Sunday, April 3, 2011

School Board: Mea messa uppa culpa

Regular followers of Side, and even some who don’t willingly visit for our thoughts, know that we have written about lack of responsiveness from School Board leadership, most recently in this post.

In that item, we chided School Board leadership for not responding to repeated messages asking simple questions about contract negotiations and enrolment projections for the new school on McKeen.

We directed our messages, we thought, to the Chair and Vice-Chair of the School Board.  It turns out we made two real bonehead errors in posting those messages.  First, we were mistaken about who the Chair is.  Second, we had an erroneous email address for the Vice Chair.

We’re flummoxed as to how this happened, since we clearly recall pulling the information from the School Department web site; we have no other source for such information.   We will point out, for the record, that the board member wrongly addressed as Chair did not bother to respond to tell us of our errors, which would have been helpful, and perhaps avoided the subsequent misunderstandings. 

No matter, we got the facts wrong, and we apologize to readers and the School Board members for that.

We discovered our transgressions when the actual Board Chair contacted us on 29 March, asking that she not be scolded for not responding, and asking that we issue her an apology.  We corrected our records accordingly.

We explained our frustration over the errors, and the Chair asserted that our explanation did not hold water, because the web page could not have been the problem:

I know this to be a fact because I check the website immediately after taking the Chair position.

She proceeded to take us to task:

And I do take great offense because you seem to pride yourself on looking at the facts, so please take greater care in the future.

P.S. I still would appreciate a public apology on your blog since I have did nothing to deserve your comments.

In a subsequent message, the Chair commented further, regarding the teachers’ contract process:

The 3 person negotiations committee is currently finalizing a time to meet next week with the Superintendent.  At this time I have no idea what direction those negotiations will head, and will not speculate either.  (emphasis ours)

And on enrolment:

As for student enrollment at the new elementary school in September, I do not have the exact number in front of me, but believe it is around 525 students.

And then another stroke of the lash:

As for your apology, some how I am not surprised that you were not willing to admit publically that you were wrong.  You like to express yourself in ways that rarely allow people to challenge your "facts", and now that I have challenged you, I serious doubt you will own up to your error.  (emphasis ours)

We’re puzzled by the comment about rarely allowing people to challenge our facts; we simply can’t fathom what that refers to.  The Chair, and anyone else who visits here, are welcome to post comments, anonymously if they wish.  For that matter, one could submit a guest post if they are so moved, and as long as it was within reasonable bounds, we would gladly publish it.

The Chair wrote one more time in response to a message from us:

As I predicted - you took little or no responsibility for your error.

She then added:

As for your blog, someone told me about it.  Until yesterday I had never been on, nor plan to again in the future.

Oh, the cruel slings and arrows one must suffer in the service of one’s loyal readers.  We’ll get over it, even if permanent scars result.  The sad truth is that the last statement means the Chair will not read of our taking full responsibility for our errors and flaws, even though she demanded we do so.

Which makes our humiliation even more profound, and precludes any possibility of redemption in the eyes of our officials.

We’d like to point out that the Vice Chair, once we corrected his email address, promptly replied with the same info on contract negotiations, and then added that the projected enrolment for Stowe School is 490.

We’ll leave you with these two conclusions, which are open to challenge from those in charge:

1) If you thought the School Board would play a leadership role in protecting our interests in teacher negotiations, and more specifically, to be laying out an opening position on our behalf, it appears you’d be wrong.  Which should come as a surprise to no one.

2) To the best of our memory, the Stowe school concept began with an enrolment plan of 750.  That was reduced to 600, as best we can recall, when the Department of Education was formally challenged on their projections (consultant provided, of course.)

The estimate provided above is less than 2/3 the original plan, and nearly 20% less than the current design scope.

Could you imagine how much larger the school would have been if they had gone with the 750 number?  The mind boggles, and the Colossus trembles.

We are convinced, however, that the excess capacity will soon be found useful for “exciting new plans.”

We can’t wait, and we know you can’t either.

Now, to paraphrase Jimmy Durante, Goodnight, Mrs. Chair, wherever you are.  And remember, if you want to show you are bigger than us in the matters of the moment, our pages are open to you.



  1. Although I understand why you would think otherwise, it is common in Maine school systems for members of a school board/committee other than those on a negotiating committee really not to know what's happening in those bargaining meetings. The direction of negotiations changes rapidly, so even a recent report may be wrong if there's been another negotiations meeting since then.

    Please remember that negotiations are - by law - confidential. Therefore, until the contract has been ratified by both the employer and the employees (union members eligible to vote), the details are typically not made public or discussed publicly. You may disagree with this way of doing business, but it is perfectly legal.

    Finally, I am not in the least surprised that you were taken to task for assuming (silly you!) that the school's website information was accurate. I once asked for a list of Board of Directors' members, was directed to the website but found no list at all. It simply did not exist. So much for transparency...

  2. Thanks for commenting.

    My understanding, from some years back, is that negotiations MAY be kept confidential, by law, but are not REQUIRED to be so.

    In other words, local officials have the option to keep the public informed on the process or not.

    Guess which approach they normally take.

    I will check this out, though, to make sure I am on solid ground.

  3. Mr. Poppycock and Nancy: The contract with the Teacher's Union and the School Board requires both sides to exchange letters setting out the items they wish to negotitate and once these are given cannot be changed. The law allows either side to publish or make public these letters of exchange so the public may know the areas which will be negotitated. Several wirtten requests for copies of these letters have resulted in the refusal by the school board to divulge them.