Cutting Off Debate

Dear Political Diary,

The Trib summed up the difficulties the school district faced at tonight's  budget presentation. Two questions remain.  What would the Administration recommend and would the Board act on these recommendations prior to the seating of Mary Cameron in January?

I webbed until noon taking calls sporadically through the morning one of which released me from my appointment at Grant School. My reading partner Tony was home sick so I wouldn't be able to read with him.

I put together a handout rebutting FIGHT's ad to pass out at tonight's budget meeting. I printed up a hundred of them even though I didn't expect that many people would show up. I headed over to the CAB at 3PM to wish the Superintendent's secretary, Barb, a happy retirement at a little party held for her in the Board Room. I chatted with Barb's husband Roger and Bob Mars about the News Trib's past publishers where Roger had worked for thirty years.

I used to buy advertising from Roger for my school board races and joked that he was able to warn Barb about me before I got elected. Yeah, he said, I just told her to have a two by four handy. 

"That explains all the two by fours I ran into after I got elected," I replied.

Half an hour later the Education meeting began. It was a short affair and Eileen only had to caution me once when she thought I was being long winded. After we adjourned we had forty-five minutes to kill before the 5:30 Budget Committee Meeting. I picked out a turkey sandwich from the box lunches set aside for us. 

Shortly before the meeting I joined the WDIO reporter who had set up her camera in the corner of the Board Room to give her a few sound bites. Originally scheduled to start the news broadcast we had to wait for a breaking story about an armed man in a stand off with police. Julio had told us about him a short time before. Some of our Grant students were kept at school when the police set up a  the blockade. Seven minutes into the broadcast we heard that a percussion grenade and been tossed in and shortly after that I answered a couple of questions to prep the story.

The Administration quickly passed out a single sheet of proposed cuts which they thought would total about $2.8 million dollars although no figures accompanied the items on the list. For two hours we went through the list asking about implications while various members rattled their sabers at some items vowing to vote against cuts that seemed particularly unacceptable.

I commented on one item that wasn't on the list, the closing of a high school.  Eileen was quick to say that such an action wouldn't cut our budget by the million dollars I claimed because of all the construction it would require to permit the return of sixth graders. I pointed out in my turn that the Administration's plan proposed spending 3 million dollars to merge Lester park and Rockridge. (Incidentally, the parent leaders of this school are allies of Eileen) I wanted to know how this cost would compare to the cost of preparing our elementary schools to take back the sixth grade.

I raised a high school closing a second time and went further suggesting that the failure of the excess levy indicated that the public expected us to close a high school. Laura stopped me cold and asked the Chair to rule me out of order because my suggestion wasn't on the Administration's list and because it was obvious mine was a minority position. When Dorothy asked for a vote to silence me I shot back that if closing a high school wasn't a budgetary issue I didn't know what was. As for the vote to shut me off, I pointed out that other board members had been given time to add their ideas to the cost cutting list.

How the worm turns. Laura used to complain bitterly when George Balach tried to cut her debate off even after she and her pals had dragged discussions out for hours. She's still in a bad temper over the election results. Dorothy gave me three minutes to finish. No other Board member had been limited up to then.

Laura's behavior set me off enough so that when Bob Mars leaned over and suggested I ask the administration to cut school board stipends I was happy to oblige. I pointed out how the administration's budget cuts were predicated on two very questionable assumptions, miracles really. First, that the state wouldn't lean on schools to remedy its own fiscal problems and second, that we would succeed in negotiating utopian contracts. I suggested that a cut in our stipend would give us the high moral ground if we had to face a strike.

 Mary Cameron followed several other citizens to speak with us. She pointedly asked if she would be limited to three minutes referring to the move to muzzle me. Dorothy assured her that she was free to speak. Mary told us that if she had been on the Board this evening Garry Krause would have had an ally on saving Birchwood and that I'd have had an ally for two high schools. She told me later that she was furious at the way Laura had treated me.

To my delight the new PTA president Judy Seliga also spoke and echoed many of my thoughts. She advocated consideration of my two high school proposal and said many parents would love to keep their sixth graders in elementary school. She pointed out that we already had many K-6 buildings. Its really too bad Judy didn't run for the School Board. She's in Pati's district and when Pati let it be known she didn't want to run I I asked Judy to consider it. She'd have won hands down.

I had plenty of handouts left after the meeting as only about thirty people showed up. Parents can read the writing on the wall. The levy failed. The Board is largely unchanged. There is no money. Schools have to close. 

I warned my fellow board members that if the two miracles do not come to pass we might regret not starting with the most sensible single solution, closing a high school. Even now I'm preparing for my role as an "I told you so."