Sunday, May 13, 2007

Open Letter to SAISD

Bond election results are in, not much to be said there. Board President Layman, S-T Sunday; “maybe we are not in step with the community and we need to find out what objections they had”. Good start, now let's see if you mean it.

STEER belatedly formed an S-PAC, hard to say how much impact we had. In retrospect, given the actual margin, our effort might have been so much flatulence in a hurricane. This issue was obviously the driver in the high turnout and the lopsided defeat. We like to think our networking and few ads might have padded the margin, but in all honesty, we could have caught up on our reading and ignored the issue, this bond was doomed from the start.

STEER agreed fundamentally that SAISD needs money, lots of it, for renovation, repair, some new construction. We might hope to shave a bit of money here and there, but that was never our primary issue. Obviously, another bond will be coming, we genuinely hope it will be one we can support. On that line, I offer some advice. If you recall my comment walking away from the podium at the ethics training session, “I'm cheaper than they (Huckabee) are”.

Trust: The Board has made this a two-edged sword and managed to find itself on the wrong side of both edges. The public obviously does not trust you, but more importantly, you obviously do not trust the voters. The decision to edit the cablecast version of the March 26 meeting was possibly illegal, definitely contrary to the spirit of 551.022 Government Code. Nothing in law requires a video record, but if you make one, it becomes “public record” and is not to be tampered with. When Terry Bader failed to get a second to look into the matter, then resigned to make it a newsworthy matter, the Board made the classic mistake of making the “cover-up” a bigger issue than the original bad call. When the Board alienated the Task Force in the Crockett decision, it lost that cloak of “public input”. To be honest, Bader, Paschal, and Barbour probably killed this bond before STEER spent a dime on ads. Using the same company with which we contract for new school architecture to do an evaluation of existing facilities creates an unavoidable $8 million conflict of interest. I make no allegation of wrongful conduct against Huckabee, SAISD hired them, but that evaluation should have been done by a company at some remove from fiscal benefit. At the March 3 meeting during the Crockett debate, the new location for Crockett was referred to several times as “the Albert property”, a term never again used in public. There is an abiding suspicion that that decision had been made in advance of the Task Force's recommendations to take an inconvenient property off Jack Albert's hands. If you can put that issue away, please do, many voters believe it.

Community: Schools are more than interchangeable cogs in an educational machine and here dollars and cents need not be the primary concern. Especially at the elementary level, schools are an integral part of the their community. A local school encourages parent involvement, something we all agree is already too low. As I write, precinct breakdowns are not yet available, but I doubt you got many votes from the Holiman precincts. Holiman may have a small student count, but it is growing and many of the home buyers in Paulann bought there because of the walking distance school. Closing Holiman puts nails in the coffin of one of the only bright spots in northeast Angelo's economy. Ditto the above for the Crockett precincts. See below on attendance lines.

Maintenance: Here we start at the top management, the people who in 2001 RIF'ed the department by 50 %, with predictably bad results. The Central tour was a damning indictment of whatever passes for maintenance and included items which had to be glaringly apparent even before that reduction in force. Time and again we were shown the sort of problems homeowners deal with without calling in the bulldozers, but which had obviously been ignored for years. Green plumbing, flaked paint and rust, uneven sidewalks, etc. these things do not happen overnight. Matters not if the problem here was budgetary or management, I am telling you, the most outspoken tourist in my tour group in favor of the bond during Van Hoozer's tour in a parking lot post-tour discussion told us he inclined to vote “no” just to get your attention on maintenance.

Open Process: This goes beyond the issues I mentioned in the trust section. Board continues to treat “workshops” as less than fully public sessions. By law, if four of you meet at a steakhouse, it is a quorum and you best have an official recorder along and publish a 72 hour advance notice of the dinner. There is a widely held belief that options available were never seriously considered due to an axiomatic decision by the Board that any long range plan had to result in a single 5A football team. All options have to be on the table when we are discussing 9 figure bonds, especially when this is the first of three bonds proposed long term. Angelo's growth is lopsided toward southwest, why does the Board hold that attendance zones should be carved in stone? Well, except when changes are convenient as in Holiman, Bradford, and San Jacinto. Then the same Board treats actual bricks and mortar buildings as disposable. Suggestions have been gaining support for either equalizing Lakeview and Central or moving to three 4A high schools with a new facility out where the people are actually moving in, but these ideas seem to get short shrift in long term planning. The SAISD response that 4A schools could not offer the curriculum available in a 5A school is irrelevant in a district of our size. If each 4A school specialized in a magnet school way we could allow high school students to attend the school best suited to their career plans and offer possibly more courses, district wide, than a single 5A school.

Unifying SAISD: When I wrote a column in S-T supporting the '96 bond, one thing I deeply hoped for was that it might heal the treatment of the Lakeview area as a “red-headed step-child”, particularly by placing Lamar on the same proposition with the new Lincoln. Then comes the Lakeview fire, and Board's decision to take $2 million of that insurance money and spend it elsewhere. Now the new Central, far closer to Bobcat stadium than Lakeview, and you propose to spend as much on athletic facilities there as was spent on all of Lakeview rebuilding to prevent travel by Central students. BTW, my $15 million estimate on Central athletics was my guess. Two direct questions asking for that figure were answered by claiming “it is difficult to separate athletics from academics”, a response that gets hoots of laughter from anyone I've shown it to. Jeff Bright finally allowed I might be a little high, but in the right range. Lakeview was two generations ago, are we ever going to treat the adopted child as a full family member?


  1. Outstanding open letter Jim. You accurately expressed the publics perception and sentiment. I now hope those in leadership will listen.

  2. I would hope that the leadership is finally willing to listen but I don't think that they will. They will try changing some language in the next bond and "trick" the voters into approving this one. I'm mad that Lakeview wasn't rebuilt to accept more students when they had the chance. I've complained for years about maintenance issues at central and have been given a pat on the head. I see maintenance people parked under trees snoozing in thier trucks in the afternoon almost everyday. Or they are parked at thier houses. The blame for the poor to nonexistant maintenance over the years rest completely on the administration and the supervisors. The superintendant can say all she wants about being new and just coming into these problems but what about the others at the admin who have been here for years. They are the ones we should all blame. We can't keep throwing money at problems, we need to start with new people able to handle the job.