Tuesday, June 30, 2009

District response intended to mislead the Public

The District continues to dodge the real question that must be asked. Of course, this question can be asked many times and the responses are normally not connected to the question.

The Edmonds School District continues to peddle the argument that their team of assistant superintendents are compensated in a normal, reasonable fashion. However, the question that must be answered is how many assistant superintendents do other districts have? More revealing would be to ask, "How many people in other districts earn more than $100,000.00 per year?" I suspect the result would be rather troubling.

I would never suggest that an assistant superintendent or "deputy" superintendent should not be paid $150,000.00 a year. Yes, it seems rather excessive when you compare such a salary to average salaries within our community, but if this assistant superintendent was a powerful force for educational empowerment and motivated our community to take greater interest in producing great students, I would readily argue that the salary was not high enough.

Part of the responsibility of the Superintendent's Office is to build upon the successes achieved in the classroom and nurture support from the community to strengthen the District's mission. If we had a superintendent that successfully accomplished this goal, with an appropriate number of assistants, that would be newsworthy. Unfortunately, we have assembled a team of six assistants while other districts work with far fewer.

Here are a couple of rather telling documents provided by the Edmonds School District. First, there is a direct comparison (here) with other school districts in our region and the level of compensation provided to their assistant superintendents. Notice the absence of real information, like how many assistants work at these districts. Notice also that Bellevue has no "deputy" superintendent. How is that possible? Based upon the Edmonds model, they should have at least five.

Second, there is a document (here) that reveals the financial impact of having so many assistants, each of them receiving a cost of living increase on an annual basis. If our district had just one assistant superintendent, the financial impact would be significantly less. Unfortunately, we have six assistants. Every couple of years, the COLAs alone would fully fund yet another assistant. Of course, that same series of adjustments could add capacity to the number of teachers.

Third, there is a rather interesting document (here) that illustrates just how many assistants are dining at the trough of public funds. While there may eventually be an initiative to reduce the number of "assistant superintendents", there will never be a downward adjustment in the number of dollars spent on these employees. Titles may change, but salaries will continue to move onward and upward.

How is it possible that so many other districts can survive with so few "assistants" and "deputies"? I have said this many times before and I will mention it once again. During periods of financial challenges, when raises cannot be handed out to upper management, titles are used to make people feel better about themselves. When funding improves, these managers start wondering how people with such powerful titles can be earning so little - raises come flooding in. These raises come at a direct cost in the number of teachers, paraeducators and librarians.

Make no mistake, it is a club and until our community is prepared to address the senseless gluttony demonstrated by these bloated salaries, we will continue to struggle financially.

District will meddle in school board election

For those of you that may think our electoral process is free and impartial, let me caution you now. We have only to look at the record to see just how far the District is willing to go to protect their own.

It is only through having an unengaged crop of board members that management can force through poor property decisions and illegal procurement practices.

Bruce Williams
Shortly after Bruce was compelled to leave his home through the filing of a restraining order, the Superintendent contacted me to have Bruce's director district redrawn. The intent was to have a rather elongated portion of Director District 4 reach across Director District 1 and include the apartment on Edmonds Way where Bruce Williams was living at the time. Of course, I knew it was sheer lunacy and didn't even pursue the matter, and in the process tell the world we are a collection of fools.

Nick Brossoit even expended considerable effort researching WSSDA recommendations as to the validity of Bruce Williams' status - not that WSSDA governs anything or has any influence in the manner in which the District is held accountable to its voters. Clearly, Nick was prepared to chase the issue to the end of the earth to save Bruce from a premature departure from the Board.

Gary Noble
The matter surrounding Gary Noble was made very clear to the Board and the Superintendent and yet they spent public money hiring attorneys to unsuccessfully reinterpret the English language. Board policies made it very clear that his occupation of a board seat was improper and his position as a board member was unauthorized under the terms of board policies.

This forum reported the issue to the State Auditor and the Board was directed to adhere to their policies or change them. The Board elected to change board policies to allow clear conflicts of interest to occur. They also went as far as to review all board policies so as to suggest to voters that the need for changing the restriction upon Gary Noble was something they discovered on their own.

Oddly, even though the Board had gone through a review of all board policies, they had missed the policy regarding the filing date for school board candidates - a point raised by this forum. The change was immediately adopted because it was characterized as an issue coming from a member of the public. Had it been revealed that the blog made the suggestion to revise the policy, there would probably be a flurry of legal briefs generated and untold fortunes spent on lawyers.

Pat Shields
The issue surrounding Pat Shields has more to do with his affiliation with Powerful Partners and the protection the program has been provided. Despite having signed a lease, Powerful Partners refused to honor their obligation to the tax-payers of this district. When the matter was brought to the attention of the State Auditor, Powerful Partners had mysteriously changed their name to Powerful Tutors, though still used their original name to endorse the District's ballot action.

The refusal of Powerful Partners to pay the rent was particularly painful since it had been happening for more than seven years and the District was in the process of redefining their facility use policy and seeking to pass along rental obligations to casual users of community facilities - particularly parent groups and fund-raising activities in support of district schools.

Susan Phillips
No one is saying that Susan Phillips is a bad person. On the contrary, her willingness to continue her involvement in the community should be applauded. Unfortunately, this district needs someone on the Board that cares about the financial stamina of our public schools. We need someone that knows what enrollment forecasting is all about. We need someone that knows a scheme when they see one. We need someone that knows how the District works from the inside. We need someone on the Board that isn't afraid to speak up for tax-payers and ensure that public funds are spent appropriately.

Unfortunately, that person is not Susan Phillips.

The District needs someone on the Board that understands facilities issues. We need someone on the Board that knows about the legal requirements of public procurement. We need someone on the Board that knows what a Capital Facilities Plan is and the impact such a document has on an operating budget. We need someone on the Board that is significantly more critical of how dollars are spent on education than a group of five people with an irrefutable belief that any money thrown in the direction of education is money well spent.

In times like these, we need to be a little more particular and much more targeted in our approach to funding.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Endorsements come with consequences.

At the risk of upsetting my numerous supporters, I must voice a word of caution to the Edmonds Education Association that invited me to speak for five minutes last week. In this current climate of illogical cuts to district programming, it probably wouldn't be a good idea to rock the boat and allow district management to view your association with anything other than a favorable eye. If such a group were to express any interest in endorsing a candidate who stands for the appropriate use of public funds, district management would likely become enraged.

The fact that current, sitting board members were allowed to sit in your audience demonstrates the Board's keen interest in knowing what your group is thinking. Surely they don't attend with a legitimate interest in understanding your issues but rather to detect opposition before it has an opportunity to form.

While it is true that I am a relative newcomer to the realm of politics and running for school board, my record for defending public funds is without question. A lot of the bad decisions made by district management were endorsed by this current board. Just take a few minutes and read about Gary Noble and how this board had no idea what their own policies required. Even the legal team they hired was completely in the dark. It was only after my concerns were expressed directly to the State Auditor that the Board "decided" to review all of their policies and make changes. But alas, they missed a big one.

Perhaps some of you may recall the most recent change to Board Policy 1235 on June 2, 2009. It clearly specified that the filing period for school board candidates was in July. After I called out the misinformation, the issue was taken up at the next board meeting and corrected immediately. It was a case of simple language and didn't threaten a board member's service to the community. What was mildly humorous is the manner in which the Board tried to characterize the change as something they discovered on their own.

Why wasn't the Noble conflict issue handled as quickly? Why did this board have to hire a team of lawyers to redefine terms and expressions in the English language? It merely proved that the district's lawyers will say anything for a fee and that this board was unable to understand the meaning of their own policies.

Rules were also violated when Bruce Williams filed as a candidate from an address where he was legally prevented from living. The blog pointed out this issue and it was resolved with his resignation.

The ubiquitous Piano Scam is another issue that came to light under the watchful gaze of this forum. It is further proof that this current board is unable to truly dissect a recommendation from staff before rubber stamping it. The District lost a pile of money and even the piano vendor himself described the entire transaction as a "scheme". Read the blog and see for yourself.

The many questionable decisions coming out of Human Resources also shows how detached the current board is from reality. If management was even remotely concerned about having their conduct challenged, they would take a little more time to cover their tracks or work a little harder to conceal misconduct. When there is no real oversight there is never any danger of seeing the consequences of getting caught.

There are many examples of misconduct by district management to be found on this blog. The fact that the current board is either unable or unwilling to hold management accountable clearly demonstrates how disconnected the Board is from the responsible use of public funds. This board would be well-served by having a more inquisitive mind among them - someone with the experience of seeing the misconduct of management from the other side.

I am not suggesting that every decision made by this Board is wrong, but I am suggesting that too much money is being wasted on the wrong choices at the cost of adequately funding the right ones.

I am not asking to be elected to the school board along with four like-minded friends. However, I am absolutely convinced that adding me to this current board would offer something more to the discussions behind closed doors.

Besides, Nick Brossoit keeps telling us that 70% of residents in this district don't have children that attend district schools. Why not have such a person on the Board? Why not have someone on the Board that just wants to see our schools become even better? Why not elect someone that just wants to make sure that public funds are spent wisely before asking the public to provide additional funding for new projects or buildings?

Ultimately, what the Edmonds Education Association chooses to do with their endorsement is their business. I certainly wouldn't want to see an important relationship suffer within the District. As a group you can endorse my opponent, but as individuals I would hope that you would vote differently - after a little research into what this district truly needs to get things back on track.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Voters will benefit from a televised debate.


June 7, 2009

Dear Susan,

With the recent filing of candidates, I noticed that only the two of us will be contesting the position for Director District 4. This being the case, I am writing to express hope for an open and honest dialogue regarding matters of importance to the Edmonds School District. In the spirit of such discussion, I would like to invite you to debate the issues facing our beloved district at a venue to be determined and moderated by a member of the media.

It is also my hope to obtain your consent to have the debate videotaped for broadcast on local television. Clearly, the voters of our community deserve to know where we stand on the issues. Not every voter may be familiar with our names or the positions we take on matters of great importance. It would be through a televised debate that our community can gain greater insight and develop a more meaningful opinion than just seeing our names on yard signs.

Please respond as soon as possible, as a facility will have to be arranged and a mutually-agreeable moderator will have to be coordinated.


Mark Zandberg, Candidate
Director District 4, ESD15

Friday, June 05, 2009

Blogger remodeling to accommodate new tenant.

To reduce operating costs (general funds), I have elected to remodel my primary residence (capital funds) and then rent the house to a family that could more fruitfully utilize the 2,400 square feet of living space. The house is just way too big for two people that spend most of their time working anyway.

Of course, I would have loved to hire my favorite contractor two years ago, but since I was an employee with the District and met this contractor at that time, I wanted to make sure there wouldn't be anything inappropriate by hiring him. So I waited until now to start this project.

Remodeling a home kicks up a lot of dust and creates a lot of obstacles for a person having to get up at 5:00 AM to catch the train to work. So as to prevent any temptation with rolling up my sleeves after a 12 hour work day, jeopardizing my productivity at work, I have decided that the best path forward would be to leave the house and let the contractor take total control of the premises.

The project involves the relocation of walls, upgrading all plumbing, heating and electrical systems, the installation of an enhanced security system and running Cat5 cabling to all rooms on both floors. There is also a considerable amount of tiling and carpet to install. It is my hope and expectation to have all of the work completed by the end of summer.

Because it is my intention to rent out the house after the project is completed, I have taken up residence elsewhere in my community. That new residence happens to be in Director District 4.

To be very clear, the following points deserve to be mentioned.
1. My wife has never filed a restraining order against me.
2. I have never filed as a candidate for a school board position from a former address.
3. The "modernizing" going on at my former residence will be performed by a real contractor.

Blog: A special word of thanks to Nick Brossoit for doing a little research on this issue.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Governors are doing the best job they possibly can.

The blog is pleased to announce the receipt of another negative comment about the blog. Including this recent arrival, the grand total is now three.

you people are are seriously uninformed. What I see in these postings are comments filled with hate and spite. You really have NO idea what Madrona and Maplewood families deal with in their daily lives. I am sure I will get some hateful responses to my posting because that is what happens on this blog. First, get your information straight before you start trash talking about people you don't know. Secondly, name calling shows your ignorance. I won't be comming back to this blog. I don't need your kind of "bias" telling me that everyone who doesn't agree with you are "stupid"
Redmond, WA

Let's study this entry, one point at a time.

1. The writer appears to suggest that you people are seriously uninformed. This statement is in direct conflict with statements made by Nick Brossoit that the blog is a one man show. It may leave the impression with casual readers that more than a single person is at work here and that even this statement could not have been written by the same, single individual.

2. The reader suggests that these postings are filled with hate and spite. A statement such as this appears to suggest that the writer is a recent arrival to the blog, otherwise they would be well aware of the fact that we are a force for change and a conduit to enlighten the community as to what happens to public money when left in the hands of the misguided. It is more likely that suggesting the presence of hate and spite may provide new readers with a motivation to draw conclusions without reading more of the blog. It also appears to be indicative of a response to a recent topic, as opposed to a sweeping condemnation of the blog and its mission.

3. The writer is correct in assuming that I have NO idea what Madrona and Maplewood parents deal with in their daily lives... which is why this blog exists. Parents generally have a lot on their plates and cannot always dedicate the time and energy to perform an effective evaluation of the manner in which their school district is being managed and public funds are being wasted. For the record, it is also quite likely that I have NO idea as to what other parents at other schools deal with in their lives.

I am not sure what the writer is attempting the achieve by only mentioning Madrona and Maplewood. I am aware that the parent community at these schools is very vocal and incredibly active, but perhaps this has more to do with the amount of time they can afford to dedicate to their children's educational needs. Does this make such people better parents? Does this make their children more deserving of public resources? Again, I am not sure I see why mentioning two specific schools validates your argument. Are you suggesting that because parents deal with more important things in their lives they warrant greater protection and funding from the District?

4. No one affiliated with this one man show will respond hatefully to your comments. We always appreciate constructive comments. It is clear that the budget reductions are impacting your life as they are impacting the lives of everyone around you. People are being laid off, teachers are being let go, programs are being slashed, librarians at smaller schools are being threatened with reductions, kindergarten programs are in danger of being dismantled. We are all aware of the suffering in the District and this blog is a mechanism for positive change. We seek to illuminate the questionable calls that result in the senseless waste of public funds. Whether capital funds or general funds they are still public funds and should be spent with our children in mind.

5. If "straight information" is something you believe the blog is lacking, please provide it. We take every reasonable step to ensure that our information is correct. The blog receives innumerable accounts deemed unreliable and we don't publish any of those. For instance, yesterday there was a rumor floating around the District that the soon-to-be Executive Directors of Human Resources and Business Operations will each be taking a $25,000 a year pay cut when they move into their new titles. Unfortunately, this was determined to be nothing more than a rumor. Salaries are governed by contractual arrangements and though the impression may be left with others that pay reductions are forthcoming, it is more than likely a tactic to encourage other unions to accept reductions in pay and benefits. If someone is telling you that an administrator is reducing their own pay - believe it when you see it.

As far as talking about people I do not know, you should know, if you have been reading the blog, that I had been an employee of the Edmonds School District for more than six years. I know a lot of people and have seen many things that should have never happened.

6. I am not entirely sure if you are writing about the contents of our entries or something someone may have said in a comment to an entry. Either way, name calling is not the goal of the blog. Offering a position is what we are all about. Dissent in government is a good thing. In order for any meaningful system of checks and balances to occur, there must be an alternative source for information and ideas. It is through the expression of opposition that arguments strengthen and organizations become better. We all want a better school district.

This forum also believes that Nick and his Governors are doing the best job they possibly can ... and that, my faithful readers, is the problem.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Program selection for cuts reveals another motive.

For the many of you that could not attend last night's board meeting, here is a brief overview.

First, Nick performed a total reversal on the issue of half day "kindie-garten". (Why people like Nick pronounce it this way is just bewildering.) While attending the community input meetings he was adamant that no reliable, valid or objective evidence has ever been shown to support the strength of half-day programming for kindergartners. At last night's meeting he mentioned "legal" research that helped staff decide to retain the half-day kindergarten programming and appeared to have an epiphany regarding the wisdom of half-day programs. Should a superintendent be performing research about the strength of early childhood development AFTER announcing that such programming would be cut? Wouldn't it have been better to know the strengths and weaknesses of an issue BEFORE blasting a hole through it?

In my opinion, the District is retaining the half-day program for two primary reasons. The first reason is that the community knows how vital such a program is and it came through in their comments. Sadly, our community seems to more in touch with the research associated with early childhood development than district leadership. It is the role of our educational leadership to know what works and what doesn't. This just seems a little too sloppy on Nick's part. I suspect another motive.

Whenever budget cuts are proposed, the District routinely threatens to slash programs they know will never be cut. I am convinced that such suggestions are made for no other purpose than to inflame the sensitivities of this community. I am convinced that mentioning half-day kindergarten programs on the list of potential cuts served no other purpose than to quickly rally support behind the District in an effort to cut anything else. So, the District is either misinformed on fundamental matters relating to education or they are manipulating us. I am convinced of the latter.

The same can be said about librarians at "smaller" schools.

The District also proposes to reduce the size of the Superintendent's Office. One path forward is to revert some of the six assistant superintendents back to "executive directors". However, since salaries will not be changing, how is this a budget reduction? Nick mentioned that administrators have been discussing furlough days, but such days only offer a temporary suspension of budget problems. The same salaries are being paid and the same level of retirement contributions are being made. Vacation and sick days are accumulated at the same rate as usual and COLAs still move these administrators further into the stratosphere.

Real and lasting cuts can be accomplished by cutting administration. The District needs to shift away from the model that assigns a correlation between salary and qualifications and toward a model that strengthens the organization as a whole. The District needs to become a place where people want to work and desire to be a part of something exciting. We already have a lot of teachers that have such a passion to teach, where are the administrators that have a passion to lead and care a little less about earning obscene salaries?

Just take a few minutes and ponder this point. If everyone had all of their bills and mortgages dissolved overnight, what percentage of our teachers would continue teaching as salaries moved toward zero? What percentage of district administration would continue to work for this community as their salaries moved toward zero? I am sure there are many great administrators within the District, but there are also far too many assistant superintendent salaries being paid. We might as well start calling them Governors because their salaries are nearly as much as our governor's.

Another point from last night's meeting stuck in my head. A teacher from Cedar Way suggested that a "pay-to-play" fee be evaluated for music programs at the District. Nick's response was some senseless drivel about music needing to be free because it is required under the auspices of the Basic Education Act. Well then why would you cut the program all together? I suspect if parents had the choice to pay a fee or see a program be cut they would likely start paying a fee. Such logic was applied to district athletic programming why would it not be at least considered in lieu of total elimination?

As the son of a librarian, I am still irritated by the District's insistence that librarians in smaller schools do not mean as much as librarians in larger schools. They are quick to reduce the level of service of librarians but why not apply the same reasoning to principals? Splitting librarians across two schools apparently wouldn't adversely impact students, why not split principals across the same two schools? In fact, let them car pool. Like many others, I am left wondering why a small school like Maplewood wouldn't be in danger of losing their librarian? Is it simply a matter of catering to the most vocal parents rather than advocating for the needs of ALL students?