Thursday, August 24, 2017

Is the district honest about community input?

“Keep it simple” because “the details get complicated.” In its bond presentation, the district presents that idea as summing up the feedback that we received at our community listening posts on the facilities plan and the bond. In fact, listen to the recordings: the district cherry-picked one person’s comment and presented it as the summary of feedback at three listening posts.

According to bond proponents (example here), those same listening posts showed “unified support” for putting seven years’ worth of projects into the bond proposal, resulting in the very high $191 million price tag. But take a look at the minutes of those listening posts (here, here, and here). Listen to the recordings. Is that assertion even remotely true? In fact, at two of the three listening posts, the tables weren’t even surveyed about how much of the plan should go into the bond. And to the extent there was discussion of the issue, the feedback was mixed, as even the minutes show. Or listen, for example, to what this man had to say. Somehow that wasn’t the comment cherry-picked for the PowerPoint slide. Unified support?

“Stick to the plan”? “We have a great plan”? “Just do it”? Read the minutes.

The district appears unable to resist the temptation to promote its desired conclusions by distorting the public input it receives. In 2013, for example, the district held community workshops on the development of the facilities master plan. At the final workshop—attended by hundreds of people—seventy-four percent of attendees supported plans that did not close Hoover Elementary School. (See also charts here and here.) Yet when the facilities committee presented its proposal to the school board, it stated that closing Hoover was a “common theme” of the feedback it received.

Proponents of the bond have repeatedly argued that the plan is the result of input from countless members of the public. But it’s easy to assert that the community input supports your point of view; after all, who’s going to go to the trouble of verifying the assertion? Given the examples above, though, I recommend you start asking for evidence.


amy said...

Of course it's not honest; we saw that in the ThoughtExchange baloney.

Then again, it's only a long step from where it had been before, in which Murley and other top admin encouraged community people to come waste their time at meetings being set dressing. Still can't believe that Ann was dumb enough to say out loud what they were doing, but there's no point at all to going to public meetings where you're only there to legitimize whatever decision the board's already made, particularly if you're going to get threatened with a lawsuit for being vocally and rightly critical of corrupt practices like that.

May I say I'm endlessly impressed by the teachers, paras, and other staff who just go on finding ways of doing their jobs in the midst of all this nonsense.

Anonymous said...

Anyone that has ever been to a listening post, bond presentation or other community input meeting can clearly see that these are staged events where any dissenting opinion is quickly snuffed and the outcome is predetermined. I personally think that something doesn't smell right with the way the school district has functioned over the past decade. What I don't understand is who are the key players and what is the motivation for their actions. There has been a very high turnover rate in top administration over the past years, that is interesting. We all know that the school board members have been a revolving door. We know Murley has had a speckled past riddled with controversy and does consulting work on the side. What is the deal with Van Hemert, is it true that he lives in Des Moines and also has a side business? It looks like he had a rocky past during his time with the Des Moines school district and resigned from his position after being investigated. Do we know how much money our administrators are making from consulting work and is it our right to know if they happen to be a conflict of interest? Should we allow a top administrator to live 2 hours away (assuming that he does) and can he perform his job to the same level as if he lived nearby? A large amount of money has been spent by our district in recent years and now $200 million may be at stake and I do not think that we have enough checks and balances in place. Several recent board members behavior has been rather odd as well and I don't understand their motivation for their actions. Can anyone provide insight or support to these questions? What can we do going forward to ensure that everything is being done properly? just a few supporting links below that took a few seconds to find, I am sure there are more...




Dr. Christy Wolfe said...

I find myself really torn on the idea of the bond. I am a huge supporter of public education and many of the things slated for the bond money would improve facilities for teachers and students. I'll be honest--I've almost avoided any of the criticism because to me it comes down to support or no support. Then again, I still think the closing of Hoover is a travesty and moving the schools out of the neighborhoods in town and into the neighborhoods with growth (and money) on the fringes of town is frustrating. Maybe, like you, I wish there was honest and transparency and confidence in decision-making. I just don't know if NOT seeing it is enough to make me vote NO to supporting the district....


Anonymous said...

To me the vote is about fiscal responsibility. I support public education. I don't know anyone who doesn't. But this vote isn't about that. This vote is about a very large amount of money given to a group of individuals who have a record of doubtful integrity. The board itself can't even come together in support of the bond. This says so much about it. The district has made stupid financial decisions especially that with Hoover: use some common sense. Who blows $2m to upgrade the building only to tear it down two years later? That is beyond absurd. That is madness. I simply cannot vote for the bond and will not trust this administration and the board with that kind of responsibility. I haven't got into the special interests group yet. The bankers the construction firms...thinking of these vultures gives me a headache.

Vote NO and have them come back with a better proposal. If we have to vote project by project, so be it. We need to keep a tight lease on these people. We have to.

amy said...

Christy, if this bond referendum doesn't pass, you can be sure the district will be back very quickly with another attempt, and maybe this one will be more honest and transparent. I admit I'm not enormously optimistic about the admin's ability to put together an honest, community-responsive, prudent bond and pitch, and that there may be a bit of a learning curve in which the voters make it plain that Steve and the people working for him will actually have to do the job in a serious way, rather than a good-ol-boy way. But I think we'll get there, just as we eventually got to a renovated county courthouse.

Anonymous said...

I support public education but if we are going to truly support public education we need to make the district be accountable and transparent which is not happening now. If we don't demand accountability now from our superintendent and school leaders we will never get it. The bond language is so vague that we're just giving the district permission to spend almost $200 million with few to no strings attached.