"But if it is believed that these elementary schools will be better managed by...any other general authority of the government, than by the parents within each ward [district], it is a belief against all experience." --Thomas Jefferson

Thursday, October 24, 2013

What I'm Supposed to Say and What I'm Not Supposed to Say

What I'm Supposed to Say

On Oct. 8, the Will of the Board supported approving approximately 80 clubs in our Senior High Schools.  Each of the clubs had followed the rules outlined in our board policy.  The board policy on clubs was reviewed just this year (not by the full board, but by a committee).  Our job, as board members, is to make sure our policy is complied with.  The Board approved all the clubs.  It is not rubber-stamping to approve the paperwork of all clubs that complied with our policy. 

I can appreciate that you might have some concerns about some of the clubs or else the process, but the board has a policy, and it was followed.  The Will of the Board is that we go forward and we support these clubs and the decision of the Will of the Board.

How did I vote?  What's important is the Will of the Board has been made known.  We had vigorous discussions and then a vote was taken.  Now is the time to be supportive of the direction the Board has taken.  If we were to have well-known differences of opinion on issues, then we would not be a support to our district, and our employees would not be directed properly knowing there might be some differences of opinion.  As such, highly-effective boards debate and discuss, and then go forward in full support of the Will of the Board.

That is what I'm supposed to tell you.  That is what I have been trained and lectured to tell you. That is the acceptable thing to say.  And I should not elaborate further.  I certainly shouldn't put what I'm about to write on a blog or a facebook post.  If you felt the need to know more, you could check out the audio and the minutes of the past board meetings, if you knew they existed and where to find them.

What I'm NOT Supposed to Say

I voted against the clubs.  You may agree; you may disagree.  But, now you know.  I have lots of reasons why.  So, rather than tell you how we all need to support the Will of the Board, I will let you know what my main concern is: lack of representation. 

Most people believe their elected officials are elected to represent them.  Most people think that 'board approval' implies the board members looked at individual clubs and applications and thought, "Gee, that's a good idea.  Let's do that!"  That's what approval means.  Most people think there will be disagreements on a board, and that a majority will win.  As a result, the minority will lose.  But, to be transparent, even the Supreme Court issues majority and minority opinions.  Our Board is not supposed to do that. 

The reality is "board approval" means we rubber-stamped the paperwork required by our policy.  The students and faculty sponsor(s) jumped through the appropriate hoops, and we "approved" their hoop-jumping.  Our approval was not based on merit, debate, or community values.  Our approval was a foregone conclusion, a mere formality. 

I believe the Board is elected to represent you, the taxpayers of this community.  I also don't see a single, homogenous group of people with unified beliefs on every issue.  As such, you are better represented by a diversity of opinions, ideas, and issues.  It is assumed that anything voted on by the board requires community/public approval.  We are approving on your behalf.  If we just rubber-stamp, we only pretend there is "taxpayer" approval. 

As parents, you need to be aware that just because a club is "approved" for the school, you should not lower your guard on any level.  Please understand, the board has no role in vetting or whittling down applicants.  It doesn't matter if the reason is the threat of a lawsuit, questionable charter activities, or anything else.  If the board doesn't have the option to vett anything, we should not be voting on it, period. 

I was told we couldn't look at each club individually, on the merits.  If we were to pick and choose, we could be sued for discrimination. I have been involved in situations where I was told one thing relative to legal counsel, and then found out, with greater research and citizen involvement, the reality was quite different.  Because of this experience, I requested legal counsel meet with the Board.  That request was denied, but the administration spoke with legal counsel instead. 

Who Is In Charge? 

This denial goes to the heart of the matter.  What is the role of the school board?  Is the Board there to represent the public's will to the district or does the board represent the district's policy to the public?  Of course, politicians would skirt the issue saying it's not a mutually-exclusive question.  A balance of the two approaches is helpful with an emphasis on one or the other, depending on circumstances.  But which method is most important and why?

I believe the board should represent the will of the people, even if that goes against the will of the government administrators. We create the system and direct government to work on our behalf.  I believe we should have a trust-but-verify relationship.  This is not to say that we don't hire good people.  We do.  But the role of the board is oversight, and verification of that trust.  To trust, without formal verification, is not the role of the Board.

In the example of approving clubs, I recognize our administrators have addressed similar issues in the past, and, with renewed conversations with attorneys, felt they had a good handle on things on their end.  My fellow Board members, apparently, felt their issues were resolved, based on district administration directives.  But for me, the verification issue comes with my ability to field the questions you, the public, might have.  The questions I would ask are not the same as those our administrators or even my fellow board members would ask.  You should be represented by the various questions and perspectives of the entire board, not just the majority. 

So, you must decide what the school board's role should be.  This is your school district.   How much representation do you want?  How much oversight should the Board exercise?  Yes, the district will function smoothly if the Board is supportive of everything the administrators do. But sometimes the best system comes with debate and resolution, give and take, and it isn't always smooth. I believe the best possible public education system is achieved when the foundation is built on involved, informed citizens, not smooth-operating government administration.

Without the benefit of legal counsel, I came to our meeting feeling we were being held hostage with the threat of a lawsuit.  In short, we must accept ANYTHING that is placed in front of us.  I still don't know if the board could have rejected some of the applications, based on state law, or requested amendments to them.  But, in the spirit of transparency, here were some of my additional concerns.

1) Should a board approve a club charter that states it will report school or district policy concerns to a third party, such as the ACLU?  Are we really comfortable approving a club that, by my read, may essentially be looking for ways to sue the school or the district?  I certainly want all legitimate issues brought to the appropriate parties on a school or district-level.  But are we legally obligated to empower a club to set us up for lawsuits?

2) I am concerned about approving a club that might pose harm or a health risk for some students.  In speaking with a First Responder in suicide cases as well as a medical doctor, I have been warned that some discussions of suicide lead to more harm than good.  It is a very difficult subject to tackle without the appropriate training.  Mentioning suicide in the club application requires a much more thorough vetting, in my opinion.  What will be discussed?  Who will be overseeing and directing the discussion?  What is their certification?  How much, if any, time will be devoted to this topic?  Even though, it's an important topic, I am not comfortable without greater assurances that we are following the Hippocratic Oath: "First, do no harm."  If I can't assume no harm will come to our students, I can't approve it. 

3) Breaking state law, by allowing students without a signed parental-consent form to attend club meetings, was another issue.  It was expressed that hopefully this discrepancy would be resolved by the club members. 

A system produces exactly what it's designed to produce.  If you don't like the idea of your elected "representatives" rubber stamping administrative decisions, you have the power to change it.  You need to ask the people who represent you to not be afraid to do so, no matter the consequences.  This is either representative government or it is a rubber stamp. Don't fall for political double talk about it being both. Ultimately every school board election is about who is in charge. If the people do not assert their rightful dominance with proactive, transparent representatives, the void is filled by well-meaning, smooth-operating government administrators.  You get to decide which it will be.


  1. Great blog! Thank you for exposing core issues Wendy. This should be a foundational issue of the next School District election. Let the incumbants show us they weren't rubberstampers for the admin! The voters would then have an obvious choice.

  2. Great post. I agree that the board should represent the public's opinions to the administration. But it sounds like in the case of clubs, it doesn't matter what the board OR the public thinks. Am I correct in understanding that if the district disapproves a club, the district opens itself to a law suit, and thus every club is approved? If this is true, then there is no need for board approval or even administration approval, other than assuring that all the ducks are in a row. The courts have decided for us. The club is approved purely because it exists and someone fills out the paperwork. In this litigious environment, is there any way for the board to have any impact on high school clubs? It sounds like the kind of situation where you have all the responsibility and none of the control.

  3. Allison:

    Our administration has said that if we debate different clubs, then we do open ourselves up for lawsuits. But, that is exactly why legal counsel for the Board would have been helpful. There were some extenuating circumstances for some of the clubs, and I would have liked to have gotten into the specifics.

    It this is truly the case, then, as you said, we shouldn't be voting on anything. It implies "public approval" where really it is simply "court mandated." I would love to know what our options are, and how involved we should get. If it is really and all or nothing proposition, then our vote should have been on all clubs or no clubs, not on whether or not to approve this set. But, then, I was in the minority on this one.

  4. If the board can't request legal counsel on matters of public interest, why do we have a board? It is just rubber stamping.

    Wendy, you're the best.

  5. Thank you for sharing reality. The sad reality that almost all school board members believe they are supposed to rubber stamp everything their administrations are doing, and the beautiful reality that they are elected to oversee and scrutinize what administrations are doing. I hope the people will help them understand the difference.

  6. Thank you, Wendy! I appreciate your explaining the things you ae concerned about. Certainly Iam too and I agree that the board is there to represent all sides and weigh consequences of their actions. No rubber stamping should be done as far as I am concerned.

  7. If the choice is all or none (isn't this what we just witnessed on passing a continuing resolution to fund the federal government?) then I would say that we don't need clubs in schools. Just like trade unions, clubs have exceeded their usefulness.

  8. Wendy, this has been going on since I can remember when my children were in school in Dallas in the mid-1980s and probably before that. I ran for the school board out there and it was the same. Anyone that challenged the status quo could not get through the gate and elected. The union made certain of that. The CCSSO and the NASB are the trade groups that make sure it's all a matter of rubber stamping. Bless you for being the first ever to expose the truth! This is huge! Now you have a target on your back, you know. Keep it up. First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, then you win. - Ghandi

  9. Great job Wendy, thanks for shedding light on what is the reality with our local school boards.

  10. Wendy,
    I don't understand why you haven't resigned yet. Clearly you not only detest the Alpine School District but you are also terrible at your job. You are on the Board of a billion dollar organization and don't care about opening the district up to costly litigation. Federal Code 20 USC 4071, Title 20, Chapter 52, Subchapter 8 states, "(a) Restriction of limited open forum on basis of religious, political, philosophical, or other speech content prohibited. It shall be unlawful for any public secondary school which receives Federal financial assistance and which has a limited open forum to deny equal access or a fair opportunity to, or discriminate against, any students who wish to conduct a meeting within that limited open forum on the basis of the religious, political, philosophical, or other content of the speech at such meetings."
    You cannot allow some clubs but deny others for ANY reason without violating the Fourteenth Amendment. And a lawsuit with any merit of this type would cost the district a fortune -- money that I would rather be spent on children.
    Your argument about "community values" is specious. The real issue here is that you are upset that the Board didn't violate its own policies. You realize that you are not effective in overruling the other elected representatives on the Board and so in an attempt to increase your power-base you write this blog to rile up the public on your side. As a parent of children enrolled in the Alpine district I think your behavior is embarrassing. My kids have great teachers and attend great schools. You would have us believe YOU are the only Board member who cares about children or values parents' opinions. You do not represent me.
    As listed elsewhere on this blog, the Code of Conduct to which you are bound as my elected representative includes:
    "Represent the Board of Education with dignity and integrity" and "Support the Board and Staff once a decision is made." Let me guess... You don't think those rules apply to you? Well then, maybe this isn't the right job for you.
    And let me guess... you're going to delete this comment in 5, 4, 3, 2...

    1. Thanks for your comments.

      By way of information, the Code of Conduct is non-binding, was never voted on, and would violate First Amendment rights, not to mention the concept of representation. Dignity and Integrity require me to be honest and to vote my conscience.

      If I had followed the Code of Conduct and kept my true feelings and beliefs hidden, you would not know where I really stood on any issues. You'd have to go back to the minutes and/or the audio for 3 years to find out. I wouldn't have a blog, and you couldn't comment.

      I believe every board member should be able to vote their conscience and speak their mind. I do not prevent other board members from doing so, and a healthy discussion would require an expression of differences of opinion--in public. This is expected in most areas of government. It allows the public to have transparency and accountability in their government.

      I was absolutely NOT interested in opening us to litigation. This is why I requested legal counsel. Could we reject an application that clearly violated state law? Could we request changes to the application in areas that are not covered by federal law, but which are allowed to be limited under state law? This was why legal counsel would have been invaluable.

      The quality of teachers in our district is not in dispute, and is not germane to this discussion.

      I wish you all the best.

    2. 'Anonymous' is to be absolutely discounted in every way as they did not have the courage of their own convictions to post their name. Coward in every respect. Show yourself and be held accountable for your words.