Unkindest Cuts

Dear Political Diary,

I had coffee with a pal this morning and got a chance to grouse about the school board. I won't tell you who. Its not the first secret that I'll keep from you in this all too public diary. Of course, today's story in the Trib about the cuts we have to make tonight was a primary topic of conversation.

It gave me a chance to depart from my persona as a fair minded public official and say catty things. Every scorched pot needs a kitchen cabinet where he can call the kettles black. 

At one I discovered that my Grant reading partner was cooling his heels in house detention for cutting up. He'd called his teacher a name. His warden told him that I was a fellow that could give him good advice about name calling. (I think she meant that as a compliment.) I told him that some thoughts were best left safely zipped behind one's lips. I didn't tell him about my kitchen cabinet. I  told him that I would try to return the next day when he was back in class.

I looked over the evening's school board agenda and read the minutes of the months various meetings. I yellowed out a few passages including my request for readmitting sixth grade to our elementary schools. I planned on acting the part of Cassandra again by predicting fiscal ruination for the District. The Administration had attached dollar figures to the items we would consider cutting tonight. I planned to vote for most of them.

Just before the meeting Ben, one of my sons buddies, called me and asked where the Board met. He wanted to address the Board about our attendance policy. He had already talked to Julio about his concerns and the superintendent had given him the impression that he agreed that our policy was too rigid. Sure enough I saw Ben at the back of the room at the beginning of the meeting and motioned him up front to sign up to address us. He did fine then stayed for a couple hours of the meeting for class credit I think.

During our approval of the minutes Eileen Zeitz took a moment to correct comments Mary Cameron had made at a previous meeting. Eileen had taken great pains to go through reams of paper from the October meetings in order to contradict Mary. She's good with the details.

Although our agenda was not particularly controversial except for the budget cuts at the end we spent an hour on two not terribly controversial topics. It was almost as if we were lollygagging to avoid the tough stuff. One issue had to do with the doubling of our current Internet capacity. Our students are starting to see their computers freeze up because too many requests are being sent out simultaneously. It should have been a routine request but I used it as a forum to preview the budget cutting proposals. We ended up voting the proposal down to have it rebid for a single year rather than three year timeline. It was a good warm up for the night's main event and put us in a cost conscious frame of mind.

I did have a moment's worry about another technology purchase the purchase of equipment for our CISCO classes. CISCO is computer training and one of the students happens to be my son. The students take their tests over the Internet but don't have enough equipment and so spend lots of times waiting for other students to finish their testing. When I saw the item on the Business committee report a month ago I kept me mouth shut. Normally I'd have joked about my son being in the class but I was afraid that if I other Board members knew my son was in the class they might vote against it to spite me. They could easily have justified the vote because of our budget difficulties. As I always say: "just cause you're paranoid doesn't mean that they aren't out to get you."  

I was impressed with the budget process. Although a few board members voted against most of the big ticket cuts the group squarely knew what had to be done. We ended up voting to cut 2.2 million of the 2.8 million cuts suggested to us by the Administration. 

When we were done I once again requested that the Administration figure out how much it would cost to reconfigure elementary schools so that sixth graders could return to them. My little speech mentioned the 3 million that we were proposing to spend to merge Rockridge and Lester Park. I pointed out that for an annual operating savings of $100,000 it would take 30 years to make the merger pay. What I didn't note publicly  in my spiel was that the parent leaders of the school were close allies of some of the school board members. These close ties may have been strained over the last year and this expensive gesture could be viewed as a peace offering.

Eileen spoke up to say that the Board at the previous weeks meeting had directed the administration not to calculate the costs I'd asked for. I was confused because I had no such recollection. Dorothy quickly agreed to my shock and said the Board had voted eight to one against me. As no one contradicted them I complained bitterly that considering our future peril the Board was acting like ostriches head in sand. I leaned back in my chair to enjoy a good sulk. Laura quickly chastised me for "name calling." She sure has a problem with metaphors.

I looked back to the previous minutes and sure enough noted a passage in which Dorothy said the administration would not investigate my 2 high school option. I knew immediately that, just like Eileen, I would have to do a little research.