At the start of this article, I made a strong accusation about the school board. I said they give the superintendent carte blanche, and that the always unanimous board is not very democratic. Is it really that bad? I can back it up by listing the actions of the board. I’m starting from well in the past, but remember that the board membership has changed very little in the past 10 years.
The SRO (cop in the school) story is a prime example of how the board acts as a rubber stamp for the superintendent, and makes new policy without looking for support from the community before voting. If you only have time to read one link on this page, please read the story about the SRO.
In May of 2002 Shewring (former police chief) and former super Allen began pressing both the city council and the school board to fund a SRO position at the school. Even though the board was aware that the issue was controversial, the board voted to approve it in Oct. 2002 at a special morning meeting, attended by no parents.
Although the city council had asked the board to hold a special board meeting for the public before the vote, no meeting was held. The board fought hard for Allen’s SRO, ignoring all parents who spoke against it and the warnings the federal grants would be unfunded. The grants did dry up, and the SRO was canceled.
Raises for administrators
In order to justify big raises for the superintendent, other administrators must be given raises. Although the recession that started in 2001 was hard for the city (city income tax down 12%), the board began yearly 5% raises for the administrators. The board never asked for public comment on these raises. The steep teachers raises (after the failed negotiations of 2003) were an expected result.
Explaining the unanimous votes
In a January 2006 TWG story, board president McLeod tried to explain all of the unanimous votes (at that point the board had three years of complete, lockstep voting). She tried for five paragraphs to blow smoke, imagining a board that had vigorous discussion, between members with differing viewpoints, but somehow they always come to a unanimous vote.
Reality check. Anyone who has attended a board meeting knows how the voting works. An issue is brought up by the superintendent, sometimes with various options, but it is plain which option he prefers. The board has minor discussion, showing no deep knowledge of the subject. The board follows the recommendation of the superintendent, five yes.
There are five years of meeting notes on my Grandview Watch website, easily to use and searchable. I challenge anyone to find a vigorous discussion between board members.
The stealth raise
In January of 2006 the board voted themselves a 56% raise. If you take the explanation of the board members at face value, they somehow didn’t even know they voted for it, or how this raise happened.
That’s disturbing enough, but read the responses from McLeod and Heydinger. They have various rationalizations for the raise, but the issue of being responsible to the public doesn’t even come up. They don’t care that there was no public comment allowed before the raise. It would be too much democracy to allow public comment.
Cell tower contract
The board was presented on March 14, 2006 with a contract that Allen had just made with the tower company that morning. Board member Heydinger correctly asked for more time to review the contract, but Allen wanted an immediate vote. Instead of doing the needed review, Heydinger backed down and the contract was approved. The board’s rule of total support of the super caused then to fail to complete due process and review.
The story of the artificial turf project is a continuation the school board’s failure to allow the public a voice in school projects.
A donation of more than $300K dollars was offered by the Anderson family late in 2005. The board has obscured when this money was offered, and when a decision was made to use it for artificial turf. Quite possibly this was hidden from the public before the November 2005 levy vote. The April meeting notes recorded that the touchdown club wanted the board to move from a simple remodeling project into an expensive artificial turf plan.
The board had an opportunity to act like the city did when it was planning the recreational spending for the city. Instead, no meetings were held, the board just followed the narrow wishes of the touchdown club in transforming this into an expensive project with huge long-term liabilities. While a few parents tried to dispute the claim that a big funding drive could pay for the unfunded part of the project, and pointed out that it would hurt other school activities, they were ignored by the board. As predicted, the fund drive failed to pay for the new turf project, and the school had to make up the difference. The school is now saddled with a field which will steal donations ($375K+ every ten years for new artificial turf) from other school groups long into the future. When those fund drives fail, the taxpayer’s money will be used again.
(2016 turf update – the board didn’t even try to get donations for the replacement of the turf, they just added the $335K cost of turf replacement to the school budget. No hearings or meetings with the public were held before this decision.)
A+ grades removal, Valedictorian change
In the 1980s, the school board was lobbied by a group of parents who wanted to add the A+ grade to the school academic system. The board found that other school systems were using this grade, and agreed to the change.
In July of 2006 the board decided (with no lobby by any parent group) to remove the A+ grade and change the Valedictorian selection process (a written speech is now submitted to a selection committee). With this major change in the school policy, any board would have taken the time to hold meetings and work for consensus with parents, right?
Parents only learned that the board had made these major policy changes after the news of the July vote had been printed in the papers. Negative reaction was swift, Cameron was quoted as saying “I have never had so much email as this issue has caused”.
The board was forced to schedule a special August 24th board meeting, attended by 50 parents. Flaws in the board’s plan were pointed out, and the board was forced to revise the policy.
Next – more examples.