Friday, June 24, 2022

Everytime I Think It's Bad Here...

We have had our own versions of this in New Hampshire. A small town Croydon, with a population of 800, a school age population of 80 ha a school budget vote this spring. Being small town New England, the budget was voted on at a town meeting. It snowed that evening, and a small group of self identified libertarians pushed the actual vote until after 11 pm by deliberately prolonging the meeting. An amendment was proposed to cut the school budget by 55%, to $800k. The amendment passed 20 to 14. Needless to say, the next morning there was outrage when everyone else found out what had happened. Turned out the man that advanced the amendment was the husband of a school board member, and she knew of the plan. At the next school board meeting she was confronted by parents that demanded she resign. Her answer was, I am not on this board for your children, I am on this board for the taxpayers. 

Under state law, the board had to make a plan to meet the budget. The town has an elementary school, and tuitions the older students to surrounding public schools systems. The elementary teachers were all to be fired. A private company was hired to run the school. The kids were to be put into 4 "pods" for learning, but the company refused to say if the teachers would be certified. Much of the learning would be online (and we know how well that worked out during the pandemic). The older children's families would get $9,000 for tuition (School vouchers! Maybe not such a good idea). The surrounding towns however had been charging $18-21K per student. There supposedly was one private school in the area that would accept the $9k but they never said where (I am guessing some religious school). 

The rest of the town rallied. Under state law the budget could be increased, but it required the vote of more than half the voters on the rolls (a term of art for voters registered as of the time the new vote was called). Given the town is run by town meeting, that meant getting more than half of the voters to the same place, at the same time for a meeting. 51 new voters were registered by the parents (the town register quit because she wanted the school cut and was refusing to register the new voters until forced by the state), and on a Saturday they were able to get 320 voters together to vote 318 for, and 2 against the original budget (the no vote decided not showing up was better since that could deny the 50% of voters needed). 

Closer to home, our town elected a few conservatives to the school board. One in particular ran on the issue of the high school music teacher being put on paid leave during an investigation into an accusation of improper contact with a student at previous school. The then current school board and superintendent were attacked for having reported the incident when the superintendent became aware of the accusation (reporting is required under state law) and for putting the teacher on leave (also required under state law). The only thing the board and superintendent could say was it was a personnel matter that they could not comment on. Our superintendent eventually left. The new board members "were going to fix this". There were many posts in the local social media groups on the subject. Then it was announced by the state, that the accused teacher was turning in the their teaching license, which ended the investigation (and also the teacher's paid leave, and no future job without a license). Suddenly all the critics fell silent. As one person posted right after the election, while you got yourselves elected on this controversy, now you are accountable and responsible for the schools and their real problems (there was also a failed bond issue for a new elementary schools and rehab of the middle and high schools that are all in disrepair. NH gives zero money to towns for school facilities.) There has been almost nothing in the news about the current school board. They have their hands full and I suspect the new members are realizing that they can't walk away from addressing the actual issues. 

(I know I'm repeating myself, but I have no tolerance for stupidity or willlful ignorance.)

The local board here has been busy (not yet even a month in office) not addressing the actual issues of the schools.  There is a lawsuit to force the district into single-member districts for the board, which the new members ran strenously against (it's up to a federal judge, there's nothing they can do about it).  One of the more perceptive critics of the board, in public comments at the last meeting, pointed out they were creating single-member districts de facto by representing the interests of only those who had elected them (Basically their objection is that rich white folk will lose power to the poorer brown and black people, so "single member districts" are fine so long as they run the district.)

This board is a confederacy of dunces.  The bookstore I mentioned is one I've worked for; the owner is a friend.  Cancelling her contract for no reason other than "we don't like your politics" or the books on her shelves (none of the three could probably find her store with a map and GPS), is actually a breach of contract action waiting to happen.  The bookstore won't do it, but some vendor will, and the district will face lawsuits it shouldn't face at all.

Most of the work of administering the school, under Texas law, rests with the Superintendent and the administrative staff.  They do the work of preparing a curriculum plan, for example; work that can take months and involve the inclusion of several interested groups.  These three members want to toss out that work (already done and approved by the last board) and replace it with their own, by the end of the summer.

Speaking of summer, they fail to understand that because schools are out, work doesn't need to be done now to prepare for return to class in August.  They have voted to suspend purchasing books for libraries and classrooms (excluding textbooks), until further notice.  This means students will return to libraries and classrooms without the books teachers need for classes.  But it's summer, right?  Nothing important happens at schools in the summer, right?

In the meantime they have to have a specially called meeting this Monday because the new member/VP of the board had to sub in as moderator of the last meeting, and ran roughshod over board policy on how to conduct the meeting and call votes.  Being a board meeting, they will have to have time for public comment.  I wonder how many people from the last meeting will show up to ask why the Board screwed the pooch so badly they have to clean up their mess?  That could almost be entertaining.

If I wouldn't embarass my wife (who works for the Superintendent), I'd go to the meeting and ask why it this meeting was necessary, why the Board is so determined to wreak havoc rather than learn how the district works, and why it is so determined to place the District in the gunsights of breach of contract suits.  These are hardly the acts of Trustees who are expected to put the interests of the district above their own interests and ideologies.

Ah, I can dream....

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