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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

One Notch Higher for Greeley Colorado District Six Parents

My general opinion of the people living in Greeley Colorado's District 6 Schools jurisdiction just went up a notch last night after watching several adults and teens give the School Board of District 6, and Superintendent Renelle Lang, a common sense check on the true nature of their jobs: education. It is all about education of course. It is not about diminishing education so you can report to the State you've balanced your checkbook. But needless to say, following what was supposed to be organized as a "public hearing" the Board didn't flinch and went ahead with their intended plan to circumvent, anticipated, but as yet unkown, shortfalls in funding.

This Greeley District 6 School Board sat stonefaced last night in the middle of frigid Northern Colorado for about forty-five minutes while they heard brief commentaries from the public concerning the closure and realignment of different schools to help cover the implied 12% shortfall they will be facing in next year's budget. The shortfall may only be about 6% but it looks like the board has already decided and may have already begun spending the funds, according to some sources, to do a full house cleaning and realignment after years of poor decision making complicated by a recession. The budget crisis of course will cover their tracks with the general voter and parents and the new, lowered, graduation requirements will push off some of District 6 duties onto local community colleges and remedial programs thereby lowering District 6's future expenses.

Throughout the meeting, much of the board looked about as interested in what the speaker's had to say as a Kindergartner would be in reading Tolstoy.

One student, called to speak, got up and addressed the board and spoke about the process of her own enlightenment and growing up to overcome earlier mistakes and decisions made. Then she went on to explain, politely, to the Board how she conceived their actions on lowering graduation requirements. "...makes me feel like I'm not good enough."

Another student, Melissa from Central High School, presented the ice-pop board with a petition with 248 signatures on it which endorsed holding the current expectations in place. That is 248 teenagers telling the board "Don't lower the bar" we deserve and need better for our futures and to be competitive in finding jobs.

Board member Hinze looked several times, with his hand on his chin, like he would fall asleep out of having to endure the session.

Ranelle Lang, never having to, nor having had as far as I know, to face public scrutiny, the teacher's union, or general public questions sat on the far end with a strange pasted on smile and took notes once in a while to show she was engaged in what the students were mentioning.

The Face the World Exchange Student program put forth several exchange students currently enrolled who will face the prospect, now, of not being able to graduate. Their instructor/supervisor of the Exchange program was very polite and considerate of the board, as was everyone who spoke, but she pleaded with the board to at least allow the students to walk at graduation.

I kept thinking, in private business, this would be called a substantial breach of contract.

I regret I didn't get the first woman's name who spoke before the Thompson but her summary, polite and eloquent, ripped open the heart of the matter. These cuts are falling on the minority and impoverished populations. There haven't been any serious discussions of educational outcomes in a District already failing in education outcomes. Property values will plummet in the closed school areas. Students will be burdened with a sense of disruption, absent decent literary resources in the Districts that need them the most, and additional staffing aide cuts will likely ensure that new mammoth school with a lot of problem students thrown-in will turn into a cesspool. (Cesspool comment is mine, I am not as generous with the Board's job performance as the speakers were). And especially poignant was the woman's point that the communities being targeted were the least likely to speak out in defense of their own needs.

Another man, older, again I didn't get the name--I apologize, spoke about how the school Cameron had been targeted every time the District made cuts. Appears it isn't the first time the District 6 Board has carved more deeply into the poor and minority communities in Greeley. The speaker also noted that other solutions were available and had not been actively pursued.

But, by far, the best moment of the meeting was the eloquent delivery by the Thompson family coupled with these other adults during this "public hearing". The forty-five minutes designated turned into an actual reality of about 30. There is a wonderful irony here of the work the Board does on numbers--but I'll leave that alone for now.

Mr. Thompson stole the show for me. He spoke sandwiched between his eloquent daughter and wife. I'll paraphrase his words commenting about the changes to these specific neighborhood communities and the breaking up of his daughter's "family", "You, board members, have an ethical duty here to perform your job in a diligent manner and to listen, really listen, to what the public says here tonight and the impacts you are choosing to make on the education of the community--we elected you."

Indeed. Bravo Mr. Thompson. Can we get a member of your family to run for school board next year?

But listen they did not. In the regular school board session immediately following the vote was unanimous to give a green light to Mr. Eads, the ex-janitor turned operations supervisor's plan to consolidate schools. I've worked with many boards, served on many boards, and been in the audience listening to many boards--body language was clear, if polite, during the public session "The decision is done. Do we really have to sit here and listen to the public?" Not even the ill-famed Brett Reese made a peep during the session.

In total, several students of District 6 along with parents and one, brave, educator faced the board and each were allotted three whole minutes to speak about the effects of this change on the entire lives of the students the District serves. I declined to submit to the sign-up intimidation sheet to make my comments as I knew I could express my thoughts through this blog and with only thirty minutes allotted I thought it appropriate to give that time to the other community members and teachers present. They did a much better job.

About forty adults and teens filled the room. Two reporters were present. I handed the reporters a question about funding and had a short conversation with them. I am awaiting a formal response from the State on that same question but it hasn't come through yet. I'll publish when it does.

This is the first time, outside a regular board meeting, which I am aware of that the full board and Ms. Lang were in front of the public. But comments were restricted to those that had signed up. I learned of the meeting just a short time before it started and was told by a teacher that comments had been restricted to written ones presubmitted. That was not exactly the case. And when asked whether, considering it was a "public hearing", if the general public could comment at the meeting, a dour faced Board President said, "No" and held up the written comments shifting them around to put them in his proscribed order.

It was a pleasure to note that there were at least some more professional activity in the room. I was offered the opportunity to sign up to comment by, I am assuming, a staff member or assistant, who located me in the audience after my question. Also Ms. Trimberger came up to me at break and offered a kind and willing ear.

The humorous moment in the room came when the President of the Board, Bruce, fumbled the name of a District employee--the educator/librarian who lectured the board on depriving specific communities of very critical literacy sources. The woman eloquently and politely, with heavy undertones, reminded the Board President that she is important enough and been around long enough that he should be able to get her name correct.

The animosity between employee and employer was pretty clear if my take on her undertone was correct. I admire her for saying her peace. I know of other employees who felt too intimidated and are already in fear of losing their jobs through budget cuts to speak. Admittedly, I giggled. But I also felt just a moment of compassion. As someone who has managed hundreds of staff--and is horrible with name recall, I learned the lesson years ago that bobbling employees names is impolite at best.

Practice Bruce, practice. Your charm is loosing its appeal, and effect, rapidly in the outer community as well. It was my assumption, and pretty obvious that the Board was jumping hoops and had already likely made their decisions, if not, already spent funds towards this direction.

However to be fair the rest of the audience didn't seem to mind the time limits or the fact that the Board and Ms. Lang weren't taking questions or replying. This must be a new breed of public hearing. There were earlier sessions where the board broke up the public into four separate meetings spread across the town with one or two board members at each taking questions. I don't believe Ms. Lang has ever openly and professionally addressed the public. This is especially appalling to some given her salary and position that she leaves this responsibility to "others". For teachers, imagine having a "boss", unwilling to address you as a group.

It was an odd meeting for me. I have never seen a public meeting quite so civilized. It was like sitting in church. The audience didn't chat very lively and at first there wasn't any audience interaction after a speaker said their peace. There was only one pro-consolidation speaker. A student spoke positively about the consolidation. Certainly I wasn't looking for a tea party style meeting or town hall debacle but I have never seen anything so demure, controlled, and unconducive to bringing out public commentaries.

But still my respect for Greeley citizens rose a notch tonight. At least some are willing to step up to the plate and speak of the higher responsibilities of the community. Bravo. Kudos to everyone. Now if we can only get these community members on the board.

The Board has a tough job and a huge mess to clean up, mostly of their and previous Board's making. You have to hire the people with the appropriate skills and lose the buddy-buddy-hire-me-I'm-just-like-you system. Education should not be a political and special interest playground for any ideology. I hear, through teachers, the District canned the Human Resources Director. I don't know what the reason was they wrote on paper. Nor should I or the teachers be privy to that information--but good job. I am fairly sure his salary was high enough to tide him and his family over better than some in the community are doing. One ideologue down and a few more to go.

Of course it depends on their choices and process in finding a replacement whether or not this is the beginning of real change in the District or if it is just moving around the pea under new shells.

Lincoln Nebraska School District, Ranelle Lang's home territory, in search of a new public schools administrator, keeps hitting this website looking for Ranelle Lang's contract. Hopefully to make her an offer she can't resist. Personally I think the Greeley Colorado District 6 should send a copy to them with blessings on their new hire.

Comments :

5 comments to “One Notch Higher for Greeley Colorado District Six Parents”

Jane Paudaux said...

That is certainly a valid view point when the issue isn't critical and we aren't talking about an entire generation of youth suffering the consequences. In my own personal viewpoint when people sit on the sidelines, desperate to find some golden globe piece of evidence in the financials, and politely whisper their feelings, the message doesn't get delivered in American politics. But, you are right, shoving and pitchforks don't do much for the process either. As for generalities and suggest, if the slight was on what I have developed here, then I think that is a narrow mindset. Organization decisions like management hiring, screening, process decisions like which contractor gets the job, poor skills screening, and lack of a real governance strategy and contract--all together are deadly. While the mice run around looking for some evidence on a spreadsheet that isn't there the real problem is spread throughout the organization culture--which it is why, in my opinion, the dismal performance continues without ebb. The community looks for some red flag and there just isn't one. It is systemic and unless one has a lot of background in organizational management the general public is never going to get it. But I can guarantee you the top management understands it. Clearly. It is deadly. For me, I am always courteous and polite to those that are courteous and polite to others. Cleaning house and laying-off people using the cloak of a recession as an excuse doesn't elicit any respect on my part. The public is complicit in its long silence and failure to, well, basically give a damn about the educational futures of their youth.

Jane Paudaux said...

Let me go a bit further. Where are the students' advocates? I have never said there is negligent fraud on the part of any of these people I've written about over the past year that serve on the Board, been elected to the board, or the staff. I have never felt there has been any financial fraud at all. That is a giant rabbit hole some of the public are blinding creating for themselves to feel like they are doing something. These people aren't criminals and they aren't daft donuts either. I've have repeatedly focused on the collective poor decision making made and simplified numbers (like the total revenues listed on the budget presentations). These questions don't fall just to current Board and management but are inherited via the "kindness" of previous poor management decisions, community decisions, and local and state governments. How can the State of Colorado defend being ranked 45th or 46th in the nation in educational outcomes? And Greeley is on the low end in the State! That is just indefensible in my eyes. But even so, I don't think the people I've mentioned are "bad" people at all. I think they are good people in a bad work situation. And it is that very fact that makes the silent approach by the community so deadly. It is my guess that in a community where people are as nice as they are in Greeley, they, the community, don't want to see harm done to good people in taking away their jobs and positions. So the radical approach has been to look for some mysterious figures hidden in the financials. To elect new board members who promise to root out the financial expenditures that some of the public are so sure are the underlying problem (prior to the recessionary problem). This isn't going to do it. A cultural organization problem is one of the hardest things to overcome, especially in a public institution. I don't know of any other way but to wipe the slate clean and bring in people who have the high level skills to clean up the mess. I have seen no signs that the Board even recognizes the problem. Maybe they do and are just being silent about it. But even in that case the most likely scenario is that they will go after the cultural problem without recognizing the way they approach management is a part of the problem. You can't root it out until you remove the root of the culture formation problem. And that means being mean to good people and finding new, higher skilled, people to replace them. No one wants to do that to their friends and neighbors of course. No one wants it done to them. And that is my point. Someone has to start talking about a solution rather than merely extending the problem for another decade or two. There is the entire city of students and, soon to be, laid off staff who are also good people and being hurt. If the Board is not going to be their advocates, and the teacher's union has been effectively maimed, the parents either don't believe they have any power over the situation or are too damned polite to push the issue in the faces of good people... just who is going to be the advocates for the educational outcomes of Greeley's youth? There is a time to be silent and there is time to speak up and be heard in numbers and way that matter and produce results. Put me in a room where the public isn't allowed to speak openly and I'll complain every time. I got my degrees with public funding. I feel an obligation to give back to the public. There isn't a smoking gun here. You want specifics? You aren't going to find them. And finally, I guess I am just guilty of giving a shit. If that makes me appear hateful and intolerant then I will wear those false labels proudly.

mowdy5gs said...

Sorry to bother again but you know how in the medical field, well I should say me being from the medical field I know that the elderly when in doubt of anything or if they feel they are being pressured, forced, of treated unfairly for anything in any way they have an ambudsman to advocate for them. Students have what again?

mowdy5gs said...

BTW, when Lang took the helm for the astronomical salary she now recieves I thought their was a contract clause or at least an agreement she wouldnt take the money and run as did her predicessor to kill lifor ni ah but now shes looking for a job? I now know truth and justice do NOT exist in Greeley so this is not suprising in the least.

It is a sign however that a janitor may soon be making a couple hundread thousand a year very shortly from now...

Anonymous said...

Jane, about the BOE members you said:" I don't think the people I've mentioned are "bad" people at all. I think they are good people in a bad work situation."

I beg to differ. If these people do not listen to what the real education experts have to say about the developmental needs of young children (more recess, time for play in K grades), then they are not good people! If they were, they should have at least acknowledged the research as valid, and voiced their sincere regret that they must ignore in order to focus on test scores.

And on a personal note, trust me, Bruce, and Linda, and ex-member Julie Kautz (all three knew me personally; I worked with Bruce on the GT-at-Risk subcommittee which I chaired, and Julie Kautz was my neighbor and a fellow parent advocate as we sat on GWHS SAAC and I attended DAC with her, and Linda knew of my GT advocacy) betrayed me and effectively pushed me out without apology.
DAC members unanimously nominated me to come back in the community member slot, but BOE did not appoint me. I was found to be too "aggressive" by then superintendent Dreier and assistant super Jeff Miller. Bruce told me so to my face. He and other BOE members clearly cowered to Dreier. Good people? Maybe they were before they were elected, but they sure lost their integrity!

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