Saturday, August 25, 2007

Extreme Self-Esteem

Let joy reign unconfined! In a Tuesday meeting the SAISD Board has determined they are doing a fine job. In a four hour meeting moderated by Kay Douglas of the Texas Association of School Boards, the Board rated itself "excellent" on 45 of 60 questions. I do note that the 19 page list of guidelines and questions used in this self-evaluation, available on SAISD's website, states that well-functioning boards typically have meetings lasting no more than two hours. It's been a while since SAISD had one of those. I was unable to attend either Monday's or Tuesday's meetings and I find nothing on the website specifying how each Board member rated his/herself or others. Also worth noting, this celebration of self-esteem came one day after Board suffered a technical glitch in which most of Monday's meeting was recorded over, apparantly leaving the re-broadcast record unretrievable. Not to worry, nothing important was missed, just discussion of upcoming tax rates, status of capitol improvements, you know, usual trivia.

I noticed a distinct lack of agreement from the comment writers at the Standard-Times online site, but those are likely the same barbarians who recently handed SAISD its very first bond defeat by a huge electoral margin. I cannot help but think of the annual polls which show American public high school students have the highest self-esteem in the world while performing at the bottom of the industrialized nations in actual accomplishment. While one hates to pile on, I would be negligent in my duty if I did not at least lightly beat on this deceased equine.

One of the many issues that doomed the last bond was maintenance. A package of $500,000 in Central improvements stalled out in a sqabble about contracting methods until it was too late to get those items done over the summer break. Blame for this goes at least partly to staff, which should have put this to the Board earlier, knowing the Board's aversion to making final decisions on much of anything. Still, it would have been a good start, and an industrious Board would have found a way to make it happen. I may have had a bit of fun at Mr. Van Hoozer's expense over athletic costs for the new Central in the bond proposal, but on this, I was on his side. It was a reasonable package, would have served to demonstrate some dedication to fixing some of the problems that sank the bond. His frustration was clear at the June meeting. He was reminding Board of the window of opportunity time limits and he was asked, "Are you saying we have to do this tonight?" Van Hoozer replied, "Well, you don't have to do anything.", and that was precisely what Board decided to do, nothing.

To be fair, Board has decided to give Maintenance Director Jim Elson some new positions. Not quite making up for the 2000 reduction-in-force, but a step in the right direction. There is also a new Forward Maintenance Crew, sort of a roving trouble-shooting crew. They are directed to light work, it is specified they do not do renovations or changing out "major system components". Preventive maintenance is listed as this crew's first benefit, but by all accounts, they will be plenty busy stomping out brushfires, it is likely going to be some time before they can catch up to what a reasonable person would call preventive maintenance.

About the only decision Board showed no hesitation about was the sale of the Travis property, over what I saw as reasonable objections from new member Coookie Roberts. As Roberts pointed out, for the money involved, we should retain the property at least until a new bond proposal is nailed down and passed, it would give us a useable option to either current Crockett site or the "Albert" property, the latter being another key nail in the coffin of the last bond. For the money involved, about a quarter million, we surrendered an option we cannot easily replace.

With every other meeting being a "pre-agenda" meeting as I characterized in my last SAISD missive, Board is down to one effective meeting a month, and not doing terribly well on efficiency there. As I hypothesized in e-mails to staff last week, I can envision this Board on being told the building they were meeting in was on fire, taking leisurely comments around the table, then deferring until a later meeting a final decision on evacuation routes.

When we formed the STEER group in opposition to the last bond, we stated clearly we believed SAISD needed money and lots of it. We did not object to the amount of spending, but its direction. After the bond went down, we provided Board with a three page item we found, "How to Get Your Bond Passed". It stressed polling, surveys, and building a network of support amongst community leaders, nothing beyond common sense. None of this was done last time, and beyond Superintendent Bonds' online survey and her "Wall" of comments, none has been done since.

There is no realistic chance of passing a bond this November. The real deadline is Sept. 5, last day to place a measure on the Nov. ballot and Board has one meeting left before that. Now two possibilities come to mind. The next meeting has on the agenda receiving the report from whatever is left of the Facilities Task Force, and a final decision on tax rates for next year. If Board tries to put a new Task Force proposal on ballot with no groundwork laid in, STEER won't have to do anything but watch it predictably crater. If Board chooses to pay for a $50 million package of Central improvements by setting a tax rate of $1.37, or any number above the allowable $1.11, that will trigger an automatic recall election. That would be seen as a back-door mini-bond and will just as predictably die.

Board needs to get in gear, do some real polling, not the push-poll that so poorly informed them last time, come up with a detailed plan for improvements, and do it all in time for the May elections. This should have been priority one from the day after the last bond failed. I would love to be part of the team pushing for a good, well-thought out bond that will serve our needs for the forseeable future. Sad to say, the betting line on that is looking worse as time passes.

The four hours spent patting themselves on the back Tuesday was a huge waste of valuable time. This Board should be feeling kinship with the Baltimore Orioles' dressing room the night the Rangers set a modern baseball record, winning 30 to 3.


  1. Interesting exercise in group think. Might want to wander over to the schools agenda page and look at the self evaluation book. See how you would rate them.

  2. Lets try that again with a permanent link to a copy on The Self Evaluation Book.

  3. Advice to the readers: I got peeved at the local cable and went Dish, so I have to depend on tapes of the cable re-broadcast for meetings I miss. The news article telling of the over-dub of Monday's meeting promised that a transcript of the meeting would be made available. If it is on the website, I somehow missed it. That will be requested, I will let you know how that goes.

    Meantime, I have discovered the tapes I watch have an advantage. While I cannot make public comment, if I am watching the tape at home, a couple of cold beers make the four to six hour process much more tolerable. Additionally, if someone says something particularly obtuse, I am free to holler "dummy" or something similar without being escorted from the meeting. Add a bucket of nerf balls to fling at the TV when invective fails, one can have a neearly pleasurable time of it.

    One presumes the four hour group hug of Tuesday is available in its entirety, if not the somewhat more substantive Monday exercise. Better buy more nerf balls.

  4. san_angelo_ex_pat4:53 PM, August 25, 2007

    "...four hour group hug..."?

    I just hope it wasn't like some of the collective hot tub "meetings" I participated in during my less inhibited (and more physically fit) days.

    The horror, the horror.

    I do find the whole "I'm okay, you're okay" thing entertaining.

  5. It's more of an "I'm ok, your ok, so why don't they like or trust us?"

    Take a look at the self evaluation book. I'm surprised they only scored themselves 45 out of 60 as excellent. The bulk of the questions are on relationships and how civil the board is when working with themselves and staff. There are precious few questions in there about being effective and getting things done.

    I wish I could have been there to see, but the report in the paper shows that we have a board that wants to congratulate themselves on how well they play together, but still doesn't understand why they couldn't get a bond passed.

  6. Instead of a "pat us on the back" meeting how about getting the school board members and bigshots from the Admin Staff to put on their work clothes and see how much of the menial maintence they can get done on the schools after all can they not discuss the upcomming adgendes while painting over graffiti and chopping weeds Etc? This type of activity might give them an insight as to what the district really needs as well as saving a bit of money on maintence.