Tuesday, July 8, 2008

LCSD School Board Meeting, Part II

Picking up where I left off....

The Buildings and Boundaries Committee Report/Presentation

Lou Masog presented the results of the work of the B & B committee, and did quite well for someone who was called and asked to do at something like 3 PM that afternoon. The Committee had a few major recommendations:

1) Master Plans, both five- and ten-year versions. Pretty straightforward; Masog did not go into depth with regards to the plans.

2) Being on the lookout for new property to buy and begin to develop given the predictions that both Riverview and Hamilton Creek will soon hit capacity.

3) A 'Consolidated Campus' in the south part of Lebanon (Masog noted several pieces of land where this could take place). This struck me as the big news, and was certainly related to #2. Simply put, this was the idea that one campus should have space for students from kindergarten all the way to 12th grade. Masog touted the benefits, including shared facilities, decreased administrative and transportation costs, and increased ability for mentoring and interaction between students of different ages. Several people in the audience were nodding and agreeing a lot during Masog's presentation.

While I see the value behind the consolidated campus idea, I have a few questions: Is it really a good thing for a student to sit on the same campus for 12 or 13 years and then graduate? Isn't there something to be said for having to move to a new school once in a while?

Second, what about bullying and/or other negative interactions between groups of significantly different ages? Along with this, isn't it a good idea for students at some age to have some privacy and autonomy, more than that which is offered by a separate building or wing on the same campus?

I'm genuinely asking these questions - I really don't know the answers.

The next item on the agenda was a presentation from OSBA lobbyist Dave Williams, who presented on the possibility of a Construction Excise Tax. (The powerpoint that Williams used can be found on this page.)

I won't go into detail regarding the presentation, except to note that Mr. Williams must be a very, very good lobbyist. And that after it was all over, I wanted to apologize for the behavior of certain board members. I know Williams deals with all sorts of school board, and he probably has a really thick skin. That said... well, you'll see.

As soon as the presentation was over, and the board got a chance to ask questions, Rick Alexander - surprise! - launched into a rather canned and talking-point heavy "no new taxes" rant. It was small, and mercifully short, but he had clearly stopped listening at some point and was merely waiting for a chance to speak.

Alexander made a few points that I wanted to address here: First, that this is a burden levied on future generations, which is true in the sense that at some point in the future people will have to pay it, but not true in the sense that it would not create a massive debt for people to pay off; and second, that this would be really unfair, because "my daughter" might want to buy a house around here some day.

Alexander then made a smooth transition into complaining in a very incoherent fashion about the bond measure passed in the district some number of years ago. He began asking for the total debt, mumbling something about it being higher than it was originally (it's been refinanced), and how that was illegal, since the voters only ever approved a $49 million bond; he also began mumbling (seriously - I was having a lot of trouble understanding what he said at this point) something about wanting to know if we were going to sink under the full weight of the debt in 30 years.

Fisher stepped in and tried to explain that a bond is like a mortgage in the sense that while it's completely paid off after 30 years, one spends a lot of time early on paying off interest; it didn't seem to get through to Alexander. They went round and round a few more times, with Fisher finally blurting something along the lines of "I've taken classes, I should know."

I think Alexander was trying to ask if the district is making interest-only payments at this point or is actually paying down the interest, but I had to infer that, since Alexander was still clear as a London fog. I never did hear a clear answer to that from Robinson; I'm not sure he knew. If it turns out that the LCSD is making interest-only payments and not paying down the debt, well, that's just painfully dumb. However, I would be quite surprised if that was the case.

Remember, this is all happening while Dave Williams is sitting at the podium, ostensibly to talk about the possibility of a Construction Excise Tax.

At this point, Alexander got pretty cranky with Robinson, and kept asking him if our total bond debt was over $50 million, again claiming that "we can't do that."

It's times like those I wonder what Rick Alexander does for a living. I think I'm going to rule out construction or contracting at this point. Certainly anything in the financial sector has long since gone out the window.

At any rate, the board asked several good questions, most of which Mr. Williams responded to by noting that most of the logistical problems had been worked out through trial-and-error in other districts, but that there were bound to be political obstacles associated with any kind of new tax. The estimable Mr. Williams also made the claim that "people always want to pay less and get more, and that that's just human nature." I threw up a little in my mouth - that's classic "greed is a moral good" right there, and I think it's not only wrong, but dangerous. However, it was not a surprise to hear it from an OSBA lobbyist.

Alexander then spoke up again in response to a comment made by Williams, asking where the long-term facilities plan (a requirement of putting the tax in place) goes.

The answer, ironically, was the board, and to the public... and Alexander had no idea. As I scribbled in my notepad: F***ING MORON. Does he not read the documents given to him or pay any attention to LCSD business outside board meetings? [Don't answer that.]

Alexander then asked a very pointed question: Can a future board change a long-term plan? I could almost see the wheels turning in his head - he didn't want an excise tax, and he didn't want a future board to be able to implement one, either. Too bad; future boards can overturn or modify most decisions made by previous boards. Clearly - does Alexander not realize he's done that several times?

One could also surmise that he was asking about it for at least two additional reasons: 1) He might get recalled, and, related, 2) He doesn't want someone else to restore Robinson's contract. I have no proof as to whether or not he was actually thinking about these, but they both make sense.

Dave Williams, naive that he seemed (or maybe not), responded by saying, "Yes, future board can change long-terms plans; that's good, and it provides flexibility."

Debi Shimmin sort of brought the issue to a close by asking for a public hearing to determine public sentiment regarding the possible implementation of a Construction Excise Tax. She and Robinson tentatively agreed to do it some time in August in the evening.

There were a few more things - as covered in the DH, the story regarding Reed School and Brian O'Driscoll is a good one - but I decided to leave around that point. As far as I can tell, I didn't miss much.

So, a few thoughts:

1) The board was really, really uncomfortable at the beginning of the meeting. I think they realized how good they had it with Sherrie Sprenger. Wineteer fumbled procedure a few times, not badly, but it certainly wasn't smooth.

2) Wineteer looked exhausted. He had some pretty sunken eyes. I wonder why?

3) Alexander was pretty cranky and incoherent. More incoherent than normal. After the question regarding buying out Robinson, he didn't really cause any trouble... except, of course, for the Excise Tax bit.

4) Regarding the external review of board policies, the board clearly had no idea how to decide the question on the merits. They looked really lost. I sort of thought Robinson let them hang themselves by simply asking them for guidance (it was a financial matter, after all) and then sitting back and watching. Was he actually doing that? I doubt it - but it was a great example of why there should be someone with expertise in the room.

Well, that's about it. No grand pronouncements, no ultra-large post-4th fireworks. Just the ongoing Greek tragedy. August should be interesting - one assumes there will be action on the buyout idea between now and then, as well as progress on the recall and the appearance of a new, fifth board member. I can't wait....


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