Friday, October 31, 2008

The District's masquerade of integrity and virtue.

It seems appropriate to discuss district management's lack of empathy on this day of disguises and masks. Clearly, they lack the ability to look beyond what appears on the surface. They look no deeper than the masks of others and expect no one to look beyond their own masks. Until management understands that real people have real lives and actually have independent thoughts and feelings, nothing will ever change.

Management quickly thrusts opponents into a mire of negativity because they lack the ability to discern between thinking, feeling people and the shell of humans they perceive and portray. It seems their strategy is to dazzle thoughtless and shallow humans when really their audience is just unengaged and uninterested. There is a difference. People have their own lives to live and their own concerns. They don't have the energy to take on honorable causes because their honorable causes are closer to home - like family.

What is also rather striking is district management's propensity to project their motives on others. I suspect management readily assigns a rather twisted purpose to people that speak out against them. If the roles were reversed, district management would be sneaky and conniving. They may sue for no other purpose than money. They may blog for no other reason than to attack and belittle others.

If the roles were reversed, there is no way on this earth that district management would take on a personal struggle to improve the plight of others. No. If district management took on a challenge, they would have no other motive than personal enrichment and self glorification. Just look at the Piano Scam, the contaminated site, Gary Noble, Pat Shields, Bruce Williams and the lengthy list of other very bad choices made in the last few years. The record speaks for itself. It clearly demonstrates that management serves no one but themselves. If anything positive happens, it is either an unplanned coincidence or there is an underlying scam that has yet to be exposed.

Until management digs a little deeper and tries to understand others, they will amount to nothing more than paint. It may be fashionable on the day it was selected, but trends change and once the old color is covered - it is soon forgotten. I just hope that the long term impact of this current batch of paint doesn't rot out the sheet rock, studs, and exterior siding.

Happy Halloween.

Fun Factoid: This is blog entry number 498. There are 31 drafts that have yet to be posted. There are 11 completely new topics that have yet to be revealed. We have had 184,941 page views since we started in June 2007.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

And just where are those fourteen pianos?

Many people have been asking, just where are those 14 pianos purchased, sorry "leased" from Seattle Piano Gallery? If anyone knows, please tell the rest of us.

It is one thing to thwart legally-required procurement processes and direct business to friends. It is entirely a different thing if the pianos purchased, sorry "leased", never stayed in the District.

Please click on the link and check if one of these pianos ended up at your site.

Someone could make a public records request, but I suspect the District will tell you that no such records exist that reveal the whereabouts of these magical pianos.

Monday, October 27, 2008

District Benefits: One step forward, three steps back.

From: Barney, Laura (ESC)
Sent: Friday, October 24, 2008 2:50 PM
Subject: Insurance Benefits and Pools
Importance: High

To: Group Leadership Members

From: Laura Barney, Manager of Payroll and Benefits

Re: Insurance Benefits and Pooling

Earlier this week notification was sent to the leadership of each employee group about the new pooling amounts for the 08-09 school year. As always, the cost of benefit coverage and the impact it has on all employees is an important issue for the District. In addition, during this period of economic uncertainty employees are more concerned than ever about the impact these increased benefit costs have on their pay. As leaders within your groups, I thought it would be helpful to share some "talking points" about benefits and pooling, so you are able to answer questions or address concerns from your members.

The perception is that the District has "cut" employees' benefits. This is not the case. In fact, the state allocation increased by $25 per month and all employee groups (with the exception of Superintendent's Staff) receive an additional allocation per month, funded by the District, based on midpoint data.

There are several factors that have occurred that have unfortunately caused greater out-of-pocket expense for several individuals:

Health insurance rates increased significantly in September. Although the District negotiated lower rate increases than originally proposed by the insurance companies, rate increases are a direct result of plan use the prior year. District employees and dependents are using their medical coverage to the fullest capacity and this has directly impacted the rate increases.

It is important that employees remember they are only guaranteed the state allocation (based on FTE) toward their benefit package each year. The District does pool the excess dollars for most groups so all additional funds go directly back to the employees, however, there is no way to predict the actual pooling dollars from one year to the next. We acknowledge this is difficult for planning purposes and that is why we are diligent about reminding employees in our benefit brochures, at the Benefits Fair and at labor management meetings that they should be making insurance decisions based on their needs, and financial decisions based on the state allocation each year.

Sometimes employees will forget that pools will vary from year to year and will make plan changes or will add family members based on what they anticipate will be available to them in the fall; then when the pools are calculated following open enrollment, they are surprised by the decrease in pool dollars and the increase to their out-of-pocket expense.

Pool balances are monitored monthly and are recalculated twice a year, once in October and again in April. Historically, pools are higher in the spring than in the fall. This occurs primarily because employees drop dependent coverage after they see their out-of-pocket expense in the fall, therefore "freeing up" pool dollars for others to use. We wait until April to adjust the pool dollars because during the first part of the school year there is a lot of fluctuation to all the factors that affect pooling; enrollment changes (dropping dependent coverage), new hires, FTE/hours changes, etc. Generally, by mid-year these factors are static and we are able to accurately adjust the pools.

There is a bigger impact to the pool when the employee group is smaller (like maintenance or principals) compared to the larger groups (teacher or paraeducators). A change by 1 person in a smaller group can significantly impact the pool dollars for every employee in that group.

Why does the notification about pool dollars happen so late in October?

Pools are calculated based on all the changes that occur during open enrollment. Open enrollment lasts the entire month of September. We calculate the pools once all enrollment changes are entered into the payroll system and all new hires and FTE changes are processed for October payroll; this is usually complete about the third week of October. As soon as this work is complete the information is shared with each group. It is not possible to calculate the pools prior to open enrollment since the pool amounts are driven by the changes that occur during open enrollment. The process and timing of calculating the pools is the same this year as it has been for many years.

Thank you for your help communicating this important information to our employees. If you have questions you can contact me directly at (425) 431-7037. If staff members have specific concerns, I am happy to talk with them.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Brandsma and Brossoit: Tumwater's finest.

Brandsma, previously the deputy superintendent, has worked in Everett Public Schools since 2001. He came to the district from Tumwater Schools where he served as director of secondary education and technology. Prior to that, he worked in the Tacoma and Peninsula school districts. His 31-year career began in the Tumwater School District where he was a teacher, football coach and department chair.

The Edmonds School Board voted Wednesday to hire Tumwater School District Superintendent Nick Brossoit as superintendent of the 21,000-student district. Brossoit, has been superintendent of the Olympia-area district of 6,000 students for the past 10 years. Before that, he was an assistant superintendent in the Burlington-Edison School District.

It does seem terribly unfortunate that the two largest school districts in Snohomish County are being "led" by forces from Tumwater. Just what is it about Tumwater that churns out these sorts of people?

Before Tumwater received its current name, it was known as Bush Prairie after the founding settler George Washington Bush.

The name was changed to Tumwater borrowing from a Chinook Jargon phrase tumtum chuck meaning "waterfall" or "rapids" (literally "heartbeat water").

From 1896-2003, Tumwater was well known regionally as the home of the
Olympia Brewing Company.

Comments are stamped with the date and time.

It is worth mentioning that comments submitted to the blog are stamped with the date and time they were submitted. As moderator, I cannot alter the comment or the date and time the blog received it. I can just reject the comment or publish it - those are my only two choices.

If contributors wish to attach their name to a comment, please pay attention to the time the comment was submitted. The District may claim they have no problem with your expression of free speech, but just make sure it isn't "on the clock" or while using a district computer.

If you have something to say during business hours, you can use a private, non-District email account and mail it to Of course, as is always the case, I would prefer not to know who you are, but if you want to use your name, and want it posted along with your comment, I will be happy to do that for you.

It is also worth mentioning that anything sent to my email address has a set shelf life. In order to conserve space and not bog down my account, all email is automatically deleted after 30 days.

When I wrote my Letter to the Editor of the Edmonds Beacon that appeared on March 22, 2007, I was using my own computer and wrote the entire letter on my own time. I was expressing a personal opinion that had nothing to do with the District and yet - still - management felt they owned the contents of my head and every moment of my life.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Parental pacification and the assault on staff.

There have been more than a few people calling the blog tip line and sending anonymous emails expressing concern about the latest district tactic to weaken opposition to the dismantling of Terrace Park. Apparently, the District plans to create a highly-capable program at Brier Terrace Middle to pacify opposition. What leg does the parental argument stand upon for eliminating the only non-lottery K-8 school in the District if the plan includes candy canes and gum drops at the replacement location?

The problem with the District's approach is that parents should be bright enough to know a ruse when they see one. Parents couldn't possibly be stupid enough to believe that conversations about a new highly-capable program will still be happening after the move takes place. In fact, I would even place a wager that the program never launches and that it is merely idle chatter intended for no other purpose than to make middle-of-the-road parents start swearing their allegiance to district management.

Another interesting tidbit is the latest decision to meddle with the medical benefits of staff and the overtime of custodians. From what I have been able to extrapolate from the messages on the tip line, it would appear that the District is launching a financial assault against employees that dodged staffing cuts. Oddly, while administrators are getting an increase in benefits, everyone else appears to be in the cross hairs. What makes this situation all the more egregious is the lack of sufficient notification. Why inform staff of reductions just one week before it hits their monthly paycheck?

The overtime issue is alarming. From what I have been hearing, if there is a paid holiday during the week and a custodian works eight hours of overtime during the same week, they will not receive overtime pay for those eight hours. I have also heard a rather pathetic assertion that the District has been violating state law for years in paying overtime when the first 40 hours involved vacation time or sick leave. I suspect Floridians couldn't even be this stupid. How hard will it be to get a custodian to work overtime when there is a vacation during the week? What good is it to use sick leave or take a vacation if it won't count toward your 40 hours of weekly effort?

More details are needed, so if you have a perspective to contribute, your insight will be much appreciated.

Public Hearings - Edmonds School District Style

I'm kind of old-fashioned. I always thought that a public hearing was something that was widely announced to the community, had materials available for review to the public well in advance and a well informed public would come with questions and comments in order to have an actual DISCUSSION of the issues. Well, I guess ESD does things a bit differently.

I heard about the "public hearing" for the State Performance Audit because I happened to be one of the 10 people that attend board meetings and look at the agenda before the meeting (I noticed that the Facilities Use Policy was NOT a point of discussion and magically turned up as BEING on the agenda - but that is another topic). There was no information to review, no links to what was to be discussed, zero, zip, nada. I checked my son's school newsletter and the school website (that provides me of important information about the school) and didn't see anything. Here we go again - if you don't tell people about a topic, then you can guarantee that the public can not provide comments that you might not agree with.

During the board meeting, Marla Miller went into great detail about how the audit was oh so wrong and misleading. Well, she said, we can ALWAYS learn something and we will try to improve on what makes sense, but for the most part, the auditors just don't know what they are talking about. No plans on what she was planning to look into, no expectations of time frame, no accountability, zip, nothing, nada.

Then came the Board, member after member lamenting how unfair the audit was and reminding the public that they were "picked on" (sarcastically) to receive special treatment by the State. Nothing that stated how they might actually consider learning or consider anything of value from the process, nothing, zip, nada.

So they opened public comments and asked if anyone wanted to speak. After quickly scanning the information provided 5 minutes before the "hearing" , I put a couple of words together on the fly (within my 3 minute time limit) and asked the board to consider directing staff to come back with some kind of recommendations on what COULD work to bring SOME Savings to the district (this after they spent hours trying to figure our how to charge non-profits maybe $50k per year to offset the budget reductions and why $50k was so important). The response? Well, a bit better. Some "head nods" up and down. Any direction? None, zip, nada, nothing.

To be kind, this was not a public hearing. It was a "check mark" to say that they "did something". Business as usual with the ESD Board.

Rick Jorgensen

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Superintendent's "Open Door Policy" is a sham.

At the Board meeting last night, Nick responded to a community member's comments that dealt specifically with district staff and their reluctance to expose mismanagement in the organization. District employees are clearly concerned that if they speak up and reveal their identity they might find themselves without employment. It isn't hard to imagine. Look what happened to the moderator of this blog.

Nick's response was to encourage staff to pass along their concerns to their association presidents so the information might be conveyed anonymously to management without regard to the identity of the source. Nick even went as far as to encourage former employees to use the open door policy.

Well, let's review the record on one glaring topic.

A member of the public mentioned to the Board and Superintendent that Gary Noble was ineligible to compete for a seat on the Board. The notification was made prior to the election. There was adequate time to revise policies and protect Gary, but alas, Nick and the Board decided to pretend they were not native English speakers. They even went as far as to hire a law firm to support their confusion with references to irrelevant state statutes.

No constructive action was taken by the Board. No meaningful steps were taken by Nick. In fact, when confronted with irrefutable evidence, Nick's response was to duck and dive. He was handed critical information and decided to not only ignore it but to spend public money trying to bury it.

To be clear, it wasn't as if a member of the public was offering an opinion. No one was saying that Board members shouldn't look like a Keebler elf or have grey hair. It wasn't an opinion from the community - it was matter of fact and an adopted board policy.

Why wouldn't Nick or the Board act on a concern from the public that involved a conflict clearly cited in board policies and verified by the State Auditor and Attorney General? Well, it wasn't in their interest to do so. If they refuse to adequately and appropriately respond to irrefutable evidence, how would anyone expect them to respond on matters of community opinion?

Do us all a favor, Mr. Nick, and drop your nauseating references to an "Open Door Policy". You may think it sounds impressive because you heard better men use it, but the proof is in the pudding and your dishing out nothing more than scorched mayonnaise.

Fun Factoid: I thought Nick was opposed to anonymous comments. It seems he is now encouraging such anonymous comments to be funneled through an approved conduit. Is this about control or has Mr. Nick had an epiphany?

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Malignant cells quickly invade the healthy tissue.

It is a sad day in our district. After identifying a problem and expressing concerns to the Board and Gary Noble, the District decided to ignore plain, simple words and instead, picked up the phone to engage a team of lawyers. A frantic search was launched, looking for any shred of information that may give the illusion that Gary Noble’s conflict of interest was just a misunderstanding. For those of us that can read, there was no misunderstanding.

Since the Board would not act to correct the problem (or revise board policies prior to the election of November 2007), we had no other choice than to seek the opinion of the Washington State Auditor. Of course, the Auditor was probably bewildered as to how a group of five English-speaking adults could not understand a rather simple board policy. After consulting with the Washington State Attorney General, the State Auditor’s Office reached a conclusion on April 23, 2008 – follow board policies or revise them.

If the Board wasn’t wrong, why would they have to revise their own policies? Have we elected a group of imbeciles? Like many others, I am starting to wonder just who is making the meaningful decisions about the educational needs of our community’s children.

Even more troubling is the fact the State Auditor waited from April 23, 2008 until October 6, 2008 before responding to the concerned citizen. What purpose could that delay have achieved other than to allow the District enough time to revise their plain, simply-worded policies? Not only did the State Auditor wait until after the revisions occurred, they also shifted the burden for responding to the core issue by claiming the County Auditor makes the determination regarding candidate qualifications.

In communicating with the County Auditor, it was made abundantly clear that the Board is responsible for monitoring their own compliance. What happened to checks and balances? What happened to accountability? The public elected citizens to serve on the Board with the understanding that board policies would be followed. Why else would we have board policies?

If board policies don’t mean anything, why would staff be terminated for violating them? Why would students be expelled for violating them? If this isn’t a double standard, I don’t know what would be.

Why would the Board allow Bruce Williams to resign? Didn’t anyone bother to tell him that board policies don’t actually matter?

Since board policies don’t actually matter, why have them at all? Why not add a statement right at the beginning of every policy that provides a disclaimer: The following policy is entirely optional and may or may not be followed, depending upon how the board feels at the time. Such a disclaimer would eliminate any confusion and prevent the public from developing any expectations.

It is no big mystery why no one attends board meetings. If board policies don’t matter, the board doesn’t matter. If the board doesn’t matter, what hope would a community member have in expressing interest in a topic or an opinion regarding our educational objectives?

To the Edmonds School District Board of Directors, you have my heartfelt congratulations. I have demonstrated on paper just why there are so few people that attend your meetings. Clearly, our community views your existence like something akin to a terminal illness. Try as we might to correct a condition, the remaining malignant cells quickly invade the remaining healthy tissue and hasten the demise of the organism.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Board is the final authority for its own violations.

[Mark Zandberg]

One year ago, you had an exchange of emails with a member of the community that forwarded the communication to me. It was an exchange regarding the status of a school board member in the Edmonds School District. The member was Bruce Williams and your advice was to take up the matter directly with the District.

The issue was raised and the board member ultimately resigned on September 11, 2007. He violated board policies and lied to the County Auditor when he filed as a candidate. He used an address that was not his actual residence.

Thank you for your direction in that case.

Presently, there is another issue of which you may not be aware. Gary Noble ran for re-election in November 2007. In July 2007, I contacted the school board to inform them that Mr. Noble was ineligible to occupy the seat and running for re-election demonstrated an utter disregard for board policies. Mr. Noble was in violation of a provision in board policies that prevented spouses and dependents of district employees from serving on the Board. My comments were disregarded. No action was taken at that time to revise the policies.

I continued to express concerns regarding the candidacy of Mr. Noble and in September 2007 sent a formal letter to the Board and the Superintendent. They responded in October 2007 through legal counsel expressing that Washington State law prevailed and essentially dismissed the validity of all board policies.

I then contacted the State Auditor who immediately added the issue to their list of audit issues for January 2008. When the State Auditor concluded their annual evaluation, they specifically directed the school district to follow board policies or revise them. The direction was included in their Exit Conference dated April 23, 2008.

In September 2008, the school board took action to revise board policies allowing conflicts of interest to occur. While the Board is well within their rights to modify or revise their policies, it does not change the fact that Mr. Noble was ineligible at the time of his "re-election".

On October 6th, 2008, two weeks after the board policy was revised, the State Auditor contacted me and suggested that I take up the matter with the County Auditor. That is the purpose of this letter.

I am concerned that the Board blatantly disregarded their own policies in allowing Mr. Noble to seek re-election when he was an ineligible candidate already.

The revised policy makes it possible for Mr. Noble to run for the position during the next election cycle, but his current status is in question.

I am gravely concerned about the many highly-qualified people that did not run for the board position because board policy prevented it. I am also concerned about the other candidates that expended personal funds to contest the election against an ineligible candidate.

Perhaps I am mistaken to believe that rules mean something, but when so many other people disqualified themselves in reading board policies, how can we allow an ineligible candidate to serve on the Board.

Again, changing the rules in September 2008 makes him an eligible candidate from that day forward but it does nothing to correct the injustice of an unfair election.

I seek corrective action from the County Auditor, as recommended by the State Auditor. The election of Gary Noble needs to be reversed and the options, in my humble opinion, include the following; 1. declare the election of Gary Noble invalid and declare the position vacant pending the next election cycle in 2009, or 2. declare the other candidate as the successful contender and move to have him seated immediately.

It warrants mentioning that the recent revision passed by the Board prevents the appointment of any replacement. All future board members must be elected.

Please contact me if you have any questions or concerns.

Four days later...

[Mark Zandberg]

One small point of clarification. When the Board voted to revise their policies on September 23, 2008, allowing future conflicts to occur, Mr. Noble abstained from voting. The reason he abstained is because voting to allow his current conflict would have been a conflict.

Clearly, Mr. Noble is fully aware that his status violated board policy prior to the election of November 2007 and continues to be in violation - despite the recent revision.

The State Auditor and the Attorney General's Office have reviewed this issue and have recommended that I take the matter up with the County Auditor. If you prefer to take no action, I would like to know as soon as possible.

Please contact me if you have any questions.

[Carolyn Weikel]

Thank you for your e-mail regarding your concern over some of the actions by the Edmonds School Board. I would be interested in having a copy of the state Auditor's findings to try and determine why they would refer you to the County Auditor for corrective action. There is no statutory authority delegated to the County Auditor to invalidate a candidate and to declare a position vacant. There are statutory procedures to challenge a candidate's eligibility but there are specific timelines associated with that process which have currently all expired. In addition, any challenge to a voter's or candidate's eligibility based on residency must be initiated by a registered voter or by the Prosecuting Attorney not the County Auditor. If Mr. Noble was in violation of any school board policy that issue needs to be addressed directly with the school board not this office. If you wish to continue to pursue this action the only possible avenue I can think of would be to file a recall petition. (RCW 29A.56)

[Mark Zandberg]

It would appear that you agree with the District's legal counsel, that school board policies do not actually mean anything.

A recall petition is not a viable option. I am not seeking to remove a legitimately elected member of the school board.

Attached is the letter from the State Auditor's representative.

Fun Factoid: The State Auditor notified the Board of Mr. Noble's lack of eligibility on April 23, 2008 and directed them to adhere to existing policies or revise them, but the State Auditor waited until two weeks after the revisions were adopted to respond to my concerns in writing. The County Auditor is now saying that violations of board policy must be "addressed directly with the school board, not [the County Auditor's] Office."

Thursday, October 16, 2008

A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.

From: Courtney Amonsen
Sent: Tuesday, March 04, 2008 12:59 PM
To: Sarah Johnson; Barbara Lowe; Kristina Brundage; Blaine Fritts; Lisa Erdman; Judy Perry
Cc: Cory Maki
Subject: From now on...

So, the Finance Director at Edmonds SD has given Cory a new name. From this point on he will now be called Spence as she has called him that the last two times she came in the room. So, just as Ian was given the name Lance, Cory will now answer to the name Spence.

Courtney Amonsen
Assistant Audit Manager
Washington State Auditor's Office
3501 Colby Avenue, Suite 100B
Everett, WA 98201-4794
(425) 257-2137 - Main Line
(425) 257-2149 - Fax

From: Kristina Brundage
Sent: Tuesday, March 04, 2008 1:12 PM
To: Courtney Amonsen; Sarah Johnson; Barbara Lowe; Blaine Fritts; Lisa Erdman; Judy Perry
Cc: Cory Maki
Subject: RE: From now on...

Did Spencer have that audit before?

From: Courtney Amonsen
Sent: Tuesday, March 04, 2008 1:14 PM
To: Kristina Brundage; Sarah Johnson; Barbara Lowe; Blaine Fritts; Lisa Erdman; Judy Perry
Cc: Cory Maki
Subject: RE: From now on...

If he did it was at least 4 years ago. That is no excuse to call Cory Spence because Cory has been here for the last two years.

From: Barbara Lowe
Sent: Tuesday, March 04, 2008 1:54 PM
To: Courtney Amonsen; Kristina Brundage; Sarah Johnson; Blaine Fritts; Lisa Erdman; Judy Perry
Cc: Cory Maki
Subject: RE: From now on...

He doesn’t look much like a Spence either. When I think of Spence, I think of Doug Heffernan’s friend Spence.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Film producer offers financial support for the blog.

The blog was recently contacted by a film producer and post-production effects supervisor from Burbank, California. His credits include Underworld, Fantastic Four, and many other contemporary films of which I have never heard.

The purpose of his contact was to express his gratitude for taking on such an honorable cause and to offer his financial support. He has no direct ties to Snohomish County but has family working in the Seattle area. Someone shared the blog with him and he has been reading it ever since.

It has been the policy of this forum to not accept any financial support from the public. Doing so would weaken the mission of the blog and allow opponents to assign a financial motive when no such motive exists.

Again, I wish to extend my sincere appreciation for the many anonymous contributors and, most of all, my sincere admiration for the people who have used their actual names while engaging in matters of great importance to the Edmonds School District.

While it may be true that the Superintendent doesn't agree with making statements anonymously, the State Auditor fully recognizes the power of constructive feedback from any source - known or unknown. Clearly, the State Auditor's Office has better things to do with their time than to hunt down opponents and make life difficult them.

The Superintendent has been hunting opponents for 25 years and certainly doesn't want his hunting license revoked or his choice of prey concealed by vegetation.

The blog is here to stay. We have regular readers from places as far away as Russia, Italy and Argentina, but the vast majority of readers are in Snohomish County. Every now and then you may see a corrupt image file at the bottom of the blog. The number climbs so quickly my counter is challenged with keeping up.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

An anonymous forum is far better than a committee.

There has been a discussion on this blog, and behind the scenes, regarding the creation of a small, board-sponsored committee to receive anonymous concerns and complaints. Under such a scenario, the information received would eventually find its way to the Board for a response.

However, creating a committee to receive anonymous comments from district staff and the public cannot be as effective as a simple blog. With a blog, no one is looking into the eyes of anyone else and no one will ever have to worry about being uncovered.

A committee requires a group of people to come together on a regular basis to review accumulated concerns. Such a group would have to take time out of their schedules and a meeting space would have to be arranged. With the current state of the Facility Use Policy, it would be any one's guess as to how such a meeting would be coordinated. Issues also surface quickly and may require a response before the next meeting can be scheduled.

A committee also has the additional fault of endowing a select few individuals with identifying information that can be leaked - voluntarily or under duress. A concerned member of staff would rarely be able to determine the identity of the leak and would be worse off with the creation of such a committee. The blog has the advantage of being moderated by just one person. If an identity slips out, there is only one person to take responsibility.

The moderator doesn't have to schedule space in any building or meet formally with anyone else. Most of the blogging activity takes place in the early hours of the morning and without regard for political pressure or consequences to a career with the district.

The blog does not edit comments. We either post the entire comment or reject it entirely. The vast majority of comments are posted, but those that slant heavily toward something inappropriate or filled with profanity are rejected. Supporters and opponents of the blog can contribute.

The blog also allows discussion to take place. A committee cannot offer such a benefit. With a committee receiving anonymous comments, there is no opportunity for constructive dialog to take root. More importantly, a committee would not allow the opportunity for opponents to collect information and mount a well-reasoned and coordinated position.

Clearly, this blog is the ideal format for receiving anonymous comments from district staff and our community. In fact, the Board already reads the blog and therefore has access to the concerns expressed. The Board can choose to take action or they can continue to ignore the anonymous expressions made by voters and residents of our community. It is the thinking of simpletons to assume that anonymous comments are meaningless and don't require an official response.

Furthermore, the fact the Board continues to pretend the blog doesn't exist is a powerful indication of how they would view the contributions of an organized committee.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Sixty-two percent requires greater accountability.

Good economic modeling relies upon the effective evaluation of extremes to help establish the impact of trends and consequences. In reviewing the tax obligations of community property owners, a troubling problem becomes very clear. More than 62% of our property tax goes to support our local schools and there have been no adjustments for plummeting enrollment.

It would make sense to identify an ideal number of students for our district and then allow our property tax obligations to float with enrollment. As student populations surpass the established range of capacity, our community obligation should drift slightly upward. Conversely, as enrollment drops, the obligation should shift downward.

Such an approach would be consistent with Impact Fees assessed on new developments in our community. If a builder seeks to construct a number of homes within a school district having limited school capacity (identified through the Capital Facilities Plan), the developer must pay an impact fee equal to a set figure multiplied by the number of dwelling units under construction.

Some claim that an impact fee is unfair because it penalizes developers that construct while available capacity is low and offers a windfall for developers that build during periods of excess classroom capacity. I am not suggesting an elimination of the impact fee but rather the application of such a philosophy to the entire community - not just developers.

Imagine what would happen to a school district's general fund as enrollment approaches 0. There would be more property tax revenue available for fewer students.

Imagine what would happen if you added the effect of an increased property tax assessment. There would be even more money available for these fewer students.

Some may quickly argue that communities naturally grow and that over time, student populations increase in size. Well, housing stock also increases over time and these new houses are assessed new property tax obligations.

The Office of Financial Management has been using the figure of 14.6% to describe the proportion of K-12 students in our state's population. This figure has proven to be totally unreliable with prevailing demographic trends. In the year the figure was established, it was fairly accurate. However, over time, people have been having fewer children and the proportion is now under evaluation.

Imagine a scenario where district administration adopts a policy of forcing children out of their school district. Property tax levels would remain fixed while enrollment would shrink. More funding would be available for fewer students. Greater funding means higher wages for administration positions, since teacher's salaries are somewhat dependent upon teacher's salaries across the region - the use of midpoints, for example. An increase in administrative salaries may not be immediate for individuals, but the ranks of administrators could swell over time - creating a greater burden on taxpayers.

Fun Factoid: Owning my primary residence, in the City of Edmonds, requires a direct payment to the Edmonds School District of $228 every month. That is more than I spend for electricity, water, sewer, telephone and television combined. It is within a few dollars of my average monthly expenditure for heating. It also warrants mentioning that the City of Edmonds is muddling through serious budget problems for the coming year. No doubt there will be additional taxes to cover.

Image is from The Edmonds Beacon. Click here to read their article.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Control staff and parents by focusing on fear.

Principal Letter to Parents

Dear Parents,

Our school will be conducting its first Shelter-in-Place drill Oct XX. Since this is a new drill for our district and school community, we thought you would find this information helpful in understanding the purpose and intent. Not all the steps outlined below will be practiced. No tape or plastic will be used nor will the ventilation system be turned off. This will only be done in the event of a real emergency.

Shelter-in-Place is used in an emergency where hazardous materials may have been released into the atmosphere, making it necessary to create an environment within the school where air sources from the outside can be controlled or eliminated. Our school may need to shelter in place due to chemical, biological, or radiological contaminants being released accidentally or intentionally into the environment. This is a precaution to keep our students and staff safe while remaining indoors. When we shelter-in-place we select small, interior rooms, with no or few windows and take refuge there. Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC) systems would be shutdown and building doors will be locked to prevent outside air from entering the building until it is safe to leave the shelter area. The selected location is sealed with plastic sheeting and duct tape over windows, doors, and vents.

If there is a need to use shelter-in-place during a real emergency, we would listen to direction from the fire department directly or via television, radio, or NOAA radio. They will advise us of what precautions are needed. We would keep a radio with us to tune into a local radio station to listen for the threat to pass. This drill is an opportunity for us as a school community to practice our safety measures. This type of drill is not something we do often in school, but is important for us to practice so we can learn how to improve in case there is ever a real threat in our area.


The letter doesn't ask for feedback, or offer a way to get more information. Not sure who will be impressed. As a parent, I certainly didn't find the information helpful.

If we want kids to be safe and healthy, let's not have them walking so far to school. Let's build real sidewalks in our communities. Let's pass out bicycle helmets and have bicycle rodeos. Let's have nurses more than one day a week. Where's the funding for basic and obvious needs?

Isn't it enough already to have fire drills, earthquake drills, and lockdowns; not to mention the occasional dog on the playground when everyone has to come in? Just how many other scenarios are there? Are grief counselors part of the next drills? How low can we go? Why?

I want my kid's teacher to teach, and correct papers, and plan excellent lessons - not to have follow up emergency meetings, not to figure out where to store plastic and duct tape, not to have to squeeze the same learning into less time. She's a teacher, not an emergency resource. Leave her alone - and my kid too. Practice on weekends.

Are there any readers out there who can tell me where my child will be "sheltering" and for how long? How many more drills there are?

Name withheld by request

Thursday, October 09, 2008

The ESC is just another high school.

Thank you for the report on the School Board Meeting. I completely understand your stance on personal attacks; in an ideal world everyone would rise above the tactic and stick to the issues at hand. However, the Edmonds leadership DOES take everything personally and will not admit to ever being wrong. The behavior is almost adolescent in nature. Working at the District offices is like being in High School all over again. Personal attacks are the only kind of language they understand.

Staff has very good reason not to be vocal. Any dissent from the party line will get you passed over for promotion or worse, constructively terminated. Mark Zandberg is not the first person at the District to be targeted for speaking out about mismanagement. The difference is that Mark stands steadfast while others left with their “head held high” and did not have the wherewithal to try to effect change.

Every day staff has to bear witness to this and much more. There is sheer incompetency breaching on stupidity, lack of dedication, favoritism and blatant time fraud. It’s more than frustrating to work with these individuals, it is demoralizing. Taking jabs at them is a way to let out the pressure that builds day after day. It’s a wonder no one has gone “postal.” To add insult to injury staff also have to endure the turf wars and pissing matches. One often wonders if we all work for the same employer.

The fact that there is a blog, no matter the content, should make Nick Brossoit take notice and care that something fundamentally is wrong in the organization he leads. Everyone remains anonymous because deep down we have no hope that he or any of his staff will act like responsible adults.


Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Board Meeting Report – October 7th

I want to start this off with KUDOS to Director McMurray. Marla Miller presented a bunch of material regarding a new amendment to the Facilities Use Policy (never really answering direct questions) and Director McMurray pinned her right to the carpet. She asked what was the SPECIFIC IMPACT of the policy to groups such as mine (blush) and others. Marla did a dance about where she collected the information and laid out page after page of information but McMurray didn’t take the bait. She insisted that she understand the IMPACT before voting on it. Good Luck – Marla is a professional in diverting the issue away from what she wants. I know first hand. Director Noble also joined in and asked a few questions as well – good for him! Once I see the proposed changes, I’ll comment on it as well.

In my 3 minutes of public comments tonight, I dedicated my time to informing the board that my experience in this matter has been that the employees of the district were fearful of retaliation of expressing contrary positions to District Policy. See my letter to the Board explaining my position in greater detail. I mentioned as the only place that people can express their opinions freely. Most of the Directors said nothing on the topic. Director Paine was tactful in recognizing the issue but noted that the board “needs to be sensitive” in addressing the issue. To that I agree but there is still the need to do something about it.

Nick, on the other hand, dismissed my concern outright and went on a bit of a rant about the evils of anonymous feedback. My letter details the exchange in more detail. Now, let me be really clear here – It’s not doing anyone any good to make personal attacks on the blog about others. I know there is a lot of frustration out there but it really damages the effectiveness of what the blog is trying to do – to get issues addressed and changed. I urge everyone to make sure we STICK TO THE ISSUES. That is the best way to make change occur and be taken seriously.

Rick Jorgensen

Monday, October 06, 2008

Non-district schools opt out of food service program.

So this is where Food Services latched upon the reference to McDonald's. I find it mildly bewildering that the Food Service program is shlepping food to non-district schools when they can't even get their own service delivery problems resolved internally.

The following is an article that appeared in the Edmonds Becon on September 18th, while the rest of us were distracted by cheese sandwiches and Schrammies.

“For that amount you could buy a Happy Meal and get change”

Holy Rosary School in Edmonds has opted out of the school lunch program after being notified the lunch price has gone from $2.75 to $4.40.

School spokesmen say they were notified of the pending increase Aug. 8, which took them by surprise.

“The timing was not good,” says Holy Rosary principal Dr. Kathy Carr. “We can’t afford $4.40 a day for a lunch. For that amount you could buy a Happy Meal (at McDonald’s) and get change.”

St. Thomas More and Pius X schools also bowed out of the Food Services Program, which is administered by Edmonds School District, because of the price increases.

“We’ve been using the National School Lunch Program for 20 to 30 years and never had a problem,” says Holy Rosary principal Carr. “Over that period we always complied with every regulation and were never late with a report.”

The problem, she says, is not just the price but the fact that private schools are charged more to participate in the lunch program than public schools. A lot more.

Holy Rosary is charged $4.40 per lunch while the rate for public schools is $3.25. School officials point out that their students have to pay the middle school price, even though only a small percentage of the students are middle schoolers. Most are elementary students.

The in-district charges are even more dramatic when compared to the same lunches from other local districts.

In the Mukilteo School District, the current lunch price is $2 for elementary students. Middle and high school students pay $2.25.

Trying to rectify the situation has been frustrating for Dr. Carr.

She says the Edmonds School District told her it was out of their jurisdiction.

Calls to the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction got the same response.

Calls to Congressman Jay Inslee’s office led to more out of the same – “not our jurisdiction.”

The Beacon’s calls to the Edmonds School District had not been returned by press time.

However, there is general uncertainty about who is in charge of setting the school lunch prices, and no explanation as to why they’re so steep compared to other districts.

“My biggest frustration is that it’s on the backs of the children,” principal Carr says. “It’s taxpayer money. But when I tried to get answers, it was no one’s jurisdiction. They all said the same thing: Nothing can be done.”

Read the entire article in the Edmonds Beacon by clicking here.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.

Edmonds schools could save $1.9 million over five years by using special software to increase efficiency on bus routes for special education students, the audit found.

Software is used to plan all Edmonds bus routes, but the district doesn't always follow the software's recommended routes for children in special education programs, Assistant Superintendent Marla Miller said. Following the auditor's recommendation would involve moving some children with special needs to other schools.

"It would make some kids stay on the bus longer," Miller said. "Even though it would be less costly for transportation, it wouldn't be right for the kids."

[Read the rest of the article by clicking

Let me get this straight.

The Auditor is recommending that the Edmonds School District fully-utilize software they already use in an effort to more efficiently operate their transportation department.

That makes sense.

District management claims they do not fully-utilize the software because "it would make some kids stay on the bus longer".

What will happen to transportation costs - and the length of time kids stay on the bus - if Woodway and Evergreen are closed?

So, the District has decided to burn $1,900,000.00 over five years to accommodate the transportation needs of a few kids, but will quickly close two elementary schools and uproot hundreds to save a similar amount. Of course, the closures will result in more transportation costs that have yet to be quantified.

What happened to the needs of the many outweighing the needs of the few?

Friday, October 03, 2008

"The public isn't clamoring for any more lapdogs..."

A great leader should encourage staff to be intellectually engaged in their work. A great leader should also seek opportunities to be constructively challenged by staff when developing new procedures or seeking to improve the manner in which business is conducted. The alternative is to develop a weak or nonsensical policy and then be publicly challenged by the community. Two recent examples involve cheese sandwiches and the facility use policy.

The current dilemma with the District is that opposition is silenced at every opportunity. People that would otherwise be viewed as organizational experts in certain areas are pounded into submission or driven out of their profession. This does not make an organization stronger or more capable of accomplishing the organizational mission.

Perhaps management has grown tired of pounding staff into submission, because they have apparently adopted the highly destructive strategy of hiring people that are "pre-pounded". If you hire staff that refuse to be creative or lack the capacity to fully understand their jobs, they spend their careers just trying to tread water and have limited opportunities to grow professionally. If such staff do manage to grow, it would be in a direction consistent with the path followed by their supervisor - pounding others into submission.

On the education side of the house, principals claim they are interested in hiring the best and brightest teachers. This approach assumes that students are better off with the best and brightest teachers. Why wouldn't a similar approach be adopted on the operations side of the organization? What sort of credibility does the District have if the operations side of the house doesn't seek out the best and brightest? What are the consequences for our community?

In these difficult economic times, highly qualified people are readily available if you just know where to look and, more importantly, if you don't actively try to limit the list of candidates because you have a friend in mind. Not a friend with meaningful experience, but rather a friend that is in dire need of employment.

The public sector is not the place to cut deals to accommodate the financial needs of friends. Sure, you can "lease" a bunch of pianos and tell people it's legitimate, but ultimately we all know the transaction was a scheme hatched between two friends. One friend that desperately needed to make a sale and the other friend that had the power of a public agency in her pocket without a concern for accountability.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

A "fairly straightforward decision" for some.

[Nora Cole, Cotton & Company]
Warehouse: I can see that you have put significant effort into downsizing your warehouse functions and therefore costs. However, what led you to downsize your warehouse? Was there a cost study that led you to do this downsizing? Are you using certain cost analyses to see how much you have, or will save by downsizing? If these studies exist, I would be interested in seeing them.

From: Miller, Marla (ESC) []
Sent: Friday, January 18, 2008 7:21 PM
To: Cole, Nora L.
Cc: Taylor Dribben; Brossoit, Nick
Subject: Performance Audit Follow-Up: Warehouse

Nora and Taylor,
This message includes attachments related to your questions regarding our analysis of our warehouse operations (see below).
Included with this message are the following:
1. Description of reduction in staff in 2003-04
2. Description of analysis of discontinuation of office supplies (just in time delivery)
3. Description of elimination of leased facility for surplus storage
4. Description of progress report on reducing warehouse inventory
5. Changes to mail delivery times to accommodate reduction in delivery staff
6. Analysis of value of changing shredding procedures
7. Message asking a UPS manager to train our warehouse staff on productivity WITH customer service
8. Initiation of study of merging warehouse and food service delivery operations

Much of this is to give you a flavor of the ongoing nature of our review of ways to improve the efficiency and service of our warehouse operation. We eliminated the surplus storage leased warehouse to save $100,000 per year in the General Fund. That was a fairly straightforward decision – can we fit everything into one warehouse, and if so, downsize!

Please let me know if you have additional questions. Thank you,


I find it peculiar that Marla wanted to sell the District Warehouse and consolidate all warehousing functions in the leased warehouse, just as the rates there were scheduled to go up. This didn't make any sense at all. Despite my vocal opposition, I contacted Kidder Mathews and arranged for an appraisal to be performed for the District Warehouse. That appraisal came in at just over $1,000,000.00, out of reach for the only party interested in buying the site. Their offer was approximately $850,000.00.

If the District Warehouse had been sold, there would have been substantial on-going costs for leasing the facility for an unknown period of time. Particularly since the new District Support Center hadn't yet been purchased and is still "under development".

What is happening with that site anyway? $5.6 million to buy. $2.3 million to grade. Property values continue to fall from the site's original valuation of $3.3 million.