that the strategy may be to simply try controlling the largest segment of potential public comment: that of parents and teachers (and by association, their children, the district's students).

And as for the 160 teaching jobs that the district is threatening to cut, John L. Micek and Steve Esack of The Morning Call report that  Governor Corbett announced today that he intends to enact a wage freeze among educators. So by state decree, it looks like the teachers' union will be forced to do what taxpayers suffering in this economy have been asking them to do for over a year now--give up their raises to save teaching jobs. This will will do just that. This article makes no mention of whether or not the wage freeze extends to administrators as well. Administrators raises make up a much smaller portion of the budget because there are way fewer of them, but it would still help to close the gap. The governor is also promising to cut 1500 government jobs from the state budget. Please, please pretty please let a big chunk of those jobs be within the PSBA...


David Caines said...

If I'm reading this correctly, he hasn't actually broken the law here. He has set up an alternate means and is encouraging people to use it. Other issues aside, he can do that legally.
If we're dumb enough to fall for it? that's another issue. If and only if he actually suspends public comments is he in breach of the law, but he can lead the stupid and silly away. He can't take away our rights, but if he can convince us to give them up, that's on us.
Dealing with adult criminal complaints as though it's his right- crime
Being smarter than some folks - not a crime.
This sadly is a ruse. Let him hang by it and tell people to keep going to the meetings and enforcing their right to their voice. Encourage them to see through his BS. Side step his trap and go to the meetings.
Peace, I'm off to diner,

tachitup said...

I don't see where any laws are broken, just another ploy to make the board's job easier and not have to listen to the plebeian masses. Similar to Vulcano's play to prevent comment at committee meetings so he could get home earlier. It's so much easier to just spend money that must come from an infinite supply.
C'mon, it's not like the PTA was really going to try to break into the negotiations.

And now, not only am I annoyed with the board and the administration, but that whiny little boy, Deeley, from the union hasn't had an original argument in years.

I guess I'll have to show up at the board meeting tomorrow night, instead of going to Godfrey Daniels or practicing salsa steps. That's annoying, but please come with me.

maria said...

Tach- if we have nothing else in common, I think we both agree that you really can blame a guy for trying and should. This is petty back door , he thinks we're all stupid , sort of politics. It's offensive and says worlds about what he really thinks of the people of Easton.
It probably should be illegal, but it isn't. By all means, go and show this fart that Easton folks aren't quite as stupid as he clearly believes we are.

David Caines said...

You know, I really have to have a long talk with my better half about signing out before she leaves.
sorry for the confusion.

noel jones said...

"better half" as in partner, or as in my alternate persona?

Anonymous said...

How did you develope such mistrust of the PSBA? Do you really think the PSBA is hell bent on grabbing power/money from the good citizens of PA, as they plot while they sit on their thumbs, soaking PA tax payers contributions? Where exactly are you going with the attack on the PSBA? I read your critique of them. I don't read any alternative models for handling PSBA/school issues. What's the point of your attack? I'm curious what model would you propose?

noel jones said...

"circumvent the law" and "shut out public comment" does not necessarily mean"breaking the law." the intent of the sunshine law is to encourage and protect public participation in our democracy, and the school district and PSBA have consistently made moves to limit public comment--i totally agree--they are hoping that citizens are ignorant of the law, or can be guilted into not speaking.

it was a dumb move on their part as Easton has a pretty cynical population. the district would have been wiser to bank on apathy than to try to get bossy or pull the wool over the public's eyes--people here are too skeptical for that to work. Eastonians don't like being told what to do and it creates just enough adrenalin to ensure that people WILL pull themselves away from their TVs to come out and speak up.

Tach is right--the next budget workshop meeting is tomorrow, and I will be there (Tach--be sure to say hi--always nice to put a face to a moniker...unless of course you're "scurrred"--just joking! it would be nice to meet you)

Here's the info for the meeting:

Thursday, March 10, 2011
Easton Area School District
Education Center
1801 Bushkill Drive
Easton, PA 18040
6:30 P.M.

Here is an excerpt from the school district's policy under the sunshine law for public comments:

"In order to permit fair and orderly expression of public comment, the Board shall provide an opportunity at each open meeting of the Board for residents and taxpayers to comment on matters of concern, official action or deliberation before the Board prior to official action by the Board.
The Board shall require that public comment requested at the beginning of the meeting be for comment on agenda items. Public comment at the end of the meeting shall be for general comments."

noel jones said...

Anon 1:15--because we pay them, and they went around last year coaching school boards to shut out public comment which is in violation of PA Sunshine Law.

also, they did not always exist--they are yet another bloated government body that exists to protect their own jobs (paid by us), which is why they keep inventing workshops and programs and services that our district should pay fees for. i have yet to see a suggestion of real worth come from them to our school board, and yet they keep dreaming of all kinds of ways to spend our money.

if you click the PSBA link that i posted, it goes straight to their staff directory--you have to scroll for quite a while to get through all those positions whose salaries and benefits were are paying for, so that they can tell us not to participate in our democracy.

many of them are attorneys, and the support staff of those attorneys.

Anonymous said...

in response to Noel's Anon 1:15pm response: OK, the closed meeting idea was a stupid one. Do you find any sort of value in the PSBA? Most states have an association of school board org. which provides support and advocacy for issues emerging in the field. There is also the NGA (national governer's association) which does the same for the 50 governor's and is a 501©3. And other advocacy organiations which devote time and resources to public issues. Is it reasonable to expect a volunteer school board members to autonomously stay on top of all issues, past history, national trends, etc…while usually working another job and serving a one year term? Are you against advocacy organizations, not perfect sure, but whose main mission is to advocate for and support school/education development? Why do you object to attorneys being on staff at PSBA? Like engineers, they are a highly specialized professional trained in understanding, manuevering, and defining legal-ease. Do you also object to state employment of attorneys to defend citizens civil and criminal arenas? What about judges? Or public university teachers? Are you saying you think school board associations should be done away with? What about school boards? Who do you image would stand up and advocate for education funding and school programs, also paid for with taxes? What sort of world do you see in the future? I'm curious about your vision?

noel jones said...

Anon 2:49--thanks for posting--you asked:

1. "Are you saying you think school board associations should be done away with?" 2. "What about school boards?" 3. Who do you image would stand up and advocate for education funding and school programs, also paid for with taxes?"

1. Yes. 2. Of course not--they are our duly elected representatives. 3. Our duly elected school board, as they always did, before the advent of taxpayer-funded associations invented to create more government jobs on the taxpayer dime, and tell the duly-elected school boards how to do their job.

I do not claim to have anything so clear as a "vision"--I will leave that to the Joan of Arc's of the world. I tend to listen, observe, take it all in and then I think aloud with others to try to figure things out together. It seems to me that as polarized as our national dialogue is right now, that most people agree that our federal and state budgets are in crisis, and that one of main causes of this is salaries, benefits, and unfunded pensions promised to thousands of government workers, a large part of which are working in redundant programs (see my earlier post which covers the GAO report that includes, among other things, a report that there are 82 duplicate departments in the Dept of Ed for "improving teacher quality") With this in mind, I think it's logical and necessary for us as a society to begin scrutinizing our government programs to decide which ones are an unnecessary expense to taxpayers, and in my opinion, any department thwarting democracy by trying to break the law and shut out input from the public who pays them is on that list.

As for the lawyers, we pay for a Solicitor, so why should we also be paying for a team of lawyers to advise our lawyer?

David Caines said...

Niel dear, I still run a handful of alternate persona , but in this case I do mean my wife. Ask your brother, making sure people don't blow us up becomes habit.
Still this has as nothing to do with that. I can't write believably from the female mind, and all of my MP's are male.
Still, you make good points. This is BS cross the board. The work of someone who assumes we're all as ignorant as those he graduates. A male not used to challenge. so by all means challenge him, and watch him flail. I've done it to others of the sort...it's fun to watch.

noel jones said...

Ah, I just realized the confusion about the idea of breaking the law--it's because I said the district has "incurred a new legal expense" and I think that led some to think I meant a lawsuit. i meant the expense of retaining an attorney (Paul Blunt) to go address the PTA and ask them not to speak up at the meeting tonight. these people don't do this for free. every time we bring in someone to do something like this, the taxpayers are footing the bill.

i hope to see everyone there tonight, and i hope that parents and teachers come out in force to show that public comment will not be silenced!

david said...

I have often wondered what he has on who?
As it is clear that he has no respect for the board whatsoever, perhaps playing police officer got him some blackmail material. I am still waiting to hear from Sal or some other local authority about that.
If perchance he has hidden any crimes that cross state lines....I get on fairly well with and have worked with FBI special crimes. I would be thrilled to give this fella to them,. Otherwise, we await a local response... which hopefully is at least in the investigation phase.
If I can come tonight, I will. But I doubt it.

peterkc said...

I agree totally that the Board has no business asking people not to comment, especially if they're paying an attorney to say it for them. The real problem is a school board that really does not want to hear the public's opinions.

For the record, I think the PSBA is a non-profit organization of school boards, not a state or public agency. There is a potential benefit to sharing concerns, policy language, and so on -- but PSBA always seems to be going for the lowest common denominator in regressive, restrictive policies. Dumb for school boards and bad for students.


noel jones said...

david--i think you meant to post your comment on the molestation/Joe Kish article. please be mindful and sure that you are commenting on the post you intend to.

this post is on the district trying to silence parents and teachers who would speak up during public comment at the school board budget meeting tonight, and Gov. Corbett's wage freeze for teachers...

noel jones said...

peterkc--whether funded by local, state or federal taxes, we are paying for the PSBA with our taxes.