Thursday, May 29, 2008

Emails of the Month

Every once in a while I will post an 'Emails of the Month' entry. It’s been a good first month here on the blog so its a good time to start. I have had tremendous feedback from all kinds of people. This was one of my hopes when I started this, to move the discussion about the School Board into the community. With people as involved in local government as we are here, it only makes sense.

Emails are edited but I try to make sure the intent/context of the emails stay intact. Here are some of the top emails for the month of May (reader emails in italics):

From C:
The blog is a great idea. Some folks think board members have preconceived ideas and personal agendas -- I applaud your efforts to be transparent and allowing us some insight into your decision making processes!

That was the first email I received regarding the blog. Much like the first dollar bill on the wall of a restaurant, this email will stay in my archives. Thanks for the email C and thanks for being ahead of the curve!

Others wanted to make sure I set clear boundaries about what I would talk about on the blog.

From H:
On balance, I applaud it (the blog) even though it is a change from past practices of having only the board president speak in public… My concern with the blog is about those confidential matters that cannot, by law or by good sense, be discussed in public. I'm sure you've carefully considered all of these things...On balance I applaud your efforts and wish you well. These comments are just some thoughts I wanted to share.

There are no doubt lines that should not be crossed. I will not be spilling any kind of confidential/executive session information into the public. However, our new Board President has made it clear that each Board member is free to respond to emails or questions from residents. There are some things that I simply will not know much about because I am not on the respective committee and I will refer those questions to the appropriate Board member(s). I will be careful with the information I post here. Thanks for the input H.

As for budget responses, well, I have had a few people simply ask for an explanation, and others offer some opinions.

From P:
I respect your vote even though I don't agree with it. Many compromises were made in the budget process and please excuse me if my numbers are off but the initial budget started at a mil increase of 1.53 and the budget was passed at an increase of .25 mils. Many compromises were made on behalf of our students and you still couldn't vote yes. I attended most of the budget meetings but don't recall any concrete alternatives/proposals being suggested by you

I very much respect the opinion of this person and the feedback was appreciated. Its alright to have a difference of opinion on matters and the respectful way in which this person addressed the difference is the way it should work. I don’t know if we will agree on the solution, but it is extremely important to see issues from all angles. Input from perspectives like this helps me have a better understanding of what our community values. I know, I know, it sounds like lip service. Let me put it this way, if I was ever to be President of the United States, my cabinet would be made up of Republicans, Democrats and Independents. I wouldn’t want a bunch of ‘yes’ men and women surrounding me. That structure stifles thought and does not challenge ideas. This topic is blog-worthy itself and I will leave it for another day. I guess I am just saying I welcome ideas that contradict my own. I will point out, as I did in my response to the reader email, that I noted on at least three occasions during public meetings what I wanted to do with regards to reducing costs. I also talked individually and privately with a number of Board members and knew pretty quickly that I simply would not have the support during this budget to make additional changes.

More budget responses:

From E:
Kudos to you for your effort and openness… The total staffing number on your chart is contradicted by the 2007 CAFR pg 115. The teaching number reads 470, not 420.

The number I had for total staffing was a combination of the 2007 CAFR pg 104 and a document given to the Board in February that outlined total staff since 2001. I know someone had asked the Board at a public meeting to explain the discrepancy but I don’t know if we ever heard a response. I will follow up. While there are a few places where different numbers are floating around, (MTL Magazine had a different number altogether in their article a while back) I do know the teacher number on pg 104 is the one reported to PA Dept of Education to calculate the pupil/teacher ratio so I will have faith in that number until further notice.

From S:
Read your blog articles and found them to be very enlightening/thought
provoking. All too often while watching the televised board meetings, decisions or
arguments appear to be based solely on "its for the kids"… Seems to be two different agendas at work in the budget process-- "what we need" and "What We Want." You have the unenviable position of overseeing both.
Keep the info. flowing. Thanks!

I liked this email a lot because it really hits the nail on the head. The Board needs to balance the ‘needs’ with the ‘wants’ of the community while always having an eye on the Strategic Plan. S is right, it is not always easy.

There were a number of other emails as well and I appreciate them all.

As always, the opinions expressed in this blog are mine and do not represent the views of the Board as a whole.