Saturday, September 19, 2015

2 Out of 3 is Not Good Enough

Warning:  This material may not be suitable for over SPARCly people, or those that prefer to shrink away from matters that...well...matter.  It may be spun as bullyism, but we'll take that risk.  Because the needs of the many DO outweigh the needs of the few, or in this case, the one.

In April, we ---the collective we, the people---elected 3 brand spanking new school board members (out of 7).  Scary.  Scarier is that only 1 of the 3 had any real experience working on committees of the school board.  It's so scary that it's time to do a 6-month review of performances to date.
Now Meatloaf used to sing, "2 outta 3 ain't baaaaad".  Maybe 2 out of 3 isn't bad, but is 2 out of 3 good enough?  The 7 members of our school board are expected to work diligently and rapidly come up to speed on ALL aspects of running a school district, from financial matters, to management and operations, to hiring and deciding when t's time to let go, and to dealing with a city that has rapidly developed from its farm community roots into a multi-cultural mega-suburb of a very large capitol city.

So we elected 3 new members:

  • Marilyn Peebles Ruffin, who has several children in the upper grades, and who is a substitute teacher in the district. 
  • Marta Hansen - who has 2 young kids and whose spouse is a teacher in the district.  She is owner of a piano/music/art shop in Sun Prairie that does at least some business with the district.
  • Dave Hoekstra - has two adult children and is an engineer and Sunday school teacher.

So....right out of the chute we had some issues to deal with.  Ms. Ruffin had a conflict of interest in being on a school board and being employed by the district.  So the substitute teaching had to stop. It would also be a conflict of interest for Ms. Hansen to actively do business with the district as a board member.  At the very least, she would have to recuse herself from any votes regarding those teacher compensation.   Was that even something they thought about when they ran for office.  Neither of these two had served on any board committees, which, while not a pre-requisite, would have prepared them for the extent of time commitment required to serve on a school board.  While we're not trying to favor Mr. Hoekstra, at least he had that experience.

Being a school board member DOES require an exceptional amount of time.  To do it well, that is.  First, one needs to develop a rapid understanding and appreciation for all that goes on behind the scenes.  Being a school board member does NOT mean just sitting at a board table for 2 hours twice a month and sprinkling in a few "aye"s  once in awhile.

In addition to regular board meetings, there are board committee meetings.  At least two standing committees plus the uber-critical School Space Planning Committee meeting.  And then there are other meetings that pop up:  expulsion hearings, selecting a new district administrator, and even community-school meetings resulting from unexpected and tragic events such as the death of a former student.

Caution:  Here's where we need to start getting down (and some may say dirty).  Mr. Hoekstra and Ms. Ruffin are regular attendees at ALL these important sessions.  Ms. Hansen?  Not so much.  We get it.  She has young kids, a business, and a keen interest in music and the arts...including body art.   But she ran for and was elected to the school board.  It's long past time to get priorities in order.  We--the people-- are compensating Ms. Hansen $5,000 per year.   Newsflash...that is not for just attending (let's not even discuss preparing for) TWO board meetings a month.

In August, the school district and city held a joint meeting on gang activity in the city.  (Yes, Virginia, there ARE active youth gangs in Sun Prairie.  So sorry to upset your apple cart with that news).  All school board members were present---except for Marta Hansen.  She apparently had a very important Pop Song Singalong to attend that night.

When the School Space Planning Committee began last year, where was Ms. Hansen?  Why she  was playing the piano at Buck & Honeys.  And that happened several other times.  In fact, we haven't observed Ms. Hansen at ANY of the School Space Planning meetings!  Geee whiz, it's only the single most important happening in the district as we face OVER crowding in 6 of 7 elementary schools.  She also wasn't seen at the Meet and Greet for the new school district administrator, Dr. Brad Saron.  Way to make your prime employee feel welcome!

When we have seen Ms. Hansen at school BOARD meetings, she appears rather BORED...playing on her district-issued  iPad.  Could she be checking one of her not 1, not 2, but THREE Facebook pages? maybe time for an Open Records request of her browsing history and match it up to school board meetings!

While we appreciate the many passions, interests and commitments Ms. Hansen has in her life, all in all, we suggest that it's time for her to take stock in her life and decide whether she has enough room to commit to the school board.  If she wishes to remain on the board she needs to commit more time than she has to this point.