Thursday, October 22, 2009

This community needs a proactive school board.

The most efficient way to cover the long list of material covered on this blog is to read the "Summary" section and then drill down to individual topics for greater detail. You can get to the "Summary" page by clicking right here or by clicking on the word "Summary" in the margin to the right.

While I can appreciate there are a lot of topics covered here, the overall trend clearly demonstrates that our current school board cannot provide the oversight they have been elected (or appointed) to provide. They may collectively claim to be doing their best, but "their best" is not good enough.

It all comes down to whether this community wants a reactive board that lacks the tools and experience to resolve problems or a proactive board that has a history of recognizing problems before they happen and has the skill and resources to prevent the problems that plague us now.

With the long list of issues covered here, just imagine how much more effective district leadership can be with the right person asking the right questions at the right time. This community cannot afford more of the same.

Thank you for taking the time to read this blog and please remember to vote.

Friday, October 16, 2009

"He didn't disclose something confidential."

If you have been following my departure from the District, you may recall that Marla Miller and her minions were spewing the concept that I somehow violated the public trust by revealing something confidential about the Old Woodway Elementary transaction.

For those of you who still cling to the statements made by questionably-motivated managers, please review the following, simple facts.

Before the Old Woodway Elementary site was sold, it was advertised in the Herald as being a surplus site and it was marketed to developers in its entirety. That means, it was made available for purchase as a complete site of 11.2 acres. The fact that such a declaration was made in the Herald (albeit just once, not the legally-required twice) and that the site was advertised to developers as 11.2 acres means that no portion of the site was obligated to anyone and certainly not the City of Edmonds. Making such a declaration in a Letter to the Editor was just restating publicly-known facts. If any portion of the site had been committed to anyone else, then the entire site would not have been available to developers.

For those of you who still choose to cling to the statements made by Marla Miller, I advise that you read her own words here in this transcript of her own words and approved by her lawyers. Line 14 on Page 141. The rest of her transcript will be posted later.

So, why would Marla Miller, Nick Brossoit and the Board take action to constructively terminate a highly-praised employee? Clearly they wanted to silence the only voice of reason in a real estate transaction that was far more complicated than it needed to be and that resulted in millions of dollars lost for the District. Remember that the Old Woodway Elementary transaction happened right on the heels of the District's purchase of the contaminated site - a site purchased without the Board-mandated Site Acquisition Committee.

I say again, since I have said it numerous times before, Marla was gravely concerned that the manner in which district funds were being squandered, through poorly-crafted real estate transactions, would deeply upset the community. What she failed to understand is that our community doesn't have the time or energy to study the issues that come before our school board. That is precisely why we elect board members who create and maintain board policies. Our community believes that their elected board members understand the consequences of their decisions. Unfortunately, the current board is not capable of the oversight they have been elected to provide. Susan Phillips may "pledge to do [her] best for our students and District" but, quite frankly, her best is not good enough.

Change is needed on the Board. In electing even one board member that has the intellectual capacity to articulate consequences before they happen, never again can our school board claim to be uninformed or refuse to accurately assess circumstances before they devour us. One voice of reason would be a great start to a total board transformation that must happen sooner rather than later... for the sake of our children.

Blog: Photo acquired through flickr and pfly.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

School Board candidate returns from Africa

I am fairly confident that if the school board election were held today, in Ethiopia and Kenya, I would win by a wide margin.

For the many of you that have been writing in during my absence, I would like to thank you for filling my inbox. There are so many things to discuss and so many questions to be answered. An email that I received today served as a valuable reminder as to why it is so important to have a strong school board with inquisitive, analytical minds at work for the taxpayers of our district.

I am including this most recent email here and will respond more fruitfully once I have explored the issues raised. The email is as follows:

Hi Mark:

I don't know if you're still actively maintaining your watchdog blog (last update: June 30) but I wanted to know if you were aware of this:

Parents got a mailing recently from ESD Transportation Department urging them to make sure their (eligible) kid rode the school bus this week, October 12-16, as a student headcount will determine the amount of state funding for the department.

The card says:

"Already, we use local levy dollars (about $4m last year) to backfill the gap in transportation funding because the state's formula does not cover actual costs. The levy dollars also directly fund classroom expenses, such as curriculum and salaries. So by ensuring all assigned bus riders are on the bus during the 'count' week, our District can recoup the maximum amount of transportation funding to which we are entitled - and preserve more dollars for the classroom."

I'm asking:

Is it legal and proper to raid the local levy fund to keep bus service at full strength at the further expense of classroom ops? Parents already get incredible 'wish lists' from teachers, asking us to contribute the most basic classroom supplies... why are they so ready to strip the classroom experience to the bone and beyond to keep the bus fleet running?

If maximum ridership is so politically important, why did ESD rule this year that no kid within a radial mile of his/her school can ride the bus? Surely this policy is costing us state money.

Why is ESD in the transportation business anyway? I've wondered this for years. Fueling and operating 100+ buses is far, far outside ESD's core competency, and it's a major drain on capital. In the private sector you'd look at the Transportation Department as a natural candidate for sell / leaseback, outsourcing or spin off action. It strikes me as completely insane that ESD has such a fetish for buses (but so little apparent skill at running them) and now is actually raiding the classroom-funding bucket to keep the "bus business" whole. It's like an airline cancelling flights and laying off pilots to keep the kitchens making its in-flight meals running at full strength.

Would we not be better served by selling the ESD bus system's assets to a private contract operator (that knows something about fleet management, fuel hedging, personnel management, etc.), banking the proceeds, then tying the contractor's pay rate to performance metrics? One of the really frustrating things about the current arrangement is that there's no way to sanction bad performance. We have buses run late or not at all... kids standing in the rain and darkness for 20, 30, 45 minutes...substitute drivers get lost... and the Transportation Department just shrugs and says it wishes they could do better. If they were a contractor performing this way, they'd have to do more than shrug.

This "buses first, classrooms second" line is especially frustrating considering the giant salaries ESD leadership is earning...

Thanks, and I'd sure like to know what you think about this. Please keep me anonymous if you use this on the blog.



Blog: The State does not reimburse transportation costs for students living within one mile of their school. There have been discussions outside of board meetings that involved students walking away from their schools to bus stops just outside of the one mile restriction. Such a student would be counted but the practice is clearly contrary to the intended policy.