Thursday, November 5, 2015

Agenda topics for Tuesday, November 10

This coming Tuesday, there will be a regular board meeting followed by a work session. Both agendas are now available (here and here). Some of the topics we’ll be discussing:

1. The certified enrollment report for 2015-16 is now available.

2. We’ll be doing our annual review of the facilities master plan. Info here.

3. We’ll be discussing plans to create attendance zones for Grant Elementary and the new east-side elementary school (“Hoover East”). Info here.

4. We’ll be discussing the bell schedule. The board already voted to create a task force to re-examine the bell schedule, so this may just end up being an update on that process.

5. We’ll be hearing about the transition planning for Liberty High and the new east-side elementary. Info here and here.

6. We’ll be discussing discretionary busing. Info here.

7. We’ll be discussing whether to add a representative of our before-and-after-school programs to the district committee (“CEDAC”) that supervises those programs. Info here.

And more! Prepare to settle in for a while if you’re watching this one. I am swamped with work at the moment, so will probably not be able to reply to comments, but I will certainly read them, so please chime in on any of the above.

Notice: The only opportunity for community comment at either of these meetings will be at the beginning of the regular board meeting, which starts at 6:00. There is no comment period at the work session, though you can address those topics (or any school-related topic) at the community comment for the regular board meeting.


Anonymous said...

Chris - what's your take on Phil saying he "polled a quorum of the board" prior to the meeting in an agenda item - open meetings violation ?

Amy said...

Glad to see that there are recommendations being made to cut it out with charging poor families for the bus. I think, however, that the board and possibly admin need some education in what "poor" means. I see too many quotes and proposals that make it sound as though folks in charge assume that people have cars, can drive, have adequate foul-weather clothing and footwear, have someone else at home to watch infants and small children while an adult walks children to school in cold/bad weather...this is of a piece with other ICCSD presumptions about parental ability to be home/available whenever the district finds it convenient and/or parents' ability to find backup care on short notice. This is a model that works in a small, close-knit town where people have lots of family available, or in 1973.

The reality is that these things are expensive - busing, supervision. They're also essential. 20 years ago, this community was so full of goodheartedness that people were wandering around looking for people to help -- of course, it was pretty easy back then, since we didn't have all that many people who needed lots of help, and you could always come back and sigh about how fortunate you were and how you'd tried to share. Well, now it's time to share. And that's right, it might mean that expensive but not actually crucial amenities may be things that we can't afford anymore, because we have essentials like these to pay for.

As for the thing not on the agenda this week, to do with consulting and the dubious ties involved: this is simple. You want to consult, fine. You must declare a conflict of interest whenever anyone promotes an ed service or product produced by anyone connected with your consulting gig. Failing to do so may result in termination. Consultant's responsibility to seek and uncover any potential conflicts, no "I had no idea!" chat. It's fairly obvious that the idea here is to get ins with the districts, not just here but around the country, and have the consultants suggest/push/introduce consulting-group-network wares. Cut out that part of it, and if the consultancy is legit, the gigs will continue. If it's essentially a kickback deal, the consultancy will find ICCSD employees not worth their while.

I am aware, incidentally, of the built-in problem with H-M's involvement in these groups. I also see no reason why individual ed publishers should be involved in such groups; that's just too tight and tidy an affair.

Chris said...

Anonymous -- It seemed clear that Phil was saying that he had talked individually with three other board members to see if something would be worth pursuing at the board meeting, not that he had somehow convened a group of four or more board members together. As I understand it, nothing in the Open Meetings Law prohibits a board member from talking with another individual board member about school issues. But if there's some legal authority to the contrary, I'd be happy to take a look at it.

Anonymous said...

Chris - thanks for the quick response. Perhaps I misunderstood Phil since he used the exact phrase "polled a quorum" of the board. seems to be your explanation would fall in line with a term Phil used himself about a year ago when accusing the board of having committed a "walking quorum." Is that not a violation - not sure myself as I don't have access to the legal resources you do. Regardless, doesn't that fly in the face of the very reason for open meetings laws and the pledge for more openness and transparency. Seems if it doesn't the board could have a series of serial discussions, always avoiding a quorum, thereby getting support for items and discussioning hot button issues out of the publics eye. Guess I expected better from the new board members who ran on a platform of openness and transparency, as well as members who have openly criticised the district with respect to the same.

Chris said...

Anonymous -- Well, either it’s a violation of the statute or it isn’t, and as far as I know our statute does not prohibit “walking quorums” and the legislature has rejected amendments to that effect. (See this case.) Again, if there’s some authority I’m not aware of, I’m happy to take a look at it, but you haven’t identified any, or anything in the statute itself.

The open meetings law is a good thing, and but there’s a reason why the legislature chose not to prohibit board members from talking individually to other board members about issues the board might address. If I’m remembering correctly (?), Phil was just trying to get an item pulled from the consent calendar so it could be discussed at the meeting, instead of just being approved without discussion. That seems like a far cry from anything that would violate even the spirit of the open meetings law.

Honestly, it sounds to me like you’re determined to hear what Phil said in a particular way even though he made it clear that he did not talk to three other board members simultaneously, and it sounds like you really want to accuse him of breaking the law even though you can’t actually identify any legal requirement that he didn’t follow. If you think that what he did is inconsistent with something he said in the past, I think that’s something you should take up with him (and if you do, I’d suggest you have his previous quote handy—with maybe a link?—when you do). If you’re just here because you have an axe to grind with Phil, please take it somewhere else.

Anonymous said...

Wait, has the board now adopted a rule that you need a majority to pull something from the consent agenda? It appeared past practice was any single board member could request an item be pulled. Either way, that was not the item Phil was talking about. It was on the regular agenda. Also, I do not have an axe to grind with Phil or anyone else. Just surprised to see 4 board members I voted for based on their pledge of transparency attempting to form a quorum on an agenda item outside of the meetings. Whether legal or not, it certainly isn't an open and transparent process.

Chris said...

Yes, I think it has always been the case that it technically takes four members to pull something from the board agenda; but traditionally no one objects if one person wants to pull something. Sorry if I was mistaken that the item he was referring to was on the consent agenda; I just don't remember specifically what it was.

All I'm saying is that if you're going to make accusations here, you should support them. What are you talking about when you say that four board members you voted for were "attempting to form a quorum on an agenda item outside of the meetings"? What do you even mean by "attempting to form a quorum"? All you know is that Phil talked individually to three other board members about a school issue. Are you saying that it is wrong for a board member ever to talk with another board member about a school issue? That may be your idea of transparency, but I don't know of any board candidates who campaigned on that premise. Moreover, how do you even know which board members Phil was referring to, and whether you voted for them? So again, it sounds to me like you're just trying to generate something to accuse Phil (and now three other unnamed board members) of, regardless of whether it makes any sense.

But if you're of the opinion that no two board members should ever discuss a school issue without calling a public meeting, we're just going to have to disagree.

Anonymous said...

Chris - I think you have misunderstood my intent as well as my questions so I will forgive your defensiveness (which is a little off putting and something I would have expected from some of the former board members). All I am trying to do is understand what occured given Phils statement, whether it was a violation (which you seem to have answered), whether it is good open and transparent process and, perhaps most importantly, whether we can expect it to continue. I am not saying that board members shouldn't talk to one another about board issues. In fact, I believe that would be bad practice. However, should there not be limits on those conversations? Do we want deals and votes being made behind closed doors through serial meetings? I think not and would guess that is one intent of the open meetings laws. It is also why many states do ban walking quorums or serial meetings based on a quick Google search. Otherwise, couldn't a board essentially side step the rule entirely? For me, the statement that one "polled a quorum" would indicate a board member going to 3 others and asking if they support ones position or would vote s certain way. Do I know which 4, no. However, each of the current 7 members I voted for. thus, my disappointment about 4 board members I supported participanting in this and my question, can we expect walking quorums to continue under this board and do you think it's a good thing? Say, for example, it occured with respect to the upcoming FMP meetings and Chris went to 3 other members and prior to the meeting they agreed to expedite the closing of Hoover - or close another school? Would you feel slighted as a board member - as a taxpayer - as a parent? Do you think that would be transparent regardless of its legality?

Chris said...

Anonymous -- Well, fair enough. I know (from personal experience) how easy it is to come off a different way than intended on an internet comment board. Yes, I agree that it would be bad practice to try to resolve a board issue outside the meeting so you can short-circuit discussion in a board meeting. I just that it's reading an awful lot into Phil's comment to hear it that way. There has to be room for board members to talk individually with each other outside the meetings.

Amy said...

Chris, in fairness, I thought that was a weirdly defensive reaction too. You actually want people paying attention to things that look like meetings-before-the-meetings.What you're doing here, with the blog, seems to me the smartest way of going about it: if you must discuss among several, serially or not, open it up, and if in some instance that's a bad idea, explain why.

Incidentally, re Smarter Balanced (I thought that was a margarine): what would it cost the district to opt out of the tests? I assume it'd cost Title I funds, but what else? And parents can opt out individually, as I recall -- is that still true?

Chris said...

Thanks, Amy. I admit that my first reaction was that Anonymous was just trying to catch Phil in a kind of “gotcha” moment that didn’t seem justified to me by what Phil actually said. I think the defense attorney in me came out, maybe not for the best. I think one reason I didn’t hear Phil’s comment the same way Anonymous did is that I saw it against the background of just how much the board has loaded into its agenda at every meeting. Meetings that start at 6:00 routinely keep us there until 10:00. In that context, I can at least understand why a board member might want to talk individually with other board members in advance to see whether something is even worth bringing up at the meeting. Again, I certainly didn’t get the sense from Phil’s comment that he was trying to limit discussion at the meeting; quite the opposite.

As for Smarter Balanced, as I understand it, there will not be any way for the district to opt out of Smarter Balanced if the state requires it. I also don’t think that Iowa has any specific provision allowing parents to opt their kids out of the tests; beyond that, whether parents can opt out anyway is a legal question that I just haven’t researched. I think it might be hard as a practical matter to impose consequences on opt-outers, especially if there were a lot of them, but a strongly worded statement that opting out is prohibited would probably be enough to dissuade a lot of people from trying it. (See this statement from the State Department of Education last year.)

Paul said...

Chris, it is disappointing to hear that members of the board are frustrated with the length of meetings and the amount of things on the agenda.

I hope you remember that comment if the boards tries to bring back community comment as some of you campaigned on. Phil and others extended some meetings by over an hour by choosing to comment on every single item on the agenda.

Chris said...

Paul—I do think meeting length is a legitimate issue. One of the reasons it’s a concern, though, is that it constrains the board’s ability to bring public sentiment to bear on how the district is run (which is the whole point of having a board), since the board can act only at public meetings. For that reason, I’d be pretty reluctant to save meeting time at the expense of public comment. That said, although I’m against limiting community comment at the beginning of the meeting to an hour (which is our current policy), I’m not against limiting the total time any one person could speak. If it were entirely up to me, I’d probably give people up to three minutes at each trip to the mike, and up to ten or twelve minutes total during the meeting, if there were a workable way to do that.

EDJ said...

On a couple of upcoming Agenda Items:

I'd very, very much advocate for Discretionary Busing to be used as part of how the District attempts to make educational experience and opportunity available to all kids, regardless of socioeconomic status. The distance from home to school is almost literally not the same distance for people that don't have dependable transportation. Uniform busing zone distances assume an imaginary middle class student family, and those inherent assumptions don't at all capture the actual experience of many families in the district. Teachers and counselors at our high-poverty schools will tell you that excessive absence and tardiness are significant factors in the under-performance of students form low income families.

Regarding the attendance zone discussion, just a couple of general thoughts. The bullet point "spend money in the classroom" is, I assume a note to spend money there instead of busing. As a general philosophical thought, that's good, but its also the kind of statement that in the past has been used to disparage attempts to set boundaries that create more socioeconomically balanced school populations. As such, its facile and not nearly as correct as it seems on the surface. The "resource" that makes the most difference for low-income learners is greater one-on-one time with teachers, meaning smaller class sizes. This could be very hard to sustain politically in a district where class size is already a concern, since weighting the allocation of teachers towards high poverty schools means making classes larger in low poverty schools, where parents have much more political capital. And, per some analysis done by Michael Tilley last year on his blog, busses are actually less expensive than teachers.

The other problem with a resources-only approach is that it doesn't do anything to solve the underlying problem. High poverty schools remain as such and need to be funded as such in perpetuity, which gets back to the issue of sustainability of funding. And, because middle class and affluent parents tend to flee schools (and their associated neighborhoods) as the poverty level passes certain thresholds, this tends to lock-in certain schools (and their associated neighborhoods) as intractable lower SES pockets.

Last point on boundaries: Last year, when boundary changes aimed at providing some balance in Southern Iowa City were abandoned, and Alexander's borders were set up by involving only schools already over 70% FRL, some of us were reassured that the boundaries set up for NuHoover would offer another opportunity to look at these borders, as zones to the north and east of us were changed. I hope that this remains in the discussion.

Paul said...

Going back to Phil for a moment. You said, "Yes, I agree that it would be bad practice to try to resolve a board issue outside the meeting so you can short-circuit discussion in a board meeting." Apparently according the Press Citizen that is exactly what Phil admitted to doing.

Amy said...

What EDJ said about the imaginary middle-class family. I'll add that this imaginary family is American, English-speaking, two-parent, has at least one adult not working fulltime, has considerable workplace flexibility, and has other family or friends with leisure local. Very Morning in America. The thing that seems hardest for the board to imagine is the condition of not having a car, or a reliable car, or a driver. You throw barrier after barrier at the parents, and eventually they give up, and the kid doesn't get to school.

What I've never understood is why the City doesn't do more to make routes useful for schoolkids. We have a bus that goes right by our house, past Pheasant Ridge, too, and past Weber -- and would get the kids to school a few minutes late every day. The bus goes by nearly empty, mind. And in the afternoon, it goes past Weber 15-20 minutes before school lets out, then doesn't come back again for an hour, and the kids aren't allowed to hang around on the playground waiting for it. I really don't buy arguments that this is impossible for city transit, either; I took a city bus to school throughout my schooling, and kids in cities everywhere take public transit to school.

Chris said...

EDJ -- Thanks for the input on discretionary busing, resource allocation, and boundary changes.

Amy -- Yes, we do need to be aware of those barriers. I don't know whether the district has ever worked with the city to make the bus schedules work better for kids going to and from school -- seems like a good question.

Paul -- I'm still not clear on what happened, so I'm not going to pass any judgments on it.

EDJ said...

Regarding those barriers: when we set up a walking school bus at Twain the year before last, we had to get the city to add time to walk signals at the crosswalks across highway 6 in order to make it safe for us to get across. But, kids who missed the bus, or decided to walk to school instead of walking to a bus stop that wasn't particularly close to their home, had been braving those 6 second lights for years. Its very easy to not notice this kind of thing if you're school's home zone doesn't contain either significant hazards like this or a significant population of folks who can't afford dependable transportation.