In an email sent out to the entire school board on April 7, 2014, the school board chair wrote this:
“Our legal fees generated by requests and criticisms from outside the SAU will mostly likely exceed $10,000 this year. This would include Right-to-Know requests, the Recount, and defending ourselves from a possible lawsuit by the ACLU. We will need to increase our legal budget line to accommodate this.”
This speaks volumes. Let’s look at the excuses for more budget padding one by one.
1) Right to Know requests. Anyone with even a passing knowledge of the law knows when a RTK request is legitimate. It does not take a lawyer. The district would not find itself besieged with so many Right to Know requests if it was forthright with information in the first place. I can say this with confidence because as a member of the school budget committee, I was forced to file THREE Right to Know requests to obtain information that should have been forthcoming as a matter of course. A current budget committee member is into her second Right to Know request right now. The radical increase in RTK requests in the district is a symptom of flawed policies. Rather than asking you to pay more, they should be reforming their ways.
2) The election recount. Democracy has its costs. If the union would have lost by four votes, you can bet they would have called for a recount, too.
3) The ACLU action. There is no dispute that once a lawsuit is filed, district lawyers must get involved. But the ACLU did not file a lawsuit. This left the door open to the most sensible thing — to simply retract the School Board Rules that were patently unconstitutional. That would have been the end of the issue and no district lawyers need to have gotten involved. Instead, someone ran to a lawyer without giving the board an opportunity to discuss the issue and decide if the board thought legal advice was necessary. This was a complete waste of taxpayer money.
It was the board’s own overweening desire to control dissident members that got them into trouble. Then they compounded the problem by reflexively running to a lawyer when a simple solution was at hand. The district is asking you to pay more for an expense that was not needed to fix a problem that was completely avoidable in the first place.
Lesson Not Learned
Fast on the heels of the above email came this one by high school administrator Mr. Strainge:
Dear Mrs. Green:
After our conversation on April 3rd regarding your wish to see the proposed AP Textbook I have been reminded by Madam Chairperson Steenson that all requests for materials must go through the Board Chair and not through direct contact with administration. If you wish to make that request for access to the proposed textbook it must go through Madam Chair Steenson. I thank you for your attention to this matter as we navigate the waters of Board protocol.
My request for the text was both perfectly sensible and entirely innocent. The school board is being asked to approve a new AP textbook so naturally I wanted to see the text before giving it my vote. It was waiting for me at the high school front desk on Friday. Today it is not available to me, (but I’m told will be at some future date).
This “protocol” I supposedly violated is nothing more than an attempt to limit the information that school board members receive from sources other than the Superintendent’s office.
Let me point out that it is a good thing I do not get all my information from official sources. After a whole delegation of administrators presented the NECAP results at the April 3rd school board meeting at great length, a sharp-eyed citizen pointed out that the 11th Grade math test scores were reported at 38% competency when the state reports the results as a dismal 33% competency.
Here is my email in reply to Mr. Straigne’s diplomatic email that I sent to the entire school board:
The board is being asked to approve an AP textbook at our next meeting. While Mr. Strainge was shaking our hands at the last meeting, I innocently asked to review that text book. Mr. Strainge most kindly and immediately said a copy would be made available to me, as is only what one would expect. This was waiting for me at the HS. Now it is no longer.
It has been made clear that my request needs to go through you. So not only all communication directed to staff has to go through you, but all information from staff as well. I am left breathless by the scope of control you continue to try to exert over the elected officials in this district.
I expect that the text book I have requested will be made available to me immediately.
I also expect all the invoices related to the check register we are asked to sign at every board meeting be provided to me three days days in advance of every meeting.
Please understand that my expectations are not subject to your discretion.
I also wish you to understand that all emails from you and Mr. Collins will be, at my discretion, reproduced on my blog.
Sandown representative on the Timberlane School Board
From subsequent emails from Dr. Metzler and former Board Chair, Rob Collins, I have learned this board policy has been in place for at least a year and is not the current Chair’s doing. No doubt, but if the intent were not to control information and only to organize it, why was the textbook withdrawn from the HS front office? I was denied the textbook on Monday either out of a peevish desire to punish me or to control information.
Madam Chair has twice written to me that my behavior is “making a mockery” of the district or school board proceedings. The mockery going on here is of the taxpayers who think they have representation and oversight.
There is something seriously wrong with the flow of information in this district, and the restrictions placed on your elected representatives by the board itself.