Friday, September 14, 2012

Defining the Role of a School Board Director

Someone asked me the other day how I would define the role of a school board director.  It was a good question and after our initial discussion, I pondered it some more and decided to share my thoughts here.  

As I see it, the school board is elected from members of the general public in the district as representatives of the public.  Some districts have the district sectioned up and elect a board member from each section and often, one "at large" member.  That means that each section is represented, in theory, by someone who cares a lot about those neighborhoods and schools.  Everett just has general Directors from any part of the district.  The only requirement is pretty much that you live IN the district.  

Once a school board member is elected, I believe their number one obligation is to the public who sent them there with their vote.  In my mind, they should be in constant contact with the public.  If there is an important issue, they should reach out to the voters for feedback. Their own votes should be cast only after taking the pulse of the taxpayers, not based on some assumption or personal political agenda.  

It's so easy today to do this.  Decades ago, reaching out to the public meant phone calls, letters, paper surveys, expensive postage, time, etc.  Today, the district can reach out to every parent with an email address.  Yes, I know, there are more taxpayers than just parents in the district.  But, I am sure that for the purposes of the school board, a list could be set up of non-parent taxpayers who want to be informed about what the school district is doing with their money.  After all, 46% of all home-owner's property taxes go to fund schools in this state.  I have several neighbors without children in the schools, but I believe they should have say in the matter, too, since their dollars are there.  

But with social media and other tech advances, reaching out to the public is as easy as a few clicks of the mouse.  It took them a long time to start videoing the school board meetings.  Director Olson had requested it for over a year.  I believe they started mostly because SHE was videoing them from her own seat.  Suddenly, a camera quietly started appearing in the back corner of the room (of course no credit was given to her for the suggestion).  However, suggestions they involve high school students in web-casting them live was ignored.  

I am puzzled as to why our current School Board doesn't maintain a Facebook page.  Actually, I'm not THAT puzzled, because they seem to not want anything to do with social media.  One current Director called our group on Facebook, "Social Media Chatter" with a disdainful tone. I don't expect them to all take to Twitter, but come on - how hard is it to set up a Facebook page and allow people to hit "LIKE" to get updates?  They must believe their web page is user friendly and interactive.  It's not. Meeting reminders and links to agendas, minutes and videos showing up in Facebook feeds is a lot more user friendly and interactive.  The public doesn't know where to find this stuff so, if you truly want the public involved, you'll make it easy for them.  

Are they afraid of knowing what the public thinks?  I think so.  Director Jessica Olson has her own Facebook page and she has faced some uncalled-for attacks there.  But, for the most part, she is just sharing information and listening to the public - which should be the desire of the other 4 members of the board.  They represent the public, yet, at the same time, seem to not want to hear what the public thinks.  

The Everett School Board Project has our own Facebook page and with almost 200 parents and taxpayers over there, we often have good discussions about our schools.  I know the Everett School District (and the media) are paying attention, but none of them, except Director Olson, has chosen to participate in our discussion.  They most likely sit around mad because we are often critical.  But, if we feel like they aren't listening to us, what else are we supposed to do?  We feel like we have no voice in the people we elected to BE our voice and we all understand how easy it would be for them to connect with us.  Choosing not to sends a clear message.  

We must remember that these 5 people are all equally elected to represent the interests of the public with regards to the schools and to oversee the schools on behalf of the public.  They should be talking to the public and they should be asking the hard questions the public wants them to ask.  I am often dismayed to sit in a school board meeting and listen to a presentation about MSP scores or new programs, etc. and at the end of the presentation, when the directors are given the opportunity to ask questions, most of them sit silently as if there was nothing to ask. REALLY? There's nothing in that presentation that you'd like clarification on?  You don't feel the desire or need to question how things are REALLY going, how the money is being spent or whether or not a new program was effective?  That is shocking to me.  

Think like the public and be aware of what the public thinks. Then communicate with the public - all simple "Marketing 101" concepts for entities that would like to serve their "customers" well.  These are things we should all expect from the five directors of the Everett School Board but don't feel like we are getting.  I hope that in the next election of 2 school board members in 2013, that the public chooses people who feel a sense of obligation to the public and not to the Union, the superintendent or the other board members.  

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

September 11 School Board Meeting Report

Sat through the first school board meeting of the new school year last night.  At times, it becomes a personally victory to outlast every other non-district employee in the room.  When I finally left after 3 1/2 hours, it was just me and the education reporter from the Everett Herald left in the cheap seats.  I think she was about to leave, too.  We should have gotten a prize as we left.  

The meeting had two main purposes last night.  First, to present the district-wide results of the Washington State MSP (Measurement of Student Progress) test.  And, second, for the board to vote to accept the new three year teacher contract including a lengthy justification of the new "Early Release Fridays" to provide collaboration time for teachers.  

A whole lot of time was given to the newly accepted three year teacher contract last night.  The calendar is actually a good thing.  Instead of what seems like endless amounts of random early release days throughout the year, they have decided to put most of them on Fridays from October through May.  So, our kids will get out 75 minutes early (not totally a half day) every Friday.  Thank goodness it's FRIDAY.  The scuttlebutt was that it started out as Wednesday which was totally useless.  At least on Friday you can hit the weekend a little early if you're going somewhere.  

Some of our breaks were shortened a bit and there were fewer half days of other types.  The result is that we get out in the TEENS in June (17th) which has been almost unheard of for a lot of years.  Last year we were out 10 days later than that.  Most parents I'm talking to like the calendar.  

However, the point of early release Fridays seems to be lost on a lot of people right now.  I heard the word "Collaboration" no less than 200 times last night (I should have counted.  I wanted to start screaming whenever I heard it after a while).   I agree that teachers need to be on the same page for continuity.  However, I am not entirely convinced that weekly sessions for an entire school year are needed to accomplish this.   But, the district seems to think it's the most brilliant plan EVER.  Oddly, most of the districts around us are already doing this or started it this year.  School Districts love to keep up with each other!

I appreciated the question asked by Director Pam LeSesne.  She wanted to know how the district was going to prove to the School Board and the Public that collaboration time improved student scores.  Throughout the presentation, I heard two disturbing assumptions.  First, that collaboration time was every bit as important as instruction time, and, second, that it shouldn't matter WHO your child gets for a certain subject.  With collaboration, all teachers should produce the same result.  Really?  That is sort of offensive to teachers.  That kind of implies that you could train anyone to present material and produce the same result.  I have no problem with a GREAT teacher helping an average or even poor teacher to be a better teacher.  But, teachers are not the same.  Two can present the exact same material and one will inspire and excite the students and the other can put them to sleep.  Personalities are different as are students.  There will never be equality to that extent no matter how much time is spent "Collaborating".  

Anyway, the answer to Director LeSesne's question was basically, "ANY increase in student test scores will be assumed to be a result of these collaboration Fridays."  Well, that doesn't prove ANYTHING.  If scores go DOWN, will THAT be assumed to be a result of a loss of instruction time because of these collaboration Fridays?  I'm thinking that would be a "no".

I HOPE that teachers will use this time as it's intended.  Like everyone, I want to see greater success among our students.  I want to be more than "average".  This is a huge change in the calendar and somewhat of an inconvenience for parents and if we can't measure results, then we need to get rid of it next year when they re-evaluate.  But, my gut tells me they will want more time and Fridays will become true half-days.  

The other very disturbing part of the contract was the Union wanting the school board to issue a statement against Initiative 1240 - the Washington State Charter School Initiative.  We are one of only 9 states in the country without charter schools.  If they are as bad as the Union wants you to believe, then why do 41 other states have them?  The Union wants the assurance that if that law passes (will of the people) that the Everett School Board (supposed to be "the people") will NOT authorize any charter schools in our district.  If they do, the Union can demand the whole contract be re-negotiated with 30 days notice.  It's akin to extortion.  "Permit charter schools here and we might exercise our option to make some trouble for you."  Wow.... The board didn't issue a statement against Charter Schools but DID agree to that provision to re-call the contract.  However, my gut tells me the majority of the members don't support Initiative 1240.  But, if it passes, I expect the board to honor the will of the people and not the will of the Union. They represent US (in theory but not reality).  But, then, we like "average" here so we wouldn't want a charter school to make us look bad....  

My final thought about the meeting last night was the pettiness that continues to plague the school board.  During Board Comment time, Director Carol Andrews felt the need to bring up the fact that Director Olson was absent last night (she was sick) and pointed out the exact percentage of meetings she has missed. She then spit out, "I thought we were a FIVE member board."  Then, she must have realized how ridiculous she sounded (given the fact that I am relatively sure that when Director Olson called in sick that there was some internal celebrating going on in at least 3 members and the superintendent given the content of the meeting last night) and said, "Well, I know there is a lot of sickness going around this time of year."  It was so petty and disingenuous because for nearly 2 years, it's been a FOUR member board with one member who is always the beaten down (literally and figuratively) outsider.  Carol got her dream last night - a discussion on a three year teacher's contract with a lot of unanswered questions in it and the presentation of very average MSP scores and no "Contrarian" to ask too many questions and make it "messy".  I am sure she was happy about Director Olson's absence so to act like they have this warm and fuzzy relationship with the 5th member and they missed her presence was just "Theater".  

Fun times....

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Happy September!

We kick off another school year on Wednesday.  Get involved so you can be informed of what's happening in our schools.  

  • Volunteer - if every parent gave just three hours of time each year, we could make a real difference in education.  If classroom volunteering isn't your thing, offer to help the teachers by saving them time.  I spent about half my kids' elementary school years as the "Copy Mom".  At first, the teachers were not sure they needed me to come in and copy their homework and worksheets every week.  But after a few weeks, they started to see how much time I was saving them.  Why have a teacher stand in the copy room?  Do it FOR them.  They always thanked me profusely and the end of the year and when I'd see them around the school the next year, they always said, "I miss you doing my copies for me!"
  • Network with other parents - help with parties, join the PTA, attend events and get to know other parents at the schools your children go to
  • Attend the School Board Meeting - I never realized what was actually going on with the school board until I went to my first meeting a year ago.  They are ultimately in charge of running our schools and just casting a vote may not be enough to make sure they're doing the job you would like to see them do.  There isn't nearly enough real public involvement with the school board.  Unfortunately for the public, though, the school board meetings is at 4:30 on a Tuesday.  It's the worst time possible for the public who is either at work, just getting elementary school kids home or about on their way to pick up older kids from sports. But, as Director Olson told a concerned member of the public who commented on it at the last meeting, "they are scheduled for the Board's convenience."  Sorry, but they should be scheduled for the PUBLIC'S convenience.  I have looked and there isn't another district around here who holds their School Board meetings at such a ridiculous and unfriendly time.  
  • Use Social Media to network and get information about our schools - Unfortunately, the Everett School District hasn't caught on to the idea of Social Media.  But, many PTAs and Booster Clubs have Facebook pages you can join.  Later this month, I'll try to get a good list compiled to post here for you.  Here are a couple of relevant pages to get you started, though. 

Make this year the year you finally get involved in the schools.  In 2013, we will have the opportunity to vote for two new School Board members and in 2014, we will be asked again to provide money for the schools.  Knowing what's going on with your schools is going to give you a far better perspective on your vote than reading a voter's pamphlet ever can.  

Calendar Now Available in Klingon

This cracked me up.  When the district sent out the link to the newly approved calendar, this is how it showed up in Google Chrome.  I was laughing so hard.  I didn't realize that Klingon was the new language of the Everett School District.  

I think the first day of school is 1/01 3 IT somewhere between V and DC but I'll have my kids ready to go on 1/01 STD 2 just in case I'm reading it wrong.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Using My Public School Education to Do a Little Math

I decided that after taking the summer off, it was time to dive back in to the school board project.  Part of the motivation is due to the fact that school is traditionally supposed to start 10 days from now but due to this being a contract negotiation year, we have heard NADA about the first day of school.  This has happened several times since my kids entered the Everett Schools.  It is not unheard of to hear nothing about the first day of school until the end of August, which means we also don't know when any days off are or when any of the extended breaks are.  We finally bought plane tickets for December during the time we KNOW there will be no school.  We simply couldn't plan and couldn't wait any longer to get a good price on airfare.  

So, I started wading through the budget - just for fun!  Lots of questions about it - especially given the fact that there continues to be a concern about a lack of funds.  I started wondering where in the world the money is going.  

First, let's talk about teacher salaries.  I know that teachers work hard, but I don't buy the continual chip-on-the-shoulder attitude about "we're SO UNDERPAID!"  Math proves otherwise.  In the Everett School District according to THIS table (ESD is district number 31002), the average base salary for an Everett School Teacher is $56,680.  As soon as you say that, you will get 15 teachers who angrily proclaim "I DON'T MAKE THAT MUCH!!!"  Well, that's the AVERAGE salary, boys and girls.  Due to additional duties, classes, activities, etc. the average teacher can bump their base salary over $19,000 a year to a total of $77,511 per year.  By the way - Everett has the HIGHEST additional average salary per individual in the ENTIRE STATE.  Seattle is second at $16,000 and Bellevue comes in at $12,000 and most of the districts don't even break $5,000.  I have to ask why? That salary amount is BEFORE any benefits - which are about 30% additional.  Now, before you start thinking that's REALLY LOW, let's keep doing the math.  Teachers are contracted to work about 1,350 hours each year.  The private sector worker in a full-time job works about 1,900 hours a year.  If you divide the average teacher salaries into that 1,350 hour work year, they make $42/hour base and $57/hour with the additional duties.  Do YOU make that much per hour???  

Now, let's take those numbers and plug them in to a private sector work year.  That means that if a teacher were to be contracted to work a normal 1900 hours year, they would make $79,800 on the bottom end and up to $108,300 on average at the top.  Is THAT enough for teaching???

Before you start leaving angry comments about, "Well, Teachers work MORE than 1,350 hours!!!  I don't know ANY who work just what they are supposed to," let me say, "That's life!"  Most salaried professionals who have work with deadlines end up doing work at home.  My husband has never worked just the 40 hours a week he's "contracted" to work.  He works probably closer to 50 hours each week without any additional compensation.  

I am not "anti-teacher", but I am not buying the whining any more.  Sorry, you're paid well for the job you do.  

My next observation in the Everett School District budget is the table shown here.  Notice that from the 2010-2011 school year to the 2011-2012 school year that there is an additional $2.5 million for supplies - a 41% increase!  I'm assuming this budget covers paper, staples, pens, paper towels, toilet paper, copier toner, etc.  During that same period, the district had a 1% DECREASE in the number of full-time students, a 7% DECREASE in certificated staff (teachers) and a 1% DECREASE in classified staff (lunch room, crossing guards, teaching assistants, office help).  So, we had a 9% DECREASE in the number of people who might use supplies but a 41% INCREASE in money for supplies. Could someone explain that math to me?  

The final nugget I uncovered in the budget is a boat-load of Federal Stimulus Dollars from the 2010-2011 budget.  

Note that in that year, the district got nearly $7.5 million in stimulus funds.  Later on in the budget, we see that most of it went to Title 1 and IDEA - both Special Ed programs.  However, those dollars obviously didn't show up the next year or this coming year.  So, the question begs to be asked - is that part of the "fiscal crisis" we are facing?  Were those short-term dollars used to hire people and set up additional programs that have become long-tern obligations?  I suspect the answer is "yes".  Instead of buying equipment or updating facilities - which would have been the smart use of money you knew you were getting only once, the district probably set up long-term financial obligations with it and we are now unable to support those without "robbing Peter to pay Paul" as the saying goes.  

These budgets are laid out in categories, but I would honestly love to see the itemized list of expenditures.  I suppose I could go through what is essentially the district's checkbook in the form of vouchers, but who has that kind of time?  And, that's what they are banking on, I'm sure.  Don't question our use of your money, just know that we always need more.... 

My question is... when is it ever enough?  

Monday, May 28, 2012

Education Overhaul

This is well worth the 11 minutes it takes to watch it. We need to shift our thinking about public education instead of continuing to do what isn't working while telling the public if we just had more money, it would all work (eventually).  Sure....

We need to stop educating 21st century kids using 19th century models.  

Thursday, March 15, 2012

R*E*S*P*E*C*T - find out what it means to me

Someone recently asked me why I'm doing what I'm doing.  It wasn't a hostile question (although I'm sure some would love to ask me that in a hostile manner).  It was just a "why are you worrying about the school board and what do you want them to do?" question.  

Do I want to be on the school board?  Nope.  That is not my intention at all.  So, what DO I want?  I'm sure inquiring minds want to know.  

In the words of Aretha Franklin, I want R*E*S*P*E*C*T.  Not for me personally, but for the parents and students of this school district.  I said as much after a particularly bad day for the school board last year.  

In the last few years, many members of the Everett School Board have been on a roller coaster of disrespect and disregard for the general public. You can view a quick timeline of events with links from the Everett Herald HERE.  The paper has way too many articles of the troubles we've faced and way too few of good things going on in district.  Yet, changing the tide of public opinion would be SO EASY.   From 2001 - 2009, I was a consultant for small specialty retailers.  I helped people start businesses in the Memory Preservation Industry.  I beat one drum over and over - that the greatest thing they could do is to provide knock-your-socks-off service to their customers.  DELIGHT them in simple but unexpected ways.  For example, when I order from an online pet medication site, the box of medicine always comes with a Milk Bone for my dog.  How simple is that?  Yet, I'm delighted to know that someone put in an extra treat for my dog.  It doesn't take much to make people happy, but it takes the right attitude and the knowledge that they don't have to be your customer so you better give them a reason to.  

Business lessons can and should be applied to government agencies.  But they aren't very often because of the attitude of "where else you gonna go?"  School districts have somewhat adopted that attitude, but they shouldn't have.  People moving into our area have choices.  If you work at Boeing, you could live anywhere from Stanwood to Seattle.  How many school districts is that to choose from?  We should be known as the BEST one in terms of leadership and academics.  Right now, we are known for the dozens of newspaper articles dating back to 2007 that chronicle one problem after another.  

I saw a news report online today about a school board president and a teacher getting into a cat fight at the school in front of students. You know what my first reaction was?  "Hey, at least our physical altercation didn't happen in public."  Nice...

So, what do I want to see done?  Do I want them all to resign so we can have a do-over?  Okay, in the world of Rainbows and Unicorns, that would be my fantasy option.  However, who's to say we would get a different or better mix?  But, what can THIS group do?  I believe the dysfunction is nearly terminal at this point but the fact of the matter is that these 5 School Directors were equally elected by a vote of the people.  They stand on equal footing.  Four are not superior to one and one is not superior to four.  They MUST find a way to resolve this - they are obligated to, in my opinion.

So, here are my suggestions:

  1. Marriage Counseling - if you will.  I believe this group needs mediation.  They need to sit down with a professional and hash out their issues without any fighting, yelling, sighing or eye-rolling allowed.  Right now they are like an old pressure cooker waiting to explode.  I believe a mediator should be at every executive session - that's where the disrespect really seems to shine - away from the public eye.  And, through mediation and perhaps outside legal counsel (not the attorney they usually use), settle once and for all the official district definition of transparency and then everyone agree to it and adhere to it.  Ironically, they held a public meeting on government transparency and then went back to fighting about it the very next week.  
  2. Communication - the one thing that seems to be a sore spot is that Director Jessica Olson has a Facebook page.  At one point, someone said there was a lot of "Social Media Chatter" surrounding all the issues of the board.  I assume they were referring to Director Olson's page and the Everett School Board Project page.  But, hey, welcome to the 21st Century!  I cannot believe that the school board doesn't maintain it's own Facebook page.  Information on meetings and the workings of the board could be posted.  One of the members said that I wasn't telling anyone about the good things they do. I wanted to say, "What would those be because I'm not seeing any right now".  So, fine, get your own page and inform the public.  Fight fire with fire.  That's what I would be doing.  
  3. Ask with a Desire to REALLY Know - A few years ago, my husband and I attended some public meetings regarding some massive budget cuts.  We were given a list that included everything from cutting staff at the district offices to raising lunch prices to cutting buses.  We sat at a table and came up with our top solutions.  Then each table shared theirs.  The reoccurring theme was to do things that caused the least disruption to students but might inconvenience the adults a bit.  I thought the room had provided some really thoughtful ideas.  Guess what happened the next Fall?  Virtually all elementary school children living within 1 mile of the school lost their bus.  Okay, not a big deal for most - I mean, we all walked and survived.  However, the school my kids had gone to was on a state Highway and from the first day that school opened, parents were told that under no circumstances could children walk or ride bikes to school - even those who literally lived next door to it - because the 45mph 5-lane highway was too dangerous.  But, suddenly, due to budget cuts, it magically became "safe".  I knew that would happen.  Prior to the start of the meeting in a little chit-chat with the superintendent, I suggested that government always goes for the throat in cuts.  They don't cut staff that no one cares about, they go for the biggest bang like closing community pools and parks.  They want to make the most taxpayers ANGRY so when they come around to ask for more money, they have a good sob story to stand behind.  Dr. Cohn looked at me and said, "Do you REALLY think they do that?"  I said, "Yes, I do".  And, several weeks after this meeting, they did.  

    So, the game is that the public is invited to meetings to talk about stuff, but at the end of the day, our opinion never feels like it matters.  For instance, this $27 million new district office building being built with dollars they skimmed off of our bond votes was never voted on by the public.  On paper it looks like it was because the board added this project to the list last year - like 3-4 years AFTER we voted.  But, they simply want to believe everyone is happy and on board with them spending this money.  Why are they afraid to ask?  With a few clicks of a mouse, they could send out a simple survey to 10,000 families to ask them if now is the time to spend every penny we have in our Capital Funds account on a new district office building.  This is money the taxpayers gave them for schools.  You can hear the back story about how they amassed the money HERE.  But, why not then ask the people who GAVE you the money if this is appropriate use of it?  If they were to do that and the majority of the respondents said, "yes" to a fairly-worded simple survey, I promise, I would be the first person to shut up.  But, when I talk to the families in the district about it, they are shocked and more than a little upset about what's going on.  

    I want the board to be unafraid of the public they were elected to represent and I want them to find ways to ask AND listen.  It's so extremely and stupidly easy to do today.  No money needs to be spent on postage.  Just fire out an email and ASK.   
  4. Meet At a Convenient Time - our board meetings start at 4:30 in the afternoon.  That has got to be the stupidest, most unreasonable time ever thought up.  Meeting at 10am would be better.  But, guess what's happening in the Everett School District at 4:30?  Kids getting off buses and arriving home, kids finishing up after school activities and needing rides, music lessons, moms and dads still at work, dinner prep, etc.  It could not be more inconvenient for the very people who should be openly invited to be at these meetings.  In order for me to go to the meetings, I have to have my husband work from home that day so he can drive kids around after school, and, if the meeting goes long, get them to their evening scout meeting.  I miss dinner myself and they end up eating fast food.  I know I am not alone in this challenge.  Their reasoning is that they also hold their executive sessions after the public meeting so it makes for a long night if they start later.  Simple solution - hold your executive session FIRST or on another night.  This goes back to providing good "customer service" to the public.  Will it fill up the room if it's at 6:30 or 7pm?  Probably not.  But it will at least be convenient for those wishing to come to the occasional board meeting.  
Four simple ways for our board to start turning around and making themselves more attractive to the media and the public at large.  I will give them one point.  When some of our group met with a couple of board members and the superintendent, we suggested they spend more time talking directly to the public.  Right now, the public makes a comment at board meetings and they are faced with stony silence. No dialogue between the board and the commentator is allowed.  We suggested they have some sort of round table discussion once a month where a board member sits with the public and discusses a certain topic.  It's something at least one School Board in our area does.  The board was somewhat considering that already and had their first one last month.  They have three more scheduled.  I didn't make it to the first "Talk to a Board Member", but reports are that it was a good thing.  Hopefully they will continue to do this and the public will grow more interested in attending.  

So, there you have it.  I don't want to be just a nag without a purpose.  I don't like the feeling I get when I walk into those School Board Meetings.  The thought bubble I see over the heads of several board members and the superintendent is "Oh crap, SHE'S here." I know they don't like what I'm doing - which says it needs to be done.  No one likes to be criticized and I get that. However, the public doesn't like to be marginalized - which is what has been going on for far too long in the Everett School District.  

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

And the Schrammie goes to.....

Everett School Board President, Jeff Russell.  Well-deserved!

CLICK HERE to read what got him this not-so-coveted award. 

You can hear a radio interview between Ken Schram and Director Jessica Olson that further explains the issue HERE

Monday, March 12, 2012

We Are the 3%!

Only the Everett School District and Spokane and Tacoma have 6 year terms of service for their school board directors. The rest of the districts (97%) in the state have their school board directors only serve 4 years.  That makes a lot more sense to me.  Think of it, if someone gets elected for their first term when their child enters Kindergarten, they will not face another election (or have to be accountable to the public) until their child enters Middle School and if they win the second term, their child will be a Senior in High School by the time they are up for re-election again.

What does that do?  It allows cronyism and alliances to develop that are often not good for the students and tax payers.  It also limits the number of new faces that show up on the boards.  That helps keep district alliances all safe and sound and keeps the board from changing too drastically and rocking their boat if they have a good thing going.

But, it also limits the public's ability to enact change if they are unhappy with the current direction of the board.  Recalling a School Director is next to impossible.  It has to be for a specific violation of the law and approved by a judge and if you get that far, you'll have to collect thousands of signatures.  

Per Washington State law, school board elections can only be held in odd-numbered years.  We replaced one director last year and we are already starting to see her align herself with the others.  We will not have another opportunity to change the faces on the board until the Fall of 2013.  At that time, two will be up for re-election.  Meanwhile, it's business as usual because they are in control.

But, unfortunately, like Congressional Term Limits, the only mechanism to change the term of service is by a vote of the board itself.  And with the faces on it right now, I can pretty much guarantee you that it would be 5-1.  Director Jessica Olson approached that subject after her own election in 2009 and was told that it wasn't an option.  She was told something like, "It takes time to get into the workings of the board.  Six years is necessary."  Um, hello, the President only serves for 4 years.  What makes a piddly little school board so special?  But, the translation of that, in my opinion, is that changing too often is dangerous to the little world that's been built.  Perish the thought that the board had to be 33% MORE accountable to the public in an election.  Currently, if you serve 2 6-year terms, the board is only accountable to the public twice.  In the same time period but of 4 year terms, they would have to be accountable to the public THREE times.  How can that not be a good thing?  If you are serving well, you should not be afraid of the public.  But, that's not how we roll around here.

So, PLEASE take this quick survey (and I mean QUICK).  Do you think that the Everett School District School Board should use their power to limit their term of service to be more in line with the other 97% of school districts in the state, or do we feel entitled to be part of the elite 3% who somehow feel we need to serve 50% longer? 

Click here to take survey

Friday, March 9, 2012

Kicking Off This Blog

I guess I should really get this blog going.  Honestly, although I set it up a few months ago, I kept hoping I wouldn't have to start blogging.  Not because I don't want to, but because I keep hoping something magic will happen that makes this blog and it's accompanying FACEBOOK GROUP irrelevant.  I kept hoping for the best - that the dysfunction within the Everett School District School Board would somehow magically solve itself and I could stop banging my very bruised head against the wall.  But, alas, it hasn't happened.  

Six months ago, I started paying a whole lot more attention to what was happening in the Everett Washington School District.  Strike that, my interest actually started to awaken a couple of years ago during some public budget cut meetings we attended.  It all seemed very "rigged" to me.  The community was invited to make recommendations on where to make some pretty big cuts in the district.  I thought the group made some very good recommendations that impacted students the least.  Recommendations included cutting the district office staff to the bone (I think I counted like 22 administrative assistant types there - seemed like they could do with a whole lot less) or reducing maintenance to buildings.  These were things that simply didn't do much to bother the students.  After several of these meetings all over the district, they decided the best thing was to cut bus service to elementary kids who lived within a mile of their school - thus impacting tons of students and families.

Now, normally, walking to school would not be a big deal.  I walked a mile in some districts I lived in.  However, it WAS a big deal because the elementary school my kids went to was on a 45 mph state highway.  Since my kids had started there in Kindergarten (and actually since the school had opened about 8 years before that), it was beaten into our heads that NO CHILD, no matter how close you lived to the school, was allowed to walk or ride their bikes because of safety concerns.  It was in the school parent/student handbook and we were constantly reminded in emails and meetings.  Yet, all of a sudden, due to "budget cuts" the safety issue magically went away....  There was no barrier between the sidewalk and the highway.  Kids trying to ride bikes were vying for sidewalk space with walkers.  Their best suggestion was to force all the kids to walk out of the neighborhood on ONE street that limited the distance they were walking down the highway.  That meant some kids were forced to take the REALLY LONG WAY to school.  And, the street became absolutely clogged in the morning with cars of moms and dads who chose to drive their children instead.  After an entire school year and part of another, suddenly steel railings were put up along that stretch of road to protect the kids, thus virtually guaranteeing that even when that money returns, that the kids at Penny Creek will STILL be walking because it's now "safe".

But, I digress.  That was just the start.  Fast forward to what seems to be an endless list of problems and attempts to keep information from the public as well as a continual fight over what is and isn't public information.  I won't talk about all of them here, but there have been many.  Some have been information suppression and some have been personal attacks (hello, fist, I'm not kidding) on one school board member.  They finally drove me to DO SOMETHING about it.  So, shortly before the election of a new school board member last Fall, I created a Facebook Group called The Everett School Board Project with the goal to bring the public together and to create a stream of information and commentary about the situation that no one else was.  Sure, there were lots of "complainers", but I believe most of them were dismissed by the board and superintendent as "singletons".  They didn't believe anyone else was upset, because in their world, they only hear positive comments about their actions.  We wanted to show that more than one or two were dismayed by the behavior of the School Board.  

I will cover some of the issues here in the future.  We'll take them one at a time and I'll try to provide links to news stories and comments from others about each situation.  I'll even have others contribute their own concerns abou the situation.  This isn't my blog - this is the community's blog - meant to distribute our side of the story.  Check out our Mission Statement on the right side of this page.  If you agree and want to join us, come to our Facebook page.  Stay Tuned....