Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Thank you for speaking into the microphones

A big shout-out to Supt. Baron Davis for speaking into his microphone at the Special Called Board Meeting last night. Thank you. You could be heard and understand in the meeting room.

Teresa Holmes also spoke into her microphone. Thank you!

Now, a word to the other board members. Do you know that, when you sit back from your microphone and/or do not speak directly into it, your voice is not amplified in the room? Yes, it is picked up for the recording that is later broadcast on YouTube, but your soft voices cannot be heard by all who are actually seated before you in the room.

It was very difficult to hear Dr. Elkins-Johnson, Mrs. Agostini and Mr. Shadd. Board Secretary Caution-Parker didn't utter a peep during the portion of the meeting I attended.

Perhaps a short training class for the board would be helpful. The District's sound man could conduct it and coach the board members on where to place the microphone when they are speaking. Let them practice moving the microphone to about 6" from their mouth and then speaking into it. If they need lessons in elocution, provide them. A teacher (with tenure) from the speech department could coach them on breathing and voice projection. In other words, stop mumbling, Raise your head and speak into the microphone.

Little of what was said at the podium by the two staff members who presented the report on the Conference Center use could not be heard. And much of what was presented about the Meal Debt could not be heard. Dr. Elkins and Mrs. Agostini asked many questions about the process for collection. After the board comments and questions went on and on, the Board Chair interrupted with a request to halt the discussion and move on to other business.

While it is the board's prerogative to ask questions, the responsibility for Meal Debt management and collection is on the Superintendent's desk, and Supt. Davis correctly said so. The board members should be careful not to appear to be micro-managing the collection process. I felt that many of the good comments about the process should have been directed to the superintendent, not to the staffers.

I left at 7:49PM, when the board began wading through the many policy revisions on the agenda. I guess it's always possible that they set a record by moving swiftly through the revisions on the Agenda.

Special Called Meeting - waste and disrespect

Last night the Richland 2 School Board held a Special Called Board Meeting. The scheduled starting time was 5:30PM, and the Agenda showed that the Board would immediately go into Executive (closed) Session. And that's what they did.

But first a word about the room set-up. Apparently the board expected little or no turn-out from an audience, and they had the "wagons circled", effectively shutting out the public. The tables were set up in a U-shape, with the board and superintendent at the top and staff seated along both sides. And a podium set up at the open end of the U.

At 5:30PM a row of chairs was lined up along one wall. Along the other wall? Enough food to feed a lot of people. The district apparently treats the board to dinner, in exchange for showing up at a Special Called Meeting. A few of the board members helped themselves to food before leaving the room for the Executive Session. At least some of the food may have been catered by McCallister's.

There were about 20 District 200 staff members in attendance at 5:30PM. Few of them ate, and they all cooled their heels until the board finally returned about 6:43PM. Assuming these staff members are paid over-time or receive compensatory time-off for this after-hours duty, their waiting time is totally wasted, just waiting for the board to return.

Staffers should be asked to show up by the time when they are actually needed. This is certainly no sooner than the beginning of the public (open) session after the Executive Session; it could even be 10-30 minutes after the open session begins, because other agenda items precede staff reports.

The meeting agenda is created by the Board Chair and the Superintendent. Did they just overlook establishing the starting time of the open session? Did they expect that the main item in the Executive Session (pertaining to the superintendent) might take only 5-10 minutes?

The Board demonstrated great disrespect for the public and for the staffers who had nothing to do for an hour and ten minutes.

Just before the open session began, additional chairs were set up at the back of the room, and shortly about eight teachers showed up. They got the premier seating, where they might have had a better chance of hearing what was said during the meeting. When the open session began, there was no mention of any Executive Sessions items needing a vote.

A noteworthy item missing from the Special Called Meeting was the Pledge of Allegiance. Why is a Special-Called Meeting different from a Regular Meeting? It should be in every way just the same as a Regular Meeting, as the Board is the official governing body of the District, including a Public Participation segment.

And a regular feature of a Special Called Meeting seems to be food. Maybe the district should allow anyone present to partake of the refreshments. It appeared that a good amount of the food was going to left over. What would happen if the public just walked over and helped themselves to the left-over food?

Better yet, why is the food set up in the public meeting room or served at all? Board members are paid well for attending meetings. They could eat before arriving.

Meal Plan Debt - Part II

After hearing most of the discussion regarding the Meal Plan Debt at last night's Special Called Board Meeting, I may have figured out the answer to one of my questions about the amount of the debt. That question is the amount owed by families, when the balance is less than $100.

The Meal Plan Debt is almost $242,000. The Update indicates that the district is trying to collect $218,000 from full-pay families, not from families of students on free or reduced-price lunch plans.

Number of letters sent to full-pay families: 939
Number of letters returned:                            93  (10%)
Numbers of letters presumed delivered:       826

Debit of full-pay families owing $100 or more:       $218,000
Average debt/family:                                                $       232.16 ($218000/939)

Total Meal Plan Debt:                          $242,000
Full-pay families ($100 or more)         $218,000
Full-pay families (Less than $100):     $  26,000*

* Collection attempt is limited to phone calls and email, not threatening letters

197 families have coughed up $9, 137 so far. That's a paltry average of $46.38 per payment.

If 197 families had paid just the minimum amount of $100 targeted for collection, then the district would have received $19,700.

The Update indicated that 742 accounts remain targeted for collection. That number is 197 (the number of payments received) less than the 939 total accounts.

Will the district attempt to collect the balance on account for which only a partial payment was received?

If you would like to view the presentation to the board on the Meal Plan Debt and the discussion, see the YouTube recording for the August 6, 2019 Special Called Board Meeting. Pull the counter forward to 31:20 and hang on!

I missed this from Chief Financial Officer Dr. Miley's word in the meeting, when he said (about parents of full-pay students), "Some of them owe more than $1,500."

The entire discussion was very good and should be viewed by every parent. If you have comments, please post them below and inform your board member.