Tuesday, October 11, 2011

And Perhaps I Just Like to Get Stung

Who's in the bridge burning, hornet nest kicking kind of mood? Well I am, so let's go. Disclaimers first. Actually, screw disclaimers, I am undone and not much in the mood to censor.

Tonight I came face to face with how little I (or you for that matter) mean to the school system. Better yet, how mechanisms are in place to make you think you might have an impact while shutting you and your opinions out entirely.

About a week ago, I was at a Central Council PTA meeting where a representative from the School Board (we'll leave names out but they are all available at www.rcps.info in case you want them) came in and told us about an agenda item for their next meeting. We were asked to keep the discussion "in this room," which quite frankly put me on alert immediately. As far as I'm concerned, government agencies, boards and employees should be operating under 100% transparency at all times. But I digress.

It seems Roanoke City schools had received something along the lines of $100,000 from the federal government to use for crossing guards, freeing up a commensurate amount in RCPS' budget. The school board had plans for the money.

Was it cut the 2% additional meals tax that has been imposed for the last year, ostensibly to prevent teacher layoffs? Was it to hire additional staff to help meet the needs of kids who might be failing first grade reading but were in a school that lacked adequate reading resource teachers?

Nope. Their plan was to give bonuses to non-school based administrative staff.

At which point I was thinking, you have to be %#$%&*^$@!@$ kidding me. Just to be clear, they were planning on handing out bonuses, in the middle of a recession, with 9% (or more if we're being honest) unemployment, when many people I know have had their pay cut and benefits slashed. Oh and let's not forget, while they had an additional meals tax in place because they would otherwise have to lay off teachers.

But no, they weren't kidding. Said representative added that the bonuses might be uncomfortable seeing as RCPS had pledged not to give out bonuses while the additional meals tax was in place. But no worries, they had talked to the City and no one was going to raise a fuss. And we were reminded to keep this quiet. They would, AND I QUOTE, "have" to release their plans when the school board agenda came out but didn't want any advance publicity.

Personally, I took this as somewhat of a challenge to tell as many people as possible about the whole plan. Including the newspaper and local television. While the outrage was widespread, seriously, I talked to nary a person who supported the bonuses, when it came down to the meeting tonight, I was flanked only by Kirsten and a Mom from Highland Park.

In case you've never been to a school board meeting in Roanoke, Virginia, the way it breaks down is this: they have a sign up sheet. You indicate about which topic you are interested in speaking. Before any topics are discussed, you are given the floor with three minutes to speak, during which time, the members of the school board and the school superintendent completely ignore you while looking intently into their laptops. [save the representative to Putney's right - she was paying attention.] You're then thanked and they move on.

When the topic came up on the agenda a half hour later, the chair asked if there was discussion. The Board proceeded to say how all the staff really needed the bonus and just how darn selfless it was for the executive administration was to exempt themselves from this proposal. My concerns, you ask? The need for additional reading specialists or help for the students (don't forget, that's why we're all here) was ignored entirely. The pledge not to give out bonuses was dismissed as "that citizen's claim" which that particular school board member said he didn't remember at all. [As an aside sir, I recommend you check facts with the board member to your left as he referenced the promise last week.]

Then the chairman asked if there was any further discussion. The board, in its entirety, chose to ignore my hand, which had been in the air for several (very polite) minutes. After all, I had my three minutes and GOD FORBID we have any sort of debate. And then they voted unanimously to give out the bonuses.

I left to go home and send an email to my son's school, begging them to let him have a little bit of the scarce reading specialist resources so he can actually learn to read.

Not to overstate things, but I have never been so disgusted in my entire life. I went to the school board, to appeal to them about Eion, and all the kids like him, who don't have the help they need, who are falling behind, who are struggling, who are failing, and I was shown what really matters to them. And it sure as hell isn't my kid.

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