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Wednesday, February 22, 2012

2/22/12 CN article Phil in the Blank - A Column by Phil Custodio - School Board "Free Speech"

Phil in the Blank - A column by Phil Custodio

MEAP mayhem  

(and school board "free speech")


February 22, 2012 - MEAP scores are in – check them out on page 5A.

Putting them together for the paper was a chore. This is not a back-to-basics endeavor. With all the different scales and percentages all over the place, you need a high score in the MEAP math test to figure out the results of the MEAP math test, along with all the others.

What an over-engineered mess.

Also confusing are the categories – Advanced, Proficient, Partially Proficient, and Not Proficient.

Based on my calculations, a third grader has to score 336 out of 427 points to be considered "Proficient" in math. If the score is between 322-335, the student is "Partially Proficient."

So to be proficient, one must get 78.7 percent of the answers correct, a high D or low C when I went to school. And this is with the new, tougher standards. Last year, a third-grade student just needed to get 300 out of 427 points, 70.3 percent, to be considered proficient.

Who in the adult, working world is considered "proficient" if they know less than 80 percent of their job?

***

I'm still working on the school board's free speech issue.

Their lawyer spoke to the board at their last meeting, schooling them on policies restricting what they can say in public. They're not supposed to say anything without an official disclaimer saying any and all things said are personal opinion, not reflecting the board, etc. etc.

Then I listened to board Treasurer Steve Hyer on WJR's podcast, broadcast live five days after that meeting. I didn't hear a disclaimer during the entire interview, even though the host twice specifically identified Hyer as a member of the school board.

During the school board meeting, board members argued the bylaws are not as restrictive as presented by the attorney. Hyer wasn't one of them, though. According to the Clarkston News story on the issue, he actually made the motion that each board member comply with the policy.

I'm still awaiting comment, but I can see the policy isn't as clear as school administrators or lawyers might think it is. District bylaws shouldn't trump the U.S. Constitution – that's clear.

My comments at the 2/13/12 CCS board meeting

I want to talk about Report 6.1, Update re: Budget Amendment Q-2.

I am concerned about the way this new budget amendment was prepared and some of the data in the board packet.  I understand the new Finance Director, Mary Beth Rogers wants to format the reports in a way that is comfortable for her and that makes sense. 

What was in the board packet before it was taken down by the district did not have any history on it.  The budget has not been prepared in this format to my knowledge in the past and the budget does not compare this year’s original budget to the new format of the finalization of the budget with more than half of the data already in.

I discovered what appears to be incorrect and concerning data.

  1. Workers compensation was noted, but had zero dollars for the amounts.
  2. Substitute wages were listed twice for most of the school levels.
  3. The Board of Education expenditures included $116,000 in legal expenses and $24,000 in other professional services.  I am interested to know what those $140,000 needed to be spent on as I don’t recall that high of expenses in past years..
  4. Executive Administrative expenditures included:
    1. $62,000 for an administrative assistant,
    2. $67,000 for your secretary
    3. $59,000 in postage,
    4. And $11,000 in dues, fees, and subscriptions.
    5. I would like to know how much was spent in those categories in the last three years to compare how high those expenses are to historical data because I believe the expenses are high and I believe that the administrative assistant is a new position. (Actually, the administrative assistant position is Dr. Rock's secretary, Heidi McClain at $62,000.00/year.  The apparent new position is "secretary" at $67,000.00/year.)   Was that approved by the board?          

I also want to talk about Discussion item 7.1, Ballot Language for May 8, 2012 Special Election for the $20 million dollar bond request. 

I know that the district was explaining to the public after the January board meeting that if the bond was approved and the bond interest expenses increased or taxable values of the district decreased or did not go up by the percentages assumed in the bond estimates, that the second and third bond amounts would be adjusted downward in order to prevent going over one mill.  I didn’t then and don’t now believe that was possible to do.

I don’t see that financial information in the current board packet that shows that the district is still saying that they will do that and I hope that it will be addressed tonight and wonder why the district has backpedaled on those statements.    

2/22/12 CN Article, "Gag Rule"

2/22/12 Clarkston News article, "Gag Rule"
by Wendi Reardon
http://www.clarkstonnews.com/Articles-News-i-2012-02-22-245860.113121-sub14473.113121-Gag-rule.html

Gag rule?

Limits on school board comments draw fire, questions


February 22, 2012 - Folks are fired up about last week's school board meeting, which ended with a lawyer addressing Clarkston School Board members on what to say and when.

"As an American this makes me mad as hell," said Michael Powell of Independence Township. "Tell me this isn't a violation of all board members Constitutional rights."

Board President Cheryl McGinnis invited attorney George Butler from Dickerson Wright, the school district's law firm, to the Feb. 13 meeting in response to comments to her from the public. People told her board members were violating bylaws and procedures, she said.

Butler said district bylaws require board members speaking in public to say they are not speaking for the board but as only a citizen.

"You have the responsibility when you are talking to make it crystal clear you are not in any way, shape or form talking as a board member," Butler addressed. "That is life as a board member. The only way you can act as a board is through resolution."

Board Treasurer Steve Hyer presented a motion for each board member to comply with policies and procedures. The motion passed, 7-0.

On Feb. 20, Powell forwarded to the Clarkston News a link to a podcast recorded and broadcast by WJR on Feb. 18, featuring Steve Hyer, school board treasurer.

The host introduces Hyer as treasurer of the Clarkston School Board twice during the course of the interview, and one of the topics discussed is the upcoming school technology bond vote, set for May 8.

At no point does Hyer issue a disclaimer, as advised by Butler. The link is internetadvisor.net/shows. Hyer did not respond to a request for comment.

At the Feb. 13 school board meeting, trustees Joan Patterson and Rosalie Lieblang questioned Butler about the bylaws.

"Anyone has the ability to ask me why I voted a certain way and I have the right to explain," Patterson said.

Lieblang added people have come to her asking about issues that haven't come before the board.

Butler said they should let the concerned citizen know board members can't talk about it until it comes before them.

He also pointed out board members should not discuss their vote or reasons why before a meeting.

"Until the vote is taken, you swore in your oath to keep an open mind on every single issue," he said. "Telling someone in the public what is going to happen or what they are going to make happen is inappropriate – no reason why discussion can't happen in public view. All your talk happens right here."

Another scenario presented was board members talking to vendors, staff and administration, which is also not allowed. He added if they had questions to go through the proper protocol – share with the board president and it will be passed on to the superintendent.

"If it is that important to get information – follow protocol," said Butler.

He pointed out access to buildings are limited to board members unless they are volunteering or public event. Even then, he noted, keep the discussion limited to the event and don't talk about other topics.

"You must restrain yourself," he said firmly.

Dawn Schaller of Independence Township thought the issue should have been handled differently.

"It was by far, the least professional, most uncomfortable, and unacceptable presentation I have seen yet at a board meeting," said Schaller.

"The gag rule imposed by the Clarkston School administration, in my opinion violates Article I, Section 5 of the State Constitution," said Henry S. Woloson, an attorney who lives in Independence Township.

The free speech clause says "Every person may freely speak, write, express and publish his views on all subjects, being responsible for the abuse of such right; and no law shall be enacted to restrain or abridge the liberty of speech or of the press."

Patterson said she follows the letter of the law and the board policies.

"I think the issue is what it means to everyone of us and be on the same page," she said.

"I believe there are board members that believe they are not doing anything wrong but probably are," added Trustee Susan Boatman.

The clarification is needed to make the board more effective, said McGinnis.

"I think the discussion was important for the board to take a leadership role for the community to look upon the board that they are truly looking at the well-being of the children," said Independence Township resident George White.

Phil Custodio contributed to this report.

2/13/12 CCS Board meeting or "What just happened?"

The February 13, 2012 CCS Board meeting was the most surreal Clarkston school board meeting I have ever been to.  I still can't believe what I saw.

The four and a half hour meeting will be on Comcast channel 22 until the district posts the 2/27/12 board meeting.  You may also view it on the district's video site here:  http://www.ustream.tv/channel/clarkston-schools-board-of-ed .  Due to the length of the meeting, there are two videos.

As of the time I write this, there have been 50 views of the first video and 172 views of the second video (part 2).  The reason there have been so many views of the second video is because of what happened toward the end of the second video when the district's attorney came to speak to the board.     

The meeting itself almost became a violation of the Open Meetings Act due to the change in the meeting time from 7 PM to 6 PM not being posted on the door of the Administration Building (the official public posting location).  Apparently administration was advised in advance of the potential violation of the Open Meetings Act if the meeting were to go on at 6 PM, so the district then changed the meeting time back from 6 PM to 7 PM.  The district has changed the board meeting times from 7 PM to 6 PM on many occasions in the recent past without posting it the the Administration Building front window, but apparently no one 'called' the district on the violations until this last week.  The earlier the meetings, the fewer people they will get at the meeting and the fewer people who can speak to specific board topics.  The Michigan Open Meetings Act information is available here: http://www.legislature.mi.gov/documents/publications/openmtgsfreedom.pdf .  From the document, I extracted this:

"Notification of Meetings:" (on page 26 of 42)
"If there is a change in schedule, within three days of the meeting in which the change is made, the public body must post a notice stating the new dates, times and places of regular meetings."

"Penalties Under the Act:" (on page 28 of 42)
"The first time a public official intentionally breaks the law, he or she can be punished by a maximum fine of $1,000. For a second offense within the same term of office, he or she can be fined up to $2,000, jailed for a maximum of one year or both.  A public official who intentionally violates the act is also personally liable for actual and exemplary damages up to $500, plus court costs and attorney fees."  The district might argue that they did not intentionally break the law, but many people have complained about the recent changes to the usual 7 PM start time being changed to 6 PM.  They believe that 6 PM meeting time makes it difficult for many people to attend at the beginning of the meetings.               
I also believe that Mrs. McGinnis' and Dr. Rock's preparation of the board packet for the 2/13/12 board meeting was not respectful of the rest of the board.  The board package is available here: http://www.clarkston.k12.mi.us/education/page/download.php?fileinfo=MjAxMi0wMi0xM19Cb2FyZF9QYWNrZXQucGRmOjo6L3d3dy9zY2hvb2xzL3NjL3JlbW90ZS9pbWFnZXMvZG9jbWdyL0FMTGZpbGU1MTQ5NS5wZGY=

Page 3 (of 73) of the board packet was the agenda that showed the last two discussion items were 7.3 ("First Reading of Policies" for discussion of proposed policy changes) and 7.4 ("Board Member Conduct").  If you go down to the end of the document, pages 57 to 73 (of 73) are the end of the board packet.  There was no documentation given in the board packet in regard to Section 7.4 "Board Member Conduct".  According to comments made in the meeting and in discussion I had after the board meeting with board members Mrs. Lieblang, Mrs. Boatman, and Mrs. Patterson, they had requested information on the content of the Section 7.4 discussion item prior to the meeting and they all said that what they were told by Cheryl McGinnis (board president) that was to be discussed was nothing like what actually happened during the meeting.  It appears that Mrs. McGinnis and Dr. Rock decided to blind-side the board.

We urge you to email Mr. Butler's boss, William Burgess, to express your displeasure with Mr. Butler's conduct at the 2/13/12 CCS Board Meeting.  Here is his contact information:
 
Mr. Butler's boss: CEO William Burgess.
Email: wburgess@dickinsonwright.com
Calls can be made to Mr. Burgess at: 313-223-3634, or the main office: 313-223-3500.
   
If you are concerned about the direction of the Clarkston Schools and would like to be connected to and support C.R.I.S.I.S., please go to the C.R.I.S.I.S. website at http://csdbond.yolasite.com/ .  Then go to the "Volunteer - Donate" page.

Thanks!

C.R.I.S.I.S. website - Citizens 4 Responsible Intelligent Spending In Schools

The website for C.R.I.S.I.S
Citizens 4 Responsible Intelligent Spending In Schools

If you are concerned about the direction of the Clarkston Community Schools and would like to be connected to and support C.R.I.S.I.S. (Citizens 4 Responsible Intelligent Spending In Schools), please go to the website at: http://csdbond.yolasite.com/

Did Steve Hyer Violate CCS Board Bylaws? You be the judge.

 Did Steve Hyer Violate CCS Board Bylaws?  
You be the judge.

CCS School Board Treasurer, Steve Hyer, was on WJR 760 AM radio on Saturday, February 18, 2012 with three students from the "FIRST" group from CCS, "Team Rush 27".  They were on the Internet Advisor's show with Gary Baker and Foster Braun.  This occurred five days after the school district attorney, Mr. George Butler, of Dickinson Wright PLLC, railed the board with scenarios of violations of Board Bylaws and ethics violations.  The title of the show was "High Technology and Education". 

Mr. Hyer was identified at the beginning of his portion of the show as the CEO of IGD Solutions as well as the Treasurer of the Clarkston school board.   They also mentioned that IGD Solutions hosts their website and provides their email services...  He talked about "one to global learning devices", technology in schools, and Team Rush.  

I believe that Mr. Hyer's "public expression" on the radio show violated CCS Board bylaw, 0143.1, "Public Expression of Board Members" by allowing himself to be identified as the Clarkston School Board Treasurer and speaking on school matters.  Mr. Hyer also did not attempt to correct the interviewers by saying he was representing his own views and not the views of the entire board.   

There is a podcast recording of the approximately 20 minute interview available here:   http://internetadvisor.net/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/Hour-1-Feb-18.mp3

The key portion is from approximately 6 minutes, 30 seconds to about 27 minutes, 20 seconds of the podcast.

You can also find the podcast and show information here:  http://internetadvisor.net/  This show is on the first hour of the 2/18/12 podcasts.

Show Notes: 


Here is the CCS Board Bylaw in regard to public expression of board members.  I believe that Mr. Steve Hyer was in violation of the bylaw. 

0143.1          Public Expression of Board Members

From time to time individual Board members make public statements on school matters:
A.    to local media;
B.     to local officials and/or State officials.

Sometimes the statements imply, or the readers (listeners) infer, that the opinions expressed or statements made are the official positions of the Board. The misunderstandings that can result from these incidents can embarrass both the member and the Board. Therefore, Board members shall adhere to the guidelines contained herein when writing or speaking on school matters to the media, legislators, and other officials.

The Clarkston Board of Education, as a matter of policy, disclaims responsibility for any individual public statements by its members. Public views expressed by individual Board members are those of the member and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Board or of the author's colleagues on the Board.

The individual making the public statement shall not use his/her Board title. 

This bylaw shall apply to all statements and/or writings by individual Board members not explicitly sanctioned by a majority of its members, except as follows:
A.    Correspondence, such as legislative proposals, when the Board member has received official guidance from the Board on the matters discussed in the letter.
B.     Routine, not for publication correspondence of the Superintendent and other Board employees.
C.     Routine "thank you" letters of the Board.
D.    Statements by Board members on nonschool matters (providing the statements do not identify the author as a member of the Board).
E.     Personal statements not intended for publication.

Revised 11/98
Revised 12/8/03