No Quorum Needed?
The Board of Public Education (BOPE) holds meetings without having a definition of what constitutes a quorum for spending a projected $110 or $112 million taxpayer dollars! Their rules state that “The Board shall act by at least a majority of a quorum of its members.” without defining the number in a quorum. Can two or three members declare a quorum? You can bet they’d win the vote on the presence of a quorum. Robert’s Rules of Order are no help, saying essentially that a group defines its own quorum as it sees fit. We suggest that the BOPE adopt a definition of its quorum. It only makes sense to take this seriously when overseeing more than $100 million in taxpayer business. They probably should not act with the absence of more than one, but it’s the BOPE choice.
Some Might Call It Stalling
On January 4 this year the Tribune requested a breakdown of costs of employment for each of the 1,700 plus Henderson County Public Schools (HCPS) employees. Some 20 days later we received a listing of the base pay only for what is purported to be the highest paid 235 employees. We immediately contacted Ms. Kerry Shannon, HCPS Financial Director. She said this was what the Morning Paper asked for. I reminded her that we are the Tribune, certainly not the Morning Paper. She reported that she found it very tedious to do the calculations (her personal task) for what we asked. We offered to do them for her if she would provide us with the rules for the computations. She said that the Superintendent (David Jones) and the HCPS Attorney would have to give their OK, she would let me know. Finance Director Shannon has informed us now that they will withhold access to the rules but complete the work as soon as possible. The Tribune will not oppose this decision for now, until we see the response to our requests. We renewed our request this week, and…
The Henderson County Teachers Union.
North Carolina is a Right-To-Work state. This fact is a vital part of our freedom to conduct our lives according to our individual wills as North Carolinians and Americans. How is it that the people in the largest single category of workers in any field in the state are members of the largest labor union in the United States? Is it really possible that our teachers are so numbed or cowed that nearly all of them marched lockstep to the National Education Association (NEA) without coercion of any kind? Why? They cannot legally strike or demand recognition by the County…at this time. But their $25 million in dues makes their union the richest pure lobbying force in Raleigh. Do ya think (quite) a bit of that dough goes to Reps who vote teacher and education increases? Naghhh! Their goals are by the nature of NEA, not in the interests of taxpayers, but concerned only with maintaining and growing the membership.
We need to know more about our local teachers union. According to the HCPS there are 1,620 full-time and 277 part-time employees in the system. They report no records of whether employees are members of the NEA/NCAE, beyond that 84 employees have asked the NEA (NCAE) dues be withheld from their pay. Employees are free to pay their dues by any other method. We also asked of the BOPE how many of its members, elected by the taxpayers to serve the interests of taxpayers, are also members of the national teachers union NEA (NCAE).
We took the opportunity after the regular business meeting on Monday the 11th, to directly ask each BOPE member present if he/she was a member of NEA/NCAE. Mr. Bazzle, Mr. Houston, Mrs. Maurer, Ms. Holt, and Ms. Edwards reported not having been teachers and though perhaps eligible, were not members of the NEA. Mr. Wood carefully and haltingly said he was a member of a retired teachers association. When pressed he admitted that the retired teachers association is the NEA. Ms. Corn, the career teacher and principal was not present to confirm or deny NEA membership. So one and very possibly two BOPE members elected to oversee the spending of the school’s administration is a union member. We look forward to “Chairperson” Bazzle, or herself, getting back to us on Ms. Corn’s NEA status.
More Information Needed
To the other requests we have added our request for summary budgets and actual spending for the last five years with particular attention to a breakout of each and all taxpayer paid association memberships and travel budgets. We provided an example of the documents actually used by the HCPS, so they will understand and see that what we want is just what they use regularly. There is no excuse for them to refuse or stall in meeting our requests. We are fortunate to have one of our state Representatives, Chuck McGrady, in a position to influence the union membership issue (restoring NC 95-97) as Chairman of the Appropriation Subcommittee on Education, and we will see that he gets a copy of this column. And we are confident of cooperation from the HCPS according to the North Carolina public records law. It is the law; and this is it:
“§ 132-1. “Public records” defined.
(a) “Public record” or “public records” shall mean all documents, papers, letters, maps, books, photographs, films, sound recordings, magnetic or other tapes, electronic data-processing records, artifacts, or other documentary material, regardless of physical form or characteristics, made or received pursuant to law or ordinance in connection with the transaction of public business by any agency of North Carolina government or its subdivisions. Agency of North Carolina government or its subdivisions shall mean and include every public office, public officer or official (State or local, elected or appointed), institution, board, commission, bureau, council, department, authority or other unit of government of the State or of any county, unit, special district or other political subdivision of government.
(b) The public records and public information compiled by the agencies of North Carolina government or its subdivisions are the property of the people. Therefore, it is the policy of this State that the people may obtain copies of their public records and public information free or at minimal cost unless otherwise specifically provided by law. As used herein, “minimal cost” shall mean the actual cost of reproducing the public record or public information.”
The Regular Meeting of February 11th
As usual the meeting began with the presentation of awards. For February it was energy usage improvements (less). The top high school, middle school, and elementary school were named, and inevitably two more awards of honorable mention were awarded to two other elementary schools. Seven other facilities achieved “Energy Star” ratings bring the total Energy Star rated facilities in the system to 23 out of …23.
That is possibly a good thing. It certainly means they might be saving energy and/or money. But there is a cost; it isn’t free. The HCPS consultants, EDUCON, (that could be an unfortunate name) claim an “adjusted” savings of $1.35 million over three years. The word “adjusted” means rate increases occurred and the real dollar savings was less; $300 thousand less, 500? Comparing actual energy expenses will reveal how much less. They claimed various percentages of energy usage savings, all except water (minute savings) were around 20%. They didn’t say if these numbers were “normed” in any way. To “norm” means to finagle, sometimes for a good reason. If the 20% figure holds up to scrutiny that is positive.
There was, however, no mention of the cost of the EDUCON (the name is beginning to make me smile) contract, whether they are still on the clock, or the ongoing cost of the energy staff member who made the presentation, and are there more new energy staffers like him who will be with us through retirement and beyond? Presentations with all benefits and no costs are like an accountant friend used to describe a resume’: “a balance sheet without the liabilities”.
We learned late on Tuesday, through HCPS Finance Director, Kerry Shannon, that the EDUCON contract was just under $238,000 for the three year study plus the cost of a permanent employee as an “enforcement officer” for energy, and that the contract has ended and payments ceased. Still no word on the extent of “adjustments” made to achieve the claimed cost savings, or whether there was any “norming” of the usage figures. EDUCON is run: “…by Nelson Jessup, an administrator with over 35 years experience in public education”. Uh Oh! Is a teacher really the best energy consultant? Does one need to be a zoo keeper to guide saving money on heating the zoo, or a surgeon for a hospital? I think I hear the faint sound of backs being scratched not so very far away.
Board members regularly take the opportunity early in the meeting schedule to speak on any issue of concern. Mr. Wood used his time to say that it had been reported in the press (I wonder who that was) that he had put forward the idea the teachers should be paid a bonus for perfect attendance. Though he had proposed this before, he said that it was not his idea but something he heard of in another district that had worked to reduce the cost of providing substitutes, which was an item on the agenda. He said it helped keep regular teachers in the classroom which was better for students’ progress. Maybe so, but it also suggests that teachers take time off that is not necessary because they’ll stay at work if they are paid extra. Mr. Wood may on reflection decide that if one puts forward a policy proposal, from any source, it is your proposal, and one should fully stand behind what one proposes.
The Henderson County Career and Technical Academy
The BOPE took up, on first reading, the proposal to change the name of Balfour School to The Henderson County Career and Technical Academy. Note that for good or ill the public perception of Balfour was/is as a place for problem learners. Heavens to Betsy, how many of us could have fit that bill once or twice. Principal Kent Parent reports though, that the more accurate point is that students were assigned to Balfour who were, for a menu of reasons, not succeeding in the regular school environment. But Parent says many of these have thrived at Balfour under the guidance its staff and Parent’s leadership and the majority, when after developing good habits, were offered the opportunity to return to their standard school, choose to stay and graduate from Balfour.
In discussing the motion to accept the first reading, Mr. Wood made a calm but clearly emotional appeal to not go too fast in the renaming, citing several former principals and all the many teachers and graduates who had ties of many kinds to the place and name. Wood had given this issue serious thought and it showed. He also appealed for seeking out and hearing from the community, Although Wood said he would probably end up supporting the renaming for all the reasons put forward by Parent. Just let’s not rush, he cautioned.
He suggested saving the old building if feasible; or naming another building, ball field, lunchroom, or auditorium “Balfour”; possibly using material from the old building in a new one. From the Board’s reaction it seems certain that Wood won the day. The second reading required before a vote can be taken will not be before the BOPE April meeting, and Balfour will live on somehow in the Henderson County Career and Technical Academy. I couldn’t help wondering who the Balfours were; nobody said. The rest was pretty much routine.
If you have concerns on school issues including school security, that need to be aired publicly, contact me with complete confidence in our respect for your privacy at: Bill@tribunepapers.com or BillOhSee@gmail.com or call 828 890-0412.