Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Indecision As Art Form

I deeply regret I was unable to attend last Thursday's School Board meeting. Bearing in mind that Board trustees are unpaid, they seem to be dedicated to proving the old saying, “You get what you pay for.”

In particular, there was a list of summer projects to get done at Central presented by Asst. Superintendent Jeff Bright. It caught my eye because after the defeat of the bond, I had, in an online reply to a gosanangelo article, suggested nearly the exact list of obviously needed, and very doable tasks at Central as a possible demonstration that someone in SAISD understands the word “maintenance”. No rocket science here, things like fix some broken plumbing, chip rust and repaint, take care of a few ADA access problems. Basically the sort of projects Hi from the comics might find in Lois' Job Jar.

In truth, every project on the list should have been taken care of years ago. As has been mentioned here and elsewhere by many others, the fact that SAISD has been so poor a custodian of that which we have already bought them helped many voters decide not to give them another gob of money until we had some assurance they could take better care of the toys they already have. In truth, Bright's list of jobs should have been given a unanimous “go” the first meeting after the bond went down. By last meeting it really should have been a no-brainer, and instead it failed 6- 1. There was doubt expressed that local contractors might not have been given a fair shot, or there was not enough time to complete all the jobs by school opening. By putting off the possible start date until late July, Board has guaranteed the latter concern.

Quibbles, details, draffsack and havers! This was one time the need to get something done and possibly convince some voters that maintenance matters outweighed the ever-so-cautious dotting of “i's”. By failing to gather their collective courage and make so basic a decision, the Board has in essence made a decision, a decision to accomplish nothing this summer. That seems to be the thing they do best, that is dither until it is too late, then do the wrong thing for no better reason than an unavoidable deadline. The bond itself was a prime example, not until the final meeting before the legal deadline did Board approve placing the bond on the ballot, then publicly drove a stake through it by spending two hours wrangling over the Crockett site and alienating their own task force. Considering I have been told Board had really wanted the bond on the Nov. '06 ballot, that's not exactly warp speed.

Shortly after the May defeat of the bond I met with Superintendent Bonds. I came away well impressed, in fact she made the point that maintenance was high on her list of priorities. Dr. Bonds is not free to do anything she desires, by design, she is charged with implementing policy passed by the Board. So long as the Board insists on punting the ball on first down, Dr. Bonds' options are somewhat limited.

I cannot read minds, I do not know whether Board thinks some electoral miracle will pass the bond we recently thumped come November. Matters not, even if they are that delusional, under any circumstances the Central campus will be in use for several years to come if nothing else serving during new construction. The $500,000 in overdue projects would have directly improved the campus for student and teacher alike. Looking back at the last couple meetings the word “postponed” comes up on more agenda items than not. If this is the best this lot can do, we the voters need to start thinking of new faces to put in those seats.


  1. i was in angelo last week and happened to be on the central campus. now, granted, i graduated over 20 years ago, but i was shocked at the condition. there was some painting and minor repairs being made, but i couldn't help wonder about the details that i couldn't see. the actual bones of the joint.

    i hope those in charge actually take charge and get this mess straightened out, but by the looks of things on the surface i wouldn't hold my breath.

  2. I am certain that nothing could possibly be more risky (others might say stupid) than challenging one of the primary contributors of this blog site. I am also certain that other bloggers and even Mr. Ryan himself will be quick to defend his position. Therefore I enter this site with extreme caution but with hopes that additional facts concerning a recent board vote (referenced by Mr. Ryan as indecision) by the San Angelo Independent School District's Board of Trustees will at least cause visitors to this site to pause and think or even ask questions before questioning either the response or the resolve of our board.

    Let me first of all explain our meeting process. Over the past year to year and a half, our board has developed a two-meeting a month format. The 1st meeting (referred to as our "pre-agenda" meeting) allows our administrative team the time to present items that will be a part of our regular meeting agenda. During our "pre-agenda" meetings, board members are able to 1) ask questions regarding an upcoming agenda item, 2) express individual concerns that a particular board member might have regarding that item, 3) instruct members of our staff to provide additional information that might help clarify the information still needed in order for the board to support staff's recommendations, 4) request items that they - board members wish to have placed on our regular board agenda. This meeting format has allowed our board and our staff to work in "lock-step" as we together address the needs of the 14,000 students of our district. I might mention as an example the recent approval of a new (and I might add significantly improved) Student Code of Conduct. Board approval of our new Code of Conduct occurred at the same meeting referenced in Mr. Ryan's posting (June 28th). Board approval of this revised code is proof positive that this new meeting format is worth the time and effort that our staff and board have dedicated in following these new meeting procedures.

    For some reason, even though repairs and maintenance projects specific to the Central High School Campus have been consistently discussed since the failure of our bond in May, our administrative team did not follow the procedures outlined above. No board member had any knowledge of this item being on our regular meeting agenda prior to June 25th. This item was not discussed (as outlined above) in our pre-agenda workshop.

    I know, I know, I can hear Mr. Ryans comments about "quibbles, details, draffsack and havers" ringing in my ear. But perhaps Mr. Ryan might also remember quotes like "the devil is in the details," or "men who love wisdom should acquint themselves with a great many particulars." (Heraclitus - 500B.C.) So let me at least try to explain the agenda item that seems to have gotten Mr. Ryan's "dandruff up." The agenda item allowed our distict (by job order contract) to complete the following maintenance projects on Central High School Campus 1) Exterior painting, 2) Hanging of Video projectors in classrooms, 3) the power washing of brick walls on campus, 4) replacement of doors, 5) asbestos abatemment and new flooring in a number of buildings, and 6) professional cleaning of masonry and other areas in our bathrooms and showers, primarily in the athletic buildings at Central. (Lou Grehig Hall) The total estimated costs for these projects is $557,545.00

    Perhaps Mr. Ryan is a little "
    self-promoting" in mentioning how close this list actually resembles one that he suggested following the failure of our bond package back in May. No matter! I think he has every right to his opinions and welcome his remarks whether they be offered at one of our board meetings that he has occasionally attended or through other avenues of discourse such as this website or others like gosanangelo.com.

    While I can not speak for the entire board, I will give you the reasons why I voted to postpone further action on this item until our July meeting. 1) the item was not presented for discussion and review at our pre-agenda meeting, 2) "Job Order Contracting" is not a construction method that I prefer, nor one that many in our construction community support, 3) a need to rush to get these things completed does not necessarily mean that we will complete these items before the start of school or that we can not work on these projects during the fall. In fact I would contend that only about half (perhaps even less) of the work outlined above would not have been completed prior to the start of school in late August and I would further contend that the start of school should not/can not mean the end of any such projects until next summer, 4) I believe that some of these jobs are the responsibility of our custodial and/or our maintenance teams and that therefore they should not be included on this list of projects, 5) our staff was also unable at this time to answer questions concerning who would oversee this work to completion. I am sure that other board members might outline further reservations. Regardless, the fact that this item was delayed until our July meeting does nothing to indicate that our board will not approve work on at least a number of these projects as early as our July meeting. Therefore the deadlines that Mr. Ryan referenced, at least in this board member's mind are actually only timeframes - not deadlines! As I stated above, whether we approve all or just a portion of these projects in June, July or even August should not be falsely preceived as an unwillingness on the board's part to complete these projects at Central High School.

    I apologize for my long-winded response. I fear that I may have lost some of you. However, I feel that I also must additionally respond to something that has become an almost constant "rallying cry" from Mr. Ryan. He continuously mentions maintenance and this board's unwillingness to address projects that in his words are "in Lois' job Jar." He and others might be well served to listen to the taped replay of our meeting on June 28th in order to hear an on-going project update as presented by Mr. Steve Van Hoozer. In his report, Mr. Van Hoozer updates our board on the status of on-going construction projects throughout the district. Included in his report are 10 current maintenance/construction projects totally millions of dollars and emcompassing work on almost 1/2 of our district's campuses. Mr. Van Hoozer's report also references work recently completed on our athletic fields at all our secondary campuses as well as improvements made to San Angelo Stadium. All of these projects are "separate and apart" from budget allocations regularly provided in the district's maintenance budget.

    Mr. Ryan mentions and I quote, "the fact that SAISD has been so poor a custodian of that which we have already bought them helped many voters decide not to give them another gob of money until we had some assurance they could take better care of the toys they already have." What a bunch of googly-gob! The truth is that since I have had the honor of serving this district as a trustee, (beginning in 2002)our district has spent well over $20 million dollars above and beyond our regularly budgeted maintenance in an effort to maintain and improve numerous district assets. These projects have improved the educational environment and the safety of our students - these projects have touched almost every campus. As a board, we have done all of this while initially facing financial exigency (a fancy term for bankruptcy) as a result of poor administrative team leadership and non-existent board oversight in the mid to late 90's! We have done this while maintaining the full 20% homestead exemption for our taxpayers. (A tax advantage that fewer than 25% of the school districts in the state still enjoy.) Finally we have done this with limited bonded indebtedness. The revenue generated by our interest and sinking fund (i.e., bond revenue) is less than 7 cents per $100.00 of the district's appraised property values or less than 1/2 the state average of 17 cents per $100.00 of evaluation.

    Be assured that our board is fully aware that we have much to do in the weeks, months and years ahead. I welcome the challenges as I approach the final 9 months of my 2nd term of service on this board. I am proud of our current board and would welcome any further discussion. You can reach me at my office (325.655.5131) or at my e-mail address atllayman@standardsales.com

    Finally, I applaud Mr. Ryan for his involvement and hope that because of his interest and his "no prisoners taken" approach to debating the issues that others will be inclined to challenge for board positions in the future. I thank Mr. Ryan for his comments about his "inability to read minds." I hope my posting provides needed insight on the reasons for our board's actions this past Thursday. What we as a community and as a board are hoping to accomplish is far more important than just broken plumbing, rusted I-beams or chipped paint and the greater interest we spur within our community the greater chance we have for ultimate success.

    Lanny Layman - SAISD Board Trustee.

  3. Thanks, Mr. Layman, for taking the time to comment here. Your comments are most welcome. It is very useful to have to have your perspective and reasoning. Your detailed (long winded ?) explanation of the boards process, and why the contract decision was delayed help clarify a situation that was not clear to many people.

    I hope you found the risk worth the efforts. I think your post was most helpful and appropriate. Even if some of us might disagree with your, your comments are always welcome. Please post again.

  4. Mr. Layman, thank you for your response. While I do not agree with all of it, you correctly called me on at least a couple of issues.

    For starters, I am of two minds on the "pre-agenda" concept, I understand the aim of it, but it effectively reduces Board to one meeting a month.

    Second, I should have saved some ammo for staff. Like it or not, the pre-agenda format has been in place for some time, and staff should have been better prepared in presentation. Looking at the way this item was dumped on Board without usual notice, it would seem that the flip side of my opener is also true, one doesn't always get what one pays for.

    I may have been mistaken in my concept of the visitors' dressing room repairs suggested, I thought the project was to tear down the center wall wih the non-functional showerheads and rebuild, possibly with access to plumbing in the new design. My "back-of-the-envelope" estimate on that job was two weekends or five, maybe six solid days.

    Job Order Contracting is not my favorite either, when I made my "self promoting" proposal, I had in mind open bidding. If the result can be obtained by this, go for it, but start it.

    As to length of your response, fret not. My Blogmeister Mr. Turner invariably advises me to conciseness, and I invariably fall short of his editorial goal. For my part, I prefer a thorough, if "windy" presentation to one which fails to make essential points.

    Suffice it to say, we welcome your comment, I stand corrected on some points in it, and we hope you will feel welcome in this format.

    One on which I differ; "Googly-gob": I understand the budgetary restraints. I know Maintenance staff was cut 50% in-house prior to your tenure, but right or wrong as to blame, maintenance was a huge component of the defeat of the recent bond. That is political reality, not "googly-gob".

    Your response brings to mind an item Board might consider. Instead of making a Pre-agenda meeting, make each meeting a combination, reserve part of each regular meeting for next agenda. That would assure voters everything to be discussed is discussed publicly, and still permit items to move with a bit more alacrity.

    I do apologize for my "occasional" appearance at meetings. My "dandruff raised" (dander, perhaps?) referred to is cement dust from 12 hour days during the week. I do try to follow online the proceedings when I am unable to attend physically.

    Sufficient unto the day, your comment has given me cause to reflect, redirect, and give credit where it is due. I thank you for taking the time, and please feel free to comment or post on this Blog.

  5. The school board needs to visit schools especially Central without administers. Look around, see whats really going on especially as far as discipline is concerned. Then talk to the students, talk to the teachers and parents. Get in touch with the community. Be prudent with our our money. Have the students help maintain the schools, especially children with discipline problems. This will give them real school pride, teach them responsibility and give them a sense of what real work is. Maybe the school board could also pitch in.