Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Budget Unchanged in Contentious Deliberative Session

All warrant articles approved by the school board were left unamended in last night's deliberative session.  They will appear on the ballot Tuesday March 12, 2013 as is.  This was exactly the result we were hoping for.   I want to thank everyone for coming out.

I warned that a group of cutters might show up at the session.   That's kinda what happened.  Former board member Jim Kach and former chairman Henry Brackett were there.   All their usual supporters were there too.  (Except Roger Speidel, who I really miss.)   I was surprised they had come out, as they really hadn't been a big presence at school board meetings lately.

I called Ruth, who sent out the word we needed more votes.  Incredibly, as you'll see, the people who responded made all the difference.  I tried lamely to round up some votes from the basketball game across the hall.

Paul Gasowski , Sustainability Committee, speaks

For some reason, the focus of the meeting was Article 4, the Sustainability Committee.  I didn't expect that.  Probably because I'm a huge Paul Gasowski fan.

Bill Hall spoke strongly against the Sustainability Committee allowing students work to on the school's air conditioning. What?  He seemed pretty worked up about it.   Do I really need to say that the Sustainability Committee, an advisory committee to the school board, has neither plans nor authority to do this?

What Paul was saying was that the energy audit of the high school, the one that the Sustainability Committee proposed and paid for, recommended an overhaul that would save an incredible $91,000 annually in fuel.  And not dump an extra zilllion tons of CO2 into the air either.  The board and the superintendent followed through and we all reaped the benefits.  Congratulations to Paul and the committee - you did it without picking up a wrench.  

The discussion went on for a long time.  The $15,000 was attacked.   The $20,000 for coaches was really attacked.   "Why couldn't these be volunteer positions?"  "Shouldn't this money be used for real education, like math and science?"

What was odd was that people were speaking against the article at length, but no one was making amendments.   The moderator gamely reminded us that the purpose of the meeting was to consider amendments.  That regular school board meetings are a good venue for public comments.   Good points.  Nonetheless, the speakers continued to rail without proposing anything.

Former board member Jocelyn O'Quinn kept coming to the podium to ask for a secret ballot.   The problem was there was no amendment to vote on.    The moderator told her to come back later.

Board member Krista Butts reminded us that the point was to make amendments.   Today we just decide what goes on the ballot.

Someone proposes removing the $20,000 in stipends.   Finally, a real amendment.

Jocelyn O'Quinn is now first in line to speak, ahead of David Taylor and Henry Brackett.  Ms. O'Quinn asks again for a secret ballot.

The moderator asks, "are you calling the question?"  Ms. O'Quinn, non plussed, assents.  The moderator snaps into action.

He explains that calling the question requires a 2/3 vote to end discussion.   "Raise your card if you're in favor of calling the question."

There's confusion.  Ms. O'Quinn doesn't seem like she meant to end discussion.   Too late.  The vote goes forward.

It's close.  Mr. Brackett, waiting in line to speak, votes to cut off discussion.  The moderator has to count votes.   This requires an elaborate procedure of counting pink cards in each of six sections of the auditorium.  Oops, one more time around for "NO".  This takes a good 15 minutes.   Everyone would have been long done speaking by now.

It passes!  It actually exceeded the 2/3 margin.  The question is called.

"What about a secret ballot?" asks you know who.

This necessitated a little conference between the moderator and the district's lawyer.   She was making a writing gesture.  John Collins had already told me five signatures are needed for a secret ballot.

The moderator, who thought he was being clever getting Ms. O'Quinn to call the question, ended up wasting lots of time.   But he was just getting started on the time wasting.   Now he says, "You need five signatures.  I'll wait a couple of minutes."

Why couldn't we get a moderator who'd say, "You have not met the requirements for a secret ballot, so we will do this in public.  All in favor of the amendment raise your cards." ?

I can appreciate that a secret ballot makes it easier to vote against the committee that's standing on stage right in front of you.   But I don't think the district is under any obligation to give legal advice to citizens, especially those who want things that drag the meeting out longer.   If you care, look up the rules before the meeting starts.    Or do what I did and sit with John Collins, David Taylor and Stephanie Adams, which is way better than the Internet.

No.  Gotta have a secret ballot.  This takes another fifteen minutes.  Then they had to count.   More waiting. The result: 58 YES, 60 NO.  The amendment fails!  Those extra votes Ruth rounded up made the difference.

Now the moderator makes his third mistake.   He tries to move to the next article without allowing further amendments or discussion, or even the vote that ends consideration of Article 4.   John Parsons reads him the riot act.

It's pretty late and people are leaving by now.   We haven't even gotten to Article 6.    I missed most of the discussion of Article 5, but it looked like it survived unamended without any trouble. Which is really odd, because Article 5 is basically permission for the district to take $1 million extra out of taxpayers' pockets for a rainy day.  Chairman Barth stressed how the fund could be used to lower taxes in years like this when non-tax revenue is reduced.

Article 6 is the big enchilada, in which we appropriate $38.8 million to pay for schools. It was voted through unamended with no discussion.

Why spend two hours on $20,000 and then let $1 million and $38.8 million slide by?  Beats me.   Probably because "sustainability" sounds like "hippie talk."   I think Paul even mentioned Boulder and Palo Alto.  Bill Hall didn't like all this marijuana around one little bit.  What?  Jim Kach came out for composting.

Kenny Rotner, candidate for school board, was working the crowd.  Tom Newkirk was of course on stage with the rest of the board.  Nobody I asked seemed to know who Carl Piedmont was.   I shouted his name a couple of times, figuring he'd be at the meeting.  Nothing.

Thanks everybody for coming out and enduring this unnecessarily tedious meeting.  Your votes really made a difference.   It looks like we have a real race on our hands in March.  Stay tuned.

Update 2/7:  I've been thinking about it for a couple of days, and it occurs to me that those I called "cutters" above were at the meeting for the same reason I was: to be there to vote against changes to the board's budget.   They were presumably more worried about increases, but they weren't there to propose significant cuts.   Similarly, I was more worried about cuts, but I had already posted I would vote against any increases as well.   Underlying what seemed to be a contentious meeting was widespread support for the board's work.   The school board and administration have managed to unite what was a year ago a very divided community.  All in all, a remarkable accomplishment.

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