Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Evergreen Elementary is gone for good.

Sometimes you just have to laugh because crying would be a waste of time.

At the Board meeting last night, Sue Venable struggled to recall that the Board recently decided to close Woodway Elementary. She remembered that Evergreen was scheduled to close, perhaps because it was on last night's agenda, but the loss of Woodway momentarily slipped her mind.

Also revealed last night was that Cypress Equities has revised their site plan and that Marla Miller was not at liberty to discuss how the plan has changed. Well, wouldn't this be a good reason to start the process over in selecting a developer? There were strong developers expressing interest in the site but with slightly different site plans in mind. The revised Cypress plan is likely to be something similar to what the other developers were offering. That is, if Marla Miller ever has the guts to share it with the public. I smell a Home Depot in our future, or some equally mundane big box.

Another interesting tidbit was the revelation that the City of Mountlake Terrace has placed a moratorium on any change of use for Evergreen Elementary until September 19, 2009, when the City will have a better idea as to how to permanently change the zoning for the site entirely. Just five or six years ago, the City attempted to change the zoning to some sort of designation called Transit Commercial. This would have prevented the District from doing any significant alterations to the site or any meaningful capital improvements. It is a strategy designed to let your structure and/or programs at an identified site just slowly rot away while the zoning authority plans a take over. Rest assured, when Evergreen's doors close at the end of the school year, they will never open again. Let's just hope the demographic trends across the county line don't trickle into Evergreen's current service area.

Friday, March 20, 2009

If you can't be the change then vote for a change.

Like many of the blog's readers, I find it terribly distressing that other school districts in Snohomish County are taking action to freeze administration salaries while the Edmonds School District elected to hand out raises to their administrators in the middle of significant budget challenges.

The Herald recently covered this issue at Lake Stevens. Clearly, they have a school board that is more plugged into reality and not afraid to make tough choices. While it is true that a few administrators in Lake Stevens may have "young families" and they may be the "sole breadwinner", it is far better to have a salary frozen than layoff teachers and staff. After all, teachers and staff are the heart and soul of a school district.

Call me crazy, but I see similarities between the recent public outrage with AIG executive bonuses and the senseless 'slathering on' of additional pay for administrators while teachers and para educators see their careers ending prematurely. The taxpayer has been bailing out the Edmonds School District for years. They make poor choices and refuse to plan for obvious, turbulent times and then grab their money from taxpayers without any expectation of accountability from the public. This lack of concern for the direction our schools are heading must stop. Our community needs to take action now.

Of course, as others have said many times in this blog, parents are naturally distracted by their duties as parents. They apparently have adopted the outlook that nothing they do can lead to real change and have decided to put their energy into something that really matters - like their families. Who could fault them? There have been a few people that have tried to make a difference and have been driven out of the community or relegated to some dark hole without access to information or the means to get a message out.

Maybe someone among us will run for one of the two board positions coming up for election in November. We need real and meaningful change and the best thing that distracted parents can do is vote for change in the fall.

Save a fortune and cut the Supe's handmaidens.

March 17, 2009

Dear Colleagues (and taxpayers):

We are all are busy with the work of serving students and others before us each day. Still, since the 2009-2010 budget has the potential to touch so many, I am of the opinion that you will want to be kept informed. The process, including the 4 open public meetings in May, is as it was outlined in my previous e-mail on this topic. However, attached is the updated "list" which reflects work ongoing that continued into Monday of this week. Most of the list is the same, however, there are a few changes as summarized:

Potential savings from reduced bussing service within 1 mile radius of schools had to be lowered due to safety issues impacting the number of routes we can alter.

We have developed more district office administrative and district office staff reductions and these are now shown.

Due to intensive support classes at 6 of the elem. schools on the previous list and related schedule/staffing complications, the LMS reductions have been modified.

Detailed analysis showed the potential elimination of 5th and 6th grade general music in diverse schools to be very problematic in terms of scheduled planning time, thus that changed and now involves 5th grade instrumental.

When you open the attachment to review the updated list, you will also note there is a contact person associated with each idea who can provide additional information for that respective item. Also, thanks to those who have been sharing ideas for research and consideration as we continue to work on possible budget reduction concepts for next year. In closing, please remember this is not a final list and is still a work in progress.

Thank you for your continued caring and professional service in these most challenging times.

Nick (Brossoit)

Sunday, March 15, 2009

No questions. No debate. No opposing views.

Our community is comprised of essentially two groups of people. There is a group that believes the District is doing everything it can to make the right decisions and do the right thing. There is another group that believes the District constantly drifts away from their mission and consistently makes bad decisions that have short and long-term consequences. Regardless of the group that best captures your prevailing view, there is one fact that cannot be denied - the current composition of the Board is unhealthy and unproductive for legitimate debate and progress.

Our current board lacks the ability to engage in open and honest dialogue. No one is challenged when presenting information and no one's conclusions are questioned. The board has essentially been degraded to a point of ineffective governance. Whatever district management wants, they get. No questions. No debate. No opposing views.

Why wouldn't our community seek to change this condition by electing people to the Board that care about how public resources are being spent? Why wouldn't our community seek to elect individuals that offer a pattern of constructive engagement in every aspect of district management? Our current board seems to be meeting privately to make sure that everyone takes the same position on every issue. Once the board meeting starts, no one has anything to say about any topic other than "Aye". And we wonder why no one attends board meetings.

Board meetings are a real snoozefest where the outcome is determined by the agenda and the minutes offer no new information. All that is proposed is passed. Every word that is uttered goes unchallenged. Where is the constructive engagement? Where are the discussions? Sometimes it is helpful to initiate a counterpoint or even occasionally play the devil's advocate just so our community can take comfort in knowing that all points have been offered and all positions have been presented, discussed and subjected to meaningful deliberation. Our current board is spineless.

At present, district management governs the district. The Board is impotent. District management develops an agenda and then drives it down the throat of our community with the illusion of a real board's endorsement. The end result is that our unions get weaker, staff get trampled upon, and every district employee quickly discovers that they need to jump ship and swim to shore or join in the mutiny by swearing allegiance to the kingpin of management - and we all know who that is.

Personally, I am tired of watching what has happened to our district and to our schools. When we have an ineffective board, there is no way to control the manner in which management exerts their unique form of control. Without accountability to a board, management does what they want and pays little attention to a board that is incapable of asking a probing question.

In an ideal world, the Board (or at least one that follows board policies and understands the reason why they exist at all) would stand up to bullies of management and demand a greater degree of transparency. If this current board had any real, collective intelligence, they would look around and understand that the problems plaguing the District right now are a direct result of their inability to demand more from management.

Of course, it wouldn't hurt for this current board to follow their own policies. How Gary Noble thinks that he earned his seat in the last election is still a mystery. Sure, your friends may have changed the rules, but your "election" was to the height of an earlier standard. A standard that you did not meet. As for Pat Shields, it is still shocking how he could be so closely involved in the creation of "Powerful Partners" and then allow them to go so many years without paying a dollar toward the lease they signed. And will they keep changing their name every time a bill arrives in the mail? Of course, we shouldn't forget that Ann McMurray was the one that directed Marla Miller to start negotiating for a contaminated piece of property before they even had the results from an environmental assessment. Bruce Williams was part of that decision but then his policy violations and personal issues eventually bounced him from the Board.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

"Sitting at the table doesn't make you a diner..."

Just how much money would you think the Edmonds School District would spend on renting tables for the WASL exams in 2009? If you guessed $23,712.98, you would be right.

Every year, the District spends upwards of $20,000.00 to rent a bunch of tables from the same vendor - year after year. This annual migration to the District's trough begs a few questions... Just how did this happen? What other vendors competed for this business? Is this within a pre-defined threshold for directing business without competition? Who made the decision? What connection does this decision maker have with the vendor? Are there professional affiliations? Are they related? This issue has to be investigated.

We already know that when a friend of management struggles to make ends meet in his practice, the District's decision maker just issues a directive to hire his spouse - after making space, of course. Just ask her supervisor if he thinks she is a productive member of staff. I suspect he'll tell you in private that someone else made the decision to hire her.

In this current economic climate, and considering the direction the WASL will be heading, why not just skip the test all together or just send students home with a "take home" WASL? The outcome would likely be the same. Let's make it happen.

No one on the Board seems willing or capable to ask real questions or hold anyone accountable. When will this condition change? How much longer do we have to pay a bunch of bobbleheads to blow through our "pre-ordained" property tax? It appears that this board thinks that any money spent in the District is money well spent. Any money thrown in the direction of schools is money well spent. Well, for the 70% of us that don't have children in district schools, we would disagree. Public funds must be spent responsibly and there is very little evidence of responsible spending going on at the District over the last several years.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Appraiser defends his "Apples to Oranges" comparison.

This arrived from Judson Clendaniel. Notice that it starts out in the third person and then he concludes his statement in the first person.

Clendaniel is a lifetime resident of the Seattle area and has been appraising full-time since 1978 - almost as long as my good friend, former coworker, and respected colleague who preformed the previous appraisal. What has been left out of the commentary is that after the first appraisal, the property had been platted, graded & filled and utilities extended. Streets had been vacated adding to the potential size of the site. The market also continued to improve. These changes were described in my report, in detail, so that the decision makers had up to date information.

As for past real estate agent - yes, I sold houses to pay for College. WSU, 1978 BA, Business Administration with an emphasis on real estate, full tuition scholarship recipient. I hold an MAI designation, am a published appraisal author and past real estate instructor. My client list includes the top developers, bankers, public agencies and attorneys in the area as well as national investors and lenders. Perhaps Mr Zandberg should expand his "real estate circles." And no, I didn't do the Woodway appraisal - I did the review.

Judson H. Clendaniel, MAI

Your assessment of your own conduct is quite breath-taking. Clearly, you decided to respond to comments written on this blog because you harbor some degree of guilt for your part in the financial assault on a public agency. In my opinion, you are just another dollop of pond scum looking for a quick buck in serving your deep-pocket client to further his own financial ends. Sadly, your target was an easily fooled rube that believed the mush you continue to spew without regard for facts, truth or honor.

First of all, your MAI credential means nothing in this argument. The appraisal that was provided by Northwest Valuation was performed (as opposed to "preformed") by someone with the same credential. Attempting to set yourself apart by citing this "illustrious" designation means nothing to the rest of us.

As for your conclusion that the property had been graded, platted and filled - what planet are you on? Were you even aware of the contamination? Did Raskin even inform you of the history of the site? Did any past use make it into your assessment? What good is a graded and filled site if the appropriate response to contamination is to mitigate it?

I will put my faith in the District's appraiser, Jim Irish and John Koster. Those are three highly distinguished individuals that do not agree with your feeble assessment. The King 5 report exposed your scam for what it was - a scam. Your appraisal was making a comparison between apples and oranges. As for the market continuing to improve, just what sage wisdom were you relying upon to draw that conclusion? As a university educated appraiser with a lifetime of experience in real estate issues, how could you not see or hear that train coming? I will say this much, however, you served your master well. I hope you were paid enough to cover the guilt that any normal human being would have to be feeling. Just how do you sleep at night?

Regarding the Old Woodway appraisal and transaction, that discussion will be happening this summer. I have read a lot of material on the topic and have a lot to share when the time is right.

As for expanding my "real estate circles", if it means encountering people like you, I think it might be better if I left the profession all together. Fortunately, there are still a lot of great people in the industry and even a few honest appraisers.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

The difference between salary and value.

"As a public employee, the difference between what you are paid and what you are worth is a charitable contribution to your community."

Of course, this statement assumes that the public employee's "worth" is greater than their "pay" and that they are fortunate enough to be working within their community.

Whether you spend your time tracking the appropriate use of procurement cards or the appropriate use of the Internet, the value that staff contribute to the District can greatly outweigh the salary they receive for performing that work. In such cases, those employees are making a sizable contribution to their community. By preventing unnecessary waste or catching unauthorized expenses, such exceptional employees deserve to be treated with greater respect.

Conversely, public employees that seemingly go out of their way to spend more scarce resources than are absolutely necessary, or seek out every opportunity to enrich their friends and associates, should be driven from the community. They have no place in public service.

While the blog is not generating a lot of entries these days, there is a reason for it. While it may not seem very obvious why there is this lull, once you start reading future entries, it will become very clear. In the meantime, I ask new blog visitors to do what many are already doing - read a few of the blog topics that are listed in the margin to the right. In a matter of minutes, you will see why so many district employees feel frustrated and will begin to understand why it is important for the community to be involved in how their school district is managed.