Two decisions at the June 20th School Board meeting needed much more open public discussion – with none of it hidden behind an unjustified non-public session.
Two new modular units to be acquired It was reported that the Safety Committee was of the opinion that the modular units (housing four classrooms) were a safety concern and should be replaced. According to the district’s facilities manager, the past winter had been hard on the units. Since there was plenty of surplus money left in the 2012-2013 budget, and this was the last meeting scheduled when the board could authorize the expenditure of that surplus, the board was pressed to decide on the purchase (or lease) of replacement modular classrooms. The board voted unanimously to go into non-public session to further their discussion under the authority of RSA 91-A:3 (i).
Right there citizen’s should get their hackles up. Non-public to discuss why the district needs new modular classrooms? Every citizen has a right to full disclosure on the condition of buildings and the reasoning behind an emergency spend of up to $175,000. This non-public was, in my opinion, an abuse of their legal authority. Here’s the RSA so you can decide for yourself:
(i) Consideration of matters relating to the preparation for and the carrying out of emergency functions, including training to carry out such functions, developed by local or state safety officials that are directly intended to thwart a deliberate act that is intended to result in widespread or severe damage to property or widespread injury or loss of life.
This provision in the non-public session authorization was clearly intended for terrorist events. That it is used to discuss uncomfortable maintenance issues with school buildings boils my blood. I’m going to make it my mission to get this provision rewritten to absolutely forbid this abuse going forward…. but that is a posting for another day.
Thankfully, Sandown’s Mr. Barczak was once again a voice of reason. He said this was a request at the final hour that had not previously been discussed with the Budget Committee and was by-passing the normal channels. He also said that the issues raised were nothing more than normal maintenance issues he has with his own home and he’s not looking to buy a new house. A leaky roof has been fixed. There is no black mold. There is no emergency, in other words. He and Mr. Bealo voted against authorizing the purchase or lease of two refurbished units, but the vote was carried, authorizing an expenditure of up to $175,000 should the units be purchased. The life expectancy for the replacement units is 5 years.
Everyday math is here to stay Those of you who shop at Market Basket might have noticed that young checkout clerks have a hard time adding $10 increments to a total bill when offering cash back. The system there requires clerks to do the sums in their head. I’ve had three occasions with three different young ladies when the addition has been wrong, in some cases hilariously, wildly wrong and I’m the only one getting the joke. The inadequacy of our math education really came home to me at the fish department not so long ago. A young man couldn’t estimate a fish portion – at all. He had no idea what “a third more” meant in terms of fish fillets. “I’m bad at math,” he confessed. These young people aren’t just bad at math, they are being handicapped by a failing math education program. Now I don’t know where the young people at the Plaistow Market Basket were educated or with what math curriculum, but I know these are local kids whose future and contribution to the world are being curtailed by math illiteracy.
When the Everyday Math curriculum was under review to be replaced by a previously implemented pilot elementary math program, I assumed we’d have some discussion about test results with the pilot vs. the current program. But no. Without any discussion but for one question posed by Mr. Barczak, and an answer, the board’s majority voted to stay with Everyday Math. Mr. Barczak’s question revealed that teachers and curriculum specialists in the school unanimously recommended changing to the pilot program. I know nothing about curriculum and don’t have an opinion about the correct outcome here, but I certainly feel the School Board owes parents and taxpayers a public explanation for this important decision. We invested the money in the pilot math program, after all. Mr. Collins referenced a report at the meeting. Perhaps he would kindly respond to this post with a link to the report upon which the board made their vote without a breath of discussion. It may well be that the pilot results were not strong enough to justify the cost and upheaval of changing the curriculum, but the public should see that argument made.
In future, the board would be wise to provide their constituents with generous insight into the justification for their decisions. A momentous vote without any discussion seems puzzling at the least and ill-considered at worst. As for non-public sessions, these are easily abused and should be resisted by all board members except when strictly justified by RSA AND when strictly needed.
For Part One of this posting, scroll down.