Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Sound of the Silenced

Another disappointment. At one point I asked my friend Robin, “Why are we here? Why would anyone even bother coming to these meetings?” I can’t even imagine how our administration feels having to deal with our school board on a continual basis (always with the exception of Sue Tiernan). Their lack of school board experience and basic skill sets necessary to lead a school district is evident in every word they utter and as they look at each other in a confused manner trying to figure out what they are supposed to do up there. But that’s okay; they will just continue to hire people with taxpayer money to do all the things they can’t handle. They will create policies that keep the mean parents (also taxpayers) from continually harassing them at meetings. They will make excuses, string us along and blame other people. They will most vocally advocate for the people they consider to be their constituents – the taxpayers who don’t have kids in the public schools.

If you have read all the committee reports that have been blogged about this month, you know everything that happened at the meeting. There really wasn’t any discussion. We were told that all of the discussion goes on at the committee level. Um, well not anymore. They just passed a policy against it without any real explanation.

No surprise that every item voted on at the committee level was placed on the “consent agenda”. The consent agenda passes all items in bulk. Board members are permitted to request that items be removed and voted on separately. In fact, 2 items were pulled off at the beginning of the meeting - the activity fee and a special education settlement agreement (both passed 9-0 without any discussion so what was the point of pulling them off anyway?).

Many community members came to the microphone to speak last night. Dr. Swalm (Oh how I miss his wisdom and guidance!) stepped to the podium and in true Dr. Swalm fashion cited about 10 things they were doing wrong from a meeting procedural standpoint and commented about how it was wrong to implement the activity fee and how advertising in the school would not be beneficial to our children – all in under 2 minutes. Another parent was opposed to the activity fee and made a great point saying that these people ran on a platform of no taxes and yet were taxing our kids and taking advantage of our student’s ambition to participate in enrichment programs and activities. Other community members were upset about the Board’s decision to hire a PR firm to handle communications for them. They were also not happy about the change in the public participation policy. The response from the Board – nothing. (Cue the sound of crickets chirping.)

The only board member to receive a round of applause was – you guessed it – Sue Tiernan. Sue is the School Board Charter and Cyber School Liaison. She went to visit Collegium Charter School and the PA Leadership Charter School (PALCS). She concluded that although they are great for some students, our kids really aren’t missing anything being in public schools. And she highlighted the fact that West Chester still outperforms these schools under the heavy weight of mandates that charter schools are exempt from. She said that the WCASD was looking to incorporate some type of cyber-learning into the curriculum in the future. She will be visiting the 2 branches of PALC – University Scholars and the Performing & Fine Arts School – and will report at the next meeting.

It’s difficult to summarize Linda Raileanu’s report as Communications and Outreach Liaison. She is all about her newsletter. She said that the purpose of the newsletter is to clarify the roles and responsibilities of the board, to highlight the expectations and to delegate various responsibilities. (Yes, I said “What???” too). She said that it is her responsibility to reach out to ALL stakeholders of the community. Not just the people with students in the district. She has received a lot of emails in response to the first newsletter and will categorize the emails, perhaps read them 100 times and research responses if she needs to before she responds. So if you have emailed her and have not gotten a response, this is probably the case because she will “never jump and never rush”. I came away from her explanation of the board’s communication efforts feeling like we were on a scavenger hunt. She promised that in the end the plan would come to fruition. Can’t wait.

Public comment on non- agenda items is always interesting. One parent is waiting for a promised report about the changes in the bell schedule and busing for the kids at Fugett. He wants to see how they compare to the other kids at the other 2 middle schools plus he doesn’t see the million dollar savings in the consolidation of bus stops that was projected. One woman said that she moved to West Chester 28 years ago for lower taxes and wants to see even more cuts and more reduced spending. Then she randomly chastised Sue Tiernan. It was more than a little strange. (On a side note, she is running for a Republican Committee position. So keep that in mind if you vote at the Clubhouse, Brandywine at Thornbury. No worries though, there is a much better option for you on the ballot – our own Toni Keg!)

One of our teachers reported that she and 76 of her co-workers were nominated for the Citadel Heart of Learning award. She wanted to thank all the parents that sent nominations. Two representatives from the Support Staff asked for a hopeful outcome for their jobs. And then more comments about election reform, the public comment policy, and the activity fee. One person questioned the changes in the communication policy. She basically said that the parents, teachers and community at large are smart enough to see past the veneer. Another said that the Board does not seem to feel obligated to provide rationale that support the decisions that they make. No crickets this time. Sean Carpenter spoke first, but this year he has been the only Committee Chair to positively interact with constituents. Maureen Snook talked about how the activity fee was very modest considering how much money the school district spends on “EXTRA curricular activities”(emphasis intentional). Maria Pimley said that she is in constant contact with parents and in the schools on a weekly basis and that parents have been asking for an activity fee for the last 2 years! (Yes, I laughed too.) Linda Raileanu promised that all the newsletters would be archived and available on the website perhaps if we wanted to read them 100 times.

Meeting adjourned.

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