Wednesday, May 15, 2019

This WILL stop!!!

When last night's school board adjourned, I made a bee-line for the speaker who had addressed the board about lack of transparency and then stepped over to thank Mrs. Agostini.

I was immediately swarmed by two deputies, and I exclaimed, "What's this?" One said, "She is trying to leave." I said she wasn't, and Mrs. Agostini told them she wasn't and that everything was okay.

This is insane. Since when can a member of the public not speak to a public official?

I recalled my conversation at the Richland County Sheriff's Department on March 20, after Teresa Holmes filed a harassment complaint against me. Sgt. Dauway said that board members could not be approached after meetings. He also said the meeting was over and there was nothing more to be said. And he said "they don't want anything to happen".

The only thing that is happening is that the sheriff's deputy is infringing on peaceable right to gather and free speech.

I didn't challenge Dauway when I met with him and the Deputy Chief of the Criminal Investigations Division of the Sheriff's Department. After I read Holmes' report, I pointed out all the false statements in it. (Frankly, they should have charged her with filing a false police report.) On April 26 I requested and received a copy of the supplemental report to Holmes' complaint, which stated, in part, "An investigation into this case revealed that a crime did not occur."

I don't know yet who gave instructions to the Sheriff's Department about what was expected of their deputies. But the Board does not need any protection from the public. To my knowledge, there has never been a threat against a board member.

The law-enforcement presence began after the January 22 board meeting. It's way past time for it to end. The board can order the Superintendent to cancel the agreement with the sheriff's department. The three deputies who have been attending every board meeting after January 22 can find over-time somewhere else in the District, not at Richland 2 School District expense!

Board - tired by 9:30PM

At last night's meeting (5/14/19) you could tell that the board was getting tired by 9:30PM. After all, they had been there since 5:00PM, with only a short transition at 6:30PM from the Executive Session back to re-convene the Regular Session.

And what about the audience, which had been enduring board considerations and debate for three hours by that time? Just imagine if you told a student to sit in his chair for 180 minutes and keep his mouth shut. There would be complaints of torture and "cruel and unusual punishment".

But there we sat, on good behavior and without protest. Good thing, too, since there were at least two deputy sheriff's in the room, ready to pounce if anyone yawned too loudly.

At 9:58PM Ms. Holmes made a comment about the "school-to-prison pipeline". Only a portion of her comment was audible in the room. Check the YouTube video.

Then Mr. Manning asked about the student who cusses out his teacher or slugs him (or her).

At 10:13PM Mrs. Agostini asked that the next meeting's Agenda including a cell phone tower update (for the public) and that the bond attorney attend to explain the addenda over which she had resigned as Board Secretary at the last meeting.

McKie moved right on to approval of the Agenda for May 28th without commenting on Mrs. Agostini's request. My guess? Neither item will be on the Agenda. Surprise me!

During the Board & Superintendent Comments segment just before the end of the meeting (just before 10:30PM) Mrs. Agostini referred to McKie's having failed to meet the April deadline for her (McKie's) Campaign  Disclosure Report. While Agostini was speaking, McKie was busy reading papers from a file folder and moving other papers, clearly ignoring Agostini. (That won't show up on the YouTube video, because the camera will be focused on Mrs. Agostini.)

McKie's closing comments could not be heard throughout the room, because she did not speak directly into her microphone and turned her head away from the microphone to look at other board members. She seemed to be perturbed by "attacks".

The truth hurts. Sometimes.

May 1st "vacation"

The board heard a presentation by a staff member on the May 1 fiasco. You know, the day the teachers went on strike and gathered at the State House to clamor for higher wages.

Of course, it wasn't called a "strike" or a "sick-out", but that's exactly what it was.

I had filed a FOIA request for the number of Personal Leave days that had been requested by Richland 2 teachers and employees. The District complied with my request by emailing me a copy of the staff presentation that was to be made last evening at the board meeting.

There are State rules that count the number of days of school closings "due to snow, extreme weather conditions, or other disruptions (S.C. Code of Laws §59-1-425 (HB 3890))."

I'll bet a legal opinion would be that a sick-out didn't qualify within that wording, but the question didn't arise last night.

You can hear the discussion on the YouTube recording.

The District found a fancy term for the sick-out and referred to it as "'All Out' for Education Advocacy."

Basically, it was a cop-out by the board. The board forgot that it is "Management" and the teachers are "Labor". What actually exists in Richland 2 is that the board ("Management") is also "Labor". When you go back to the April 23, 2019 meeting and listen to the comments of board members, you'll hear them supporting the teachers and their strike, rather than taking the position that the schools must operate and educate the students.

Now, how many teachers planned to bail on May 1st? As of April 30, 555 "reported absences" had been requested. According to the staff report "More expected to come in the night before and the morning of". I asked in my FOIA Request how many denials were issued; the District didn't respond with any number. I won't make a big deal out of it; I suspect the answer is Zero.

The staff report indicated "353 unfilled sub jobs".

This was a clear failure of the Administration, which should have anticipated the strike, in view of announcements by SCforED. The Administration (that's the Superintendent, with board backing (which never happened)) should have immediately announced that schools would remain open and that teachers, with the exception of up to, say, five(?) Personal Leave approvals, would be expected to show up on May 1, ready, willing and happy to fulfill their contractual obligation to teach.

The board quickly, and with a great sigh of relief, accepted the staff recommendation to approve "Option 1 - Waive the missed day from May 1 for students and employees."

Not one board member asked what the financial impact of that decision was.

Student Matters - 5/14/19

Once again the electronic voting system failed. That's the system with which board members cast their votes on student matters, such as transfers, and on Motions.

e-Voting should save time, not waste it. When the "question" (the student matter) is to be decided, all a board member has to do is touch a button on his or her official District-owned tablet. The buttons could be labeled as simply "Yes" and "No". How long should it take for the tally to be recorded and displayed on the screens in the room? One second? Two? Three?

But sixty seconds? Or never?

There were hand votes on some questions/issues (did the recording secretary record who voted each way?) and the voting result was announced. For the official record, just reflecting a 4-3 result will not be good enough.

Previously, I've written that all the votes by the Board since November 13, 2018 must be reviewed. The votes by McKie and Holmes must be disregarded. Why? Because they are not legally members of the School Board.

Later in the meeting the board voted on Board Policy revisions. When the board voted on revisions for two Board Policies, the result on one was 3-4 (Failed). However, when you remove the votes of McKie and Holmes, the vote becomes 3-2 (Pass).

And on the other policy, the vote was 4-3 (Pass), but that included Yes votes by McKie and Holmes. When those votes are disregarded, the correct vote was 3-2 (Pass).

While the board was discussing Policy GBEA, Conflict of Interest/Staff Ethics, I made a note "This is a damned three-ring circus." (Pardon my "French".) Round and round she goes; where she stops, nobody knows.Was it a merry-go-round or a Roulette wheel? Or maybe a shell game? Dr. Elkins-Johnson and Ms. Holmes had excellent points and questions why the proposed policy was to keep good potential employees (such as a daughter of a current employee) from being employed in the District.

The board ended up voting on a verbal amendment to the revision. That was so wrong! The amendment should have been stated and then written down by the recording secretary. Then the written amendment should have been voted on. Otherwise, could they have voted on an incorrect wording of a complicated amendment?

Public Participation - 5/14/19

At approximately 7:15PM the meeting reached the first Public Participation segment. Two speakers were signed up.

I had prepared three different themes for last night's meeting. I had all three typed up and ready to go. Before I arrived, though, I decided that I would sit out this meeting. In other words, I would not speak. It turned out to be the right choice.

At (34:44 (on the YouTube video)) Trustee Agostini indicated she wished to speak, but McKie cut off her. Then McKie launched into a long diatribe about the Board Policy (and how the public was to behave in her presence). It was difficult to hear her entire statement, because she doesn't speak into the microphone so that her voice would be amplified in the meeting room. Wait for the YouTube recording; you can hear her statement.

Be sure to sit up straight, when you hear her admonitions. Don't dare reach for the chips or popcorn. And don't even think about speaking to anyone or answering the phone, while she lectures the audience. I did hear the words "personal gain and insult". I can't wait to hear the whole speech. I remembered thinking, "Well, what can a person speak about???"

Only then was Mrs.Agostini given permission to add her comments about the public participation segment.

The first speaker began his allotted three minutes and used it well. Although I was sitting two chairs away from him, it was difficult to hear everything he said, because the microphone on the podium only amplifies within the room if a speaker stands with his mouth close to the microphone and speaks directly into it. You can hear his remarks on the YouTube video. I did hear the part where he lambasted the board for a lack of transparency.

The second speaker apparently decided not to speak. Perhaps that person was cowering in his or her seat after hearing McKie's remarks.

After the first speaker sat down, I looked over at him frequently during the rest of the meeting. If he had left early, I intended to slip out to introduce myself and thank him for his remarks.

As it happened, he stuck it out to the end of the meeting, about 10:30PM. As soon as the meeting adjourned, I stepped over to thank him in person.

A new record?

Did the Richland 2 school board establish a new record last night?

The public meeting was scheduled to start at 5:00PM, and I had initially considered attending. Then I figured that the most of the Board couldn't care less what I had to say, so I skipped it.

A one-hour Executive Session was scheduled for 5:30PM. It must have been held, because there wasn't a board member in sight at 6:25PM. Exactly at 6:30PM Mrs. Libby Roof politely announced to the audience that the Executive Session was running a little behind. At 6:32PM the board began arriving in the public meeting room, and at 6:35PM the meeting began. Although you might not know it, since Amelia McKie was speaking so softly into her microphone.

[The meeting ran to just before 10:30PM!!!]

The meeting kicked off with an Inspiration Moment. Somebody should define "Moment" for Amelia McKie, the pretend Chair of the Board, and tell her how long a Moment is and should be at the beginning of a meeting. How about one minute? Max of two minutes? Not five-six minutes, especially when the speaker cannot be heard.

Who fails to tell a speaker to speak INTO the microphone and to get his mouth close enough that his voice will be amplified in the room? Maybe the same people who fail to tell many of the board members the same thing.

(23:26) The School Focus was on the W.R. Rogers Center. I couldn't hear the name of the speaker (thanks, Amelia; SPEAK UP!), but I think he was Bobby Cunningham. He was the best presenter of the evening! He spoke loudly, clearly, firmly and without notes. It was crystal clear that he believed in his students and his Center. Students are lucky to be under his direction. Be sure to watch his presentation, when this week's meeting is posted to YouTube!

You can find it by dragging the counter forward. This article will be edited after the meeting video-recording is put up  on YouTube, and the time-counter reading will be added. For the time-being, you can find it following the Pledge of Allegiance. Watch for Principal Cunningham at the podium.

Frankly, it's embarrassing to look at the W.R. Rogers Center's webpage on the Richland 2 website. It appears the District considers the Center its stepchild. This Center deserves a much greater presence on the District's website!

Then it was time for Public Participation. Reporting on this meeting continues in a separate article.