Tuesday, February 5, 2013

The Elephant in the Room

WCASD School Board Meeting - Monday, January 28, 2013

Publicly it seems to be a quiet time in our school district, but there is a lot going on behind the scenes.  Contract Negotiations, interviews for vacant administrative positions, and the creation of a budget for the upcoming school year.  Our District is also dealing with many other issues - decisions to ban books, school safety updates, charter school hearings, and increases to mandatory standardized testing.  We are keeping our fingers crossed that the State doesn't cut funding to public schools, that they do something about the pension crisis, and make progress toward charter school funding reform. Lots to digest.  To top it all off, parents have begun receiving regular emails from a friend of one of our school board members saying our parent group is a "union front" while simultaneously asking parents to express gratitude to her for her unwavering dedication to defeat the union.  I am not in a Union, never was and am not always in agreement with their positions.  I will, however, advocate for my children, any child, and their education.  That's my motivation, my passion!

The District posted the highlights for the January board meeting if you'd like to check them out.

Lots of talk about the possibility of yanking a book - Water for Elephants - from the curriculum.  A committee was formed to discuss removing the book from use in the schools.  Opponents of the book were adamant that this was not an issue of censorship, but if you read the policy it really was. During public comment, one parent expressed her displeasure with the findings of the committee.  See article in DLN

The book was retained by a vote of 7-2.  Many board members weighed in with their opinions. The consenting votes echoed the thoughts of Dr. Pimley, who served on the committee, and indicated the committee's decision was based on guidelines in the school policy and the final decision regarding the book selection is made by the student's parent or guardian. Mrs. Snook and Mrs. Raileanu voted against retaining the novel.  Snook questioned the appropriateness.  Raileanu gave a lengthy presentation from a prepared a statement lasting for almost 15 minutes.  I don't think she even took one breath.  Her only pause was about 10 minutes in when Mr. Murphy asked her to wrap it up.  She told him that she spent a lot of time researching and she was going to finish. There were mentions of the effects of neurological development when exposed to pornography causing children to self-mutilate, commit suicide, suffer alcoholism and so on and so on.  She thought the claims of calling it "censorship" was being dramatic. Perhaps she doesn't understand the definition of both censorship and dramatic.  Truly bizarre. Many of the Henderson high schoolers in attendance were torn between running out of the room and sticking around to the hear the vote. About half of them left and the others cheered when the recommendation was approved to keep the book.  I was just happy that it had finally ended.  Although, I recall someone threatening to come back to the next meeting to read the questionable passages of the book.   

In discussing one agenda item about approving a special education contractor, Mrs. Snook seemed to enjoy pressing Dr. Ranieri with the exact slate of questions she asked at a previous committee meeting.  Dr. Ranieri answered them all knowledgeably the first time and again the second time.  I am sure all board directors are aware of strict mandates for special education that the district must adhere to and that noncompliance can lead to expensive legal fees.  Mrs. Snook also had some questions concerning personnel recommendations for tenure.  She read the school code aloud and wondered if it was necessary to have to vote on teachers receiving tenure.  Our interim human resources director, Mr. Knebl,  politely informed her that in his 21 years of experience contracts must always be approved by the school board. 

The last big agenda item was approval of the Support Professional Contract which passed by a 8-1 vote.  Mrs. Adsett found it necessary to read a response with her concerns about the contract.  She didn't feel that the employees should be compensated for unused sick time, she wasn't happy with the benefit package and lastly she was against forced unionism - her opinion perfectly punctuated with a flip of her hair and about five deliberate chomps of her gum.

Although we only spoke of one elephant that evening, there were many in the room that were not discussed. The 2013-14 budget goals to close a projected deficit of $4.3 million other than not applying for Act 1 exceptions, new revenue sources, tax increases and fund balance (savings) utilization, no discussion on the impact of the upcoming state budget, how is the District going to deal with the upcoming balloon pension payment, or the continued lack of progress with negotiations with the teacher's union,  not to mention school board members giving parent email addresses to their friends so that they can send inflammatory politically motivated emails.

View the latest school board meeting or set your DVR to record:Videos of the School Board Monthly meetings and the Board Committee meetings can also be seen on West Chester Community Access TV, Verizon FIOS Channel 33 at 5:30 pm on Monday nights and 12:30 pm on Friday afternoons.

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