Tuesday, March 11, 2008

[LCSD] The Shimmin Letter

I suppose I'd better get to Debi's DH letter before Bernstein blows their cap.

Debi's letter appeared in the DH on March 10. It was addressed to the citizens of Lebanon with a message of 'moving forward'.

On its face, that's funny coming on the heels of her vote to nonrenew Robinson's contract. It makes a certain amount of sense, though, as she has been consistent in claiming that moving forward and seeing Robinson leave the district were synonymous. Sadly, she has not made a good case convincing others that such a point of view is even remotely true.

Onto the letter itself:

Move forward, Lebanon

To the citizens of Lebanon:

As a new board member, I have learned a lot about the current state of our school district. Many in our community care deeply about creating a positive experience for their children’s education. We have an opportunity to do one of two things: continue on our present course or forge a new path.

It is time to move forward and create a positive culture where teachers, administrators, parents, staff, citizens and students work together.

Given recent history, I cannot help but evaluate these words and this letter in light of her vote to not renew Robinson's contract.

Given that, her words are the slightest bit disingenuous.

First of all, there's always the opportunity to continue the present course or forge a new path. By definition, this will always be true: the options 'change' and 'stay the same' are exhaustive. And free of meaning unless we know what the change is. Good rhetoric, but not very filling.

Second, the timing is ludicrous. Shimmin is proposing moving forward (and again, I do not doubt her sincerity) in a positive fashion days after she voted to nonrenew the Superintendent's contract in a contentious manner and meeting. Convenient, that. I wonder what positively working together would have entailed three days ago? Would it have meant working with Robinson? I think it would have!

Lord knows we can't have that. Come to think of it, I never saw her clash with Robinson - in fact, I suspect she can personally work with him just fine. Interesting...

(And for everyone who has the urge to respond "but Robinson is mean!", I have to ask if you've ever gone to a board meeting and seen the procedural assassin that is Rick Alexander at work. It's f***ing embarrassing. FFA students in high school can use parliamentary procedure better than he can.) I'll take mean over incompetent or uncaring.

I'm wondering if her letter was actually written before she voted.

More Shimmin:

Each of us plays an important role in creating this positive culture. How we comport ourselves and treat others is the first step. Respect for all perspectives can build an atmosphere for creating consensus.

In order for our school district to move forward, we must be willing to make a commitment to each other that we will tackle the most difficult challenges in a manner that is respectful and professional.

This is a very positive thing to say. Actually, I support the language that she uses here. However, I have not seen this happen in the past - and the two most egregious offenders have been her allies. To her credit, she is not antagonistic in board meetings (but that's probably because she rarely talks). I have always seen Jim Robinson be professional. (If people are going to contest that, put your money where your mouth is: Names of people in the room, including your name, dates and exactly what he said. We're way past anything less. Sometimes you actually have to risk something to create positive change.)

Also, if this standard is going to be applied consistently, then I expect her to begin working to get rid of Rick Alexander. After all, he doesn't play well with anyone but Debi and Josh.

Or does constantly sandbagging two board members and the D.O. staff with new agenda items actually count as being "respectful and professional?" Because that's been Rick's M.O. since I started paying close attention to the school board last July - to say nothing of consistently short-circuiting the process by making motions before there is a chance for discussion on agenda items he cares about (and then ignoring everything else).

Bottom line: Shimmin just put herself in a tough position and her credibility on the line: She called for respect and professionalism from everyone involved. If she is seen as doing nothing to try and get her allies to abide by these rules, having already voted to nonrenew Robinson's contract, she's going to be seen as a giant hypocrite worthy of scorn.

Now we get to mine - and apparently Bernstein's - favorite part of the letter:

Elected officials are tasked with making difficult decisions. We have information from many sources that doesn’t always make its way to the public and this goes into the decision-making process.

You might be wondering if I agree with Bernstein's strong, strong language on this one, or whether I'm going to take my own high road.

Don't worry. I'm not. Bernstein is correct. This is transparent, self-serving bullshit of the worst kind.

Actually, I think Shimmin is being honest - but that only makes it worse.

The form of this argument is easily recognizable to anyone who was reading the news from Sept. 12, 2001 onwards. The Bush Administration used it all the time. "You have to trust us," they would say. "We have secret information on the bad guys that we can't share with you, and if you don't do what we want, YOU WILL SUFFER."

The problem was that almost every single claim made in that time period using that argument was completely and verifiably false - to say nothing of the fact that it's an undemocratic argument based on fear to make in the first place.

In this case, most of us perceive through news stories, comments made and actions taken by board members and stories and comments both here at at LT's place that, at the least, there is a hell of a lot of sketchy stuff going on behind the scenes in the LCSD. Even if that's not true, the perception is there and it matters.

In other words, there is no reason on earth to blindly trust Shimmin when she says this. None. Less than none, in fact, since we know that things are not all right in Candyland the LCSD. Unless I hear her backtrack on this, any credibility she had with me is gone (and yes, she had some).


Our school board is made up of five very different individuals who were elected by the citizens of Lebanon. They all are passionate and care deeply about the education of our children. I have enormous respect for all of them.

Nothing objectionable here. In fact, this might be a good time to point out that ill will is not a prerequisite for a dysfunctional district. People can have genuine disagreements about what they each think is best for the district and still drive a district into the ground.

Of course, I happen to think Rick's action suggest he's not even thinking about what's best for the LCSD, but what's best for PIE. But that's another story - again, I think Shimmin is being honest to what she believes.... but that's not good enough.

Shimmin, again:

It is often difficult to build consensus when there are those who try to divide the board.

Can we get her to address Rick's tendencies to destroy and disrespect the process (which is undeniably divisive)? Seriously - without that, I don't see how even she could think people would take this statement seriously.

More positive(ly empty) rhetoric:

If our leaders inspire our teachers, our teachers will inspire their students. A positive culture can breed inspiration. The boundaries of success are endless if we all work together and commit to creating a path to a positive educational environment for our children and our community.

Teachers are doing plenty of inspiring despite the school board. I'm not saying that a functional board won't help, just that it's a little insulting to suggest that teachers are so reliant on the mood of the board.

My take on this letter? Shimmin is largely being completely honest, but her high-minded rhetoric has just placed her in a very rough spot. There's a long ways to go to live up to the standard she just set, and right now, the two largest roadblocks are her voting allies. Honestly, I'm not sure this letter was a smart move - not to mention that it's going to hose off her existing opponents, who likely see her as having done none of this so far.

Debi Shimmin: Honest But Wrong Since 2007.

Think it will get her re-elected?


Anonymous said...

Debi said: "... A positive culture can breed inspiration. The boundaries of success are endless if we all work together and commit to creating a path to a positive educational environment for our children and our community."
I hear music and I'm sure Debi could have written a commercial for the land of PERFECT.
She even seems to be serious.
Is that where she thinks she lives--someplace where all we have to do is think positively?

Anonymous said...

Just when I thought Rick had done all the damage he possibly could do to our school district he proved me wrong.
His final statement on the front page of our newspaper tonight is,

"He expects that the next superintendent will have a contract that makes it clear the board's authority to dismiss without an unsatisfactory evaluation."

I'm sure the best superintendents in the nation will be falling over themselves to come work here. Our board is going to offer them a contract with a clause that they can fire them without cause or reason. Who could resist such an offer? Rick, would you like to add that clause to the teacher's contract too?

He is literally sabotaging our school system. Not to mention he acts as though he has the authority of the whole board by making these kind of statements to the press.

Debbie has enormous respect for this man?

Anonymous said...

You might want to check the author of that letter again.

Dennis said...


Can you provide a link to the story that quote appears in?

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

In that article Rick A. did what he hopes is a preemptive strike...he dropped his lawsuit the day oral arguments to dismiss the case where to be heard, (convenient wasn't it?), saying he was "giving Robinson the benefit of the doubt that he won't sue over the non-renewal."
Nice try.
Dr. Robinson has plenty of just cause to sue over the way the non-renewal came about.
Rick A.'s behavior is nothing short of arrogant.

Anonymous said...

Rick went public by talking to the newspaper trying to look magnanimous.
It would seem he hoped to kill two birds with one stone.
He wanted to try to prevent Jim from filing a law suit that he should file due to the process problems. [If the majority on the Board really believe their process was totally fair and legal then they should have no trouble proving that--and should not be afraid to do so. Hiding behind a transparent desire to "just move forward", and to "not waste any more time and money", is easy for them to say. They were not the ones wronged by their actions.]
Rick also knew his own case was most likely about to be dismissed.
Very unethical behavior.

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