I am one member of a five person board. The opinions I express on this forum are mine only, and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the Escambia County Staff, Administrators, Employees, or anyone else associated with Escambia County Florida. I am interested in establishing this blog as a means of additional transparency to the public, outreach to the community, and information dissemination to all who choose to look. Feedback is welcome, but because public participation is equally encouraged, appropriate language and decorum is mandatory.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Incorrectly Correcting Fellow Board Members

“You want to learn the first'd know if you ever spent a day in your never open your mouth till you know what the shot is.”

I tend to agree with the above quote from Al Pacino’s character, Ricky Roma, in the excellent movie, “Glengarry Glen Ross”. I’m not always able, but I try not to open my mouth unless I “know what the shot is”. I definitely try to never correct a peer on an important issue in public—particularly if I don’t know the answer and am winging it.

This past Friday morning at the School Board workshop I asked what I felt was a fair question on a $45,000.00 district expenditure, and was cut down by a fellow board member who said, condescendingly, “You voted for this in August”. I knew I hadn’t voted for this item, but I did not make a public issue of it. I did, however, lean over to Mrs. Linda West, our school board assistant, and mention to her that I had never voted for this and to please look into the issue.

Over the weekend, I looked at previous board agendas online and did not find this particular item in any of our past meeting agendas. Fast forward to Monday morning and, lo and behold, I hear from district staff that this particular issue never came before the Board for a vote in August (as I suspected). The issue is coming before the Board this month so that a contract can be worked out and the vendor can be paid. This is problematic for a couple of reasons which I will explore later.

First, an overview of the $45,000.00 program in question.

Currently, the school district is spending $45,000.00 per year to send the Monday edition of the Pensacola News Journal home to the parents of Kindergarten, 1st, and 2nd grade students of Title I (economically disadvantaged) Schools. The logic behind this expenditure is that the Monday edition of the PNJ contains a special “Kid’s Section” that the district actually compiles and sends to the PNJ staff. The PNJ Staff then incorporates this “Kid’s Section” into the Monday edition and sells the papers, with this section included, back to the district. Apparently, the rationale behind this is that because the Monday edition has a “Kid’s Section”—the parents of the students who receive this paper will spend time reading this special edition to their children. This sounds like a good program in theory, and I’m sure that it is. However, I’m not sure it is worth $45,000.00 dollars. I would like more information, metrics, and background-- etc., before I vote in favor of continuation. As it sits now with what I know-- I’m in favor of cutting out the middle-man! If we are developing the content, then why do we send it to PNJ so they can turn around and sell it back to us? Why do we not just print the “kid’s section” ourselves and distribute it directly to the students to take home? Another idea--tremendous amounts of information are available all over the internet---for free! Why not download the best free educational stuff off of the internet, print it, and send it home with these same Title I students every Monday? This would undoubtedly save the district a large sum of money. Perhaps enough money could be saved by eliminating this current program as it exists to expose district developed content to exponentially more students? I believe this is possible.

The bottom line is this—in these austere budget times we live in, we have to scrutinize every expenditure. This particular program is an expenditure that I believe we can live without-- and re-direct the financial resources to better uses. And this was the reason for my questioning of Agenda Purchasing Item 19 in the first place at last Friday’s workshop.

I also would like it if a cogent explanation could be given regarding why this (and other similar expenditures) seem to continually be approved by the district prior to a vote by the School Board—tantamount to an unauthorized commitment/expenditure by district staff.

If we (School Board) are truly the policymakers for our district, then we deserve the courtesy of approving expenditures before district money is expended.

Also, and finally, when individual School Board members ask questions of expenditures at open workshop meetings----other board members ought to be careful about correcting their peers on the board---particularly if the corrections are erroneous. I’ve been inappropriately corrected by the same board member publicly twice now, and two times I have bitten my tongue and said nothing. (Previous issue was “Safe Harbor Provision”) see:

I understand that the issues we deal with as board members are voluminous, and it is unrealistic to expect that one board member can remember every issue he/she has ever voted on; however, it is both arrogant and supercilious for one board member to presume to know what another board member voted on months or years ago.

As previously mentioned, I’ve been chastised and corrected publicly twice now by the same board member—both times incorrectly. If a third occasion arises, I will not bite my tongue; I will correct this individual. After all, the quote at the top of this entry rings true “You (should) never open your mouth till you know what the shot is.”

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