Letter: Candidates manipulated K-5 discussions

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To The Editor:

As an attendee at the UCFSD School Board meeting on Monday night, I was touched by Timotha Trigg’s comments at the end of the meeting.  School directors work hard on behalf of the entire community.  They get massive amounts of e-mails and many of those are complaints or problems that need to be resolved or solved.  They deal with unfunded mandates, litigation cases involving the school district, local ordinances that somebody forgot to check, candidate searches, labor contracts and a whole host of real and immediate issues.  They give countless hours to meetings and reading long, boring documents practically capable of curing insomnia. This is a thankless job, selflessly performed by unpaid volunteers.  Last night just happened to be a celebration of 18 years for Dr. Sweeney.

What do School Directors get for their efforts?  They get hysteria, rancor, angry and nasty comments hurled at them at a public meeting.  Instead of calmly stopping to think about what the Board might even be considering, these residents allowed themselves to be whipped up into a nasty, angry group with a frenzy of accusations.  Instead of stopping to think strategically about what a study might provide in the long and short term, they allowed themselves to be the emotional, nasty surrogates for school board candidates in the next election.  As a distinctly proud and partisan Democrat, I have worked on campaign after campaign over many years in this community.  I’ve been told that “we don’t like to talk about politics in Unionville” or we don’t like it when people “make things political.”  It’s as if politics were somehow dirty or beneath people instead of the cornerstone of our cherished democracy.

So, in this community, you deliberately scare people to the polls by non-issues you gin up so you don’t have look like a “politician.”  Tell them that they will have four kids in four different schools on four different buses at four different times and make sure you throw in that how hard it will be for you to attend four different PTO meetings!  Fuel the emotion with talk about Johnny walking hand in hand with his darling baby sister in kindergarten.  Make sure you enlist a couple of teachers who are still smarting from the protracted contract negotiations to bolster your efforts.  Throw in a few people upset over Sharon Parker’s leaving who are sure it was a sinister plot instead of a sixty-something year old woman who wants to do other things including spending time with grandchildren.

If you are against reconfiguration, it would have been smart to stop the emotional, vitriolic rants and support a study.  People who are so confident of their position should be able to see that the study would support their position and provide long-term ammunition the next time the subject is even remotely considered.  Strategically and in the long term, this would force the issue off the table.  Now, your hysterics have literally played into the hands of those who ARE intent on re-configuration.  Without a study, this issue can be reintroduced at any time and pushed without regard to the kinds of real facts that a study would have produced.  Let’s think logically about this and not allow ourselves to be manipulated or scared by political candidates for their own selfish purposes.

Kristin Hoover
Pocopson

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19 Comments

  1. Keith Knauss says:

    There seems to be a misunderstanding of the Sunshine Act and the Right to Know Law.

    1. In March the Board heard a presentation in executive session in full compliance with the Sunshine Act as mentioned above in a quote by Superintendent Parker. The Board is under no obligation to ever release that presentation under the Right to Know Law. BUT –

    2. The Board goes ahead anyway in the interests of transparency and publicly presents a shortened version of the presentation at the October Finance Committee meeting. It is shortened, not to hide anything, but to fit within the allotted 45 minutes. The presentation is posted on the web site.

    3. Ms. Pandolfi, in essence, questions whether there is anything substantially different between the two presentations. In the interests of transparency and timeliness I take unilateral action and offer to make my paper copy available to Ms. Pandolfi. She can be the judge. I have no ability to post it to the district’s web site nor can I direct the administration to do so. I might alienate some of my fellow board members by making my copy available without board consensus, but do so anyway.
    .
    4. Under the heading of no good deed goes unpunished I get this affectionate reply – A man who won an award for Right-to-Know issues suddenly embraces the Right-Not-To-Know! Instead of simply releasing the presentation by John Nolen from the May Executive Session, he distracts the public with a recent document from the work session in the hope that none of us will be bright enough to have listened and paid attention.

    5. Oh and this is very rewarding – I’m hate the word “transparency” because I know that when somebody is telling me how transparent they are…..you better hang on….because you about to be lied to or something is going to be covered up! People who are transparent, don’t have to spend time telling you they are.
    .
    5. C’mon Kris. Lighten up. If you want help with a Right to Know Request use these links:
    http://www.openrecordspa.org/
    http://www.openrecordspa.org//links_assets/form_righttoknow_request.doc

    • Mike McGann says:

      For those of you keeping score at home — The Actual Law:

      65 Pa.C.S.A. § 708. Executive sessions

      (a) Purpose. — An agency may hold an executive session for one or more of the following reasons:

      (1) To discuss any matter involving the employment, appointment, termination of employment, terms and conditions of employment, evaluation of performance, promotion or disciplining of any specific prospective public officer or employee or current public officer or employee employed or appointed by the agency, or former public officer or employee, provided, however, that the individual employees or appointees whose rights could be adversely affected may request, in writing, that the matter or matters be discussed at an open meeting. The agency’s decision to discuss such matters in executive session shall not serve to adversely affect the due process rights granted by law, including those granted by Title 2 (relating to administrative law and procedure). The provisions of this paragraph shall not apply to any meeting involving the appointment or selection of any person to fill a vacancy in any elected office.

      (2) To hold information, strategy and negotiation sessions related to the negotiation or arbitration of a collective bargaining agreement or, in the absence of a collective bargaining unit, related to labor relations and arbitration.

      (3) To consider the purchase or lease of real property up to the time an option to purchase or lease the real property is obtained or up to the time an agreement to purchase or lease such property is obtained if the agreement is obtained directly without an option.

      (4) To consult with its attorney or other professional adviser regarding information or strategy in connection with litigation or with issues on which identifiable complaints are expected to be filed.

      (5) To review and discuss agency business which, if conducted in public, would violate a lawful privilege or lead to the disclosure of information or confidentiality protected by law, including matters related to the initiation and conduct of investigations of possible or certain violations of the law and quasi-judicial deliberations.

      (6) For duly constituted committees of a board or council of trustees of a State-owned, State-aided or State-related college or university or community college or of the Board of Governors of the State System of Higher Education to discuss matters of academic admission or standings.

  2. Kristin Hoover says:

    This has turned into a very interesting conversation. I’ve said in board minutes how pleased I am with this new board and I have been….until now. What happens to you after you get on the Board? A man who won an award for Right-to-Know issues suddenly embraces the Right-Not-To-Know! Instead of simply releasing the presentation by John Nolen from the May Executive Session, he distracts the public with a recent document from the work session in the hope that none of us will be bright enough to have listened and paid attention. The reconfiguration thing hardly hits my radar from a personal standpoint. However, the lack of truth, attempting to deliberately mislead the public, the apparent cover-up of information, the misuse of an executive session in apparent violation of the Sunshine law and the bulling of the public by calling them “deceitful” and other things is objectionable to the core of my being. You don’t volunteer to share something with one person who comments at a mutually convenient time…..please! Right-to-know means right-to-know regardless of the side of the table where you sit.

    I’m hate the word “transparency” because I know that when somebody is telling me how transparent they are…..you better hang on….because you about to be lied to or something is going to be covered up! People who are transparent, don’t have to spend time telling you they are. It’s why I like John Sanville so much. He is the real deal. If there wasn’t something really important in Nolen’s Executive Session presentation, it would have been discussed in public and posted on the website. Posting that presentation would have been easy, no cost and the right thing to do….and consistent with our right-to-know.

    Board minutes of 8/26/09, quote Mr. Hellrung by saying, “Does the board consider withholding important budgetary information ethical behavior?” and then he asks, “Does the administration feel it is ethical to make handouts and public presentations that mislead the public?” Mr. Hellrung then read a statement from the “Office of Open Records regarding a citizen’s right to know, which promotes trust in government.” He then says, “That trust has been broken.” Well, Mr. Hellrung, I guess it depends on the side of the table where you sit.

    As far as the rest of the Board is concerned, where are you? Where is the communication? Where are the questions? I get the fact that if you speak up, you become a target. I understand that you have to work together. But, one rule I live by is that evil triumphs when good men and women do nothing. I don’t plan to do nothing. I think I need to start by reading how to file a RTK request for the Nolen presentation. I feel for Timotha being picked on and I don’t intend to pick on them, either. My intent is for them to be the transparent organization that I once felt they were. Be the people the community needs. Be the good decent people that I know you to be personally. Transparent is not translucent nor is it opaque. We cannot pick and choose what we decide to make visible in the metaphorical light and need to conduct our business in accordance with the Sunshine Law.

  3. Andrea Pandolfi says:

    Mr. Knauss, I believe Ms. Hoover is asking for the presentation from the Executive Session earlier this year. Board members have spoken openly about dollar amounts and the presentation at the link you provided does not have those dollar amounts. Your statement above “The financial estimates of moving to a K-2, 3-5 split configuration varied from $300K to over $1M per year depending on whether only teacher compensation was considered or whether indirect costs were also included” indicates dollar amounts that are not in the linked presentation. Also, that presentation is dated 10-10-2011. The Executive Session presentation was said to have been in the March-April timeframe.

    • Keith Knauss says:

      Andrea,
      .
      I have the paper copy of the 3/21 executive session presentation and I’m willing to share it with you at any convenient time. You’ll find the information congruent in both. There are no dollar amounts contained ($300K to $1M) in either presentation.
      .
      The financial estimates are ballpark numbers mentioned by different people verbally at work sessions, committee meetings, and one-on-one conversations based on staffing difference between the K-5 and split configuration. As I noted above, the estimates have a large range depending on what rules-of-thumb were used and “whether only teacher compensation was considered or whether indirect costs were also included”. I’d be willing to discuss the details.

  4. Margaret W says:

    In response to what Kristin Hoover said, let me just make sure I have this right. I was at that May Board meeting and all I remember is Mr. Murphy angrily dressing down parents who spoke at the meeting and said they were opposed to the reconfiguration.

    I remember him saying the whole thing was a rumor so I was pretty surprised when I heard just a few months later that the board was considering moving forward on the reconfiguration. Now you’re telling me that a plan to reconfigure the elementary schools had actually been presented in detail at an Executive Session prior to the May meeting?

    Is that even legal? I just looked up the Sunshine Laws to see which issues governing bodies may consider behind closed doors. According to the Pennsylvania Open Meetings/Open Records Sunshine Act and Right to Know Law, there are six reasons for holding executive session “from which the public is excluded.” They are:

    1. To discuss personnel matters, including hiring, promoting, disciplining, or dismissing specific public employees or officers, but not including filling vacancies in any elective office.

    2. To hold information, strategy and negotiation sessions related to collective bargaining agreements or arbitration.

    3. To consider the purchase or lease of real estate.

    4. To consult with an attorney regarding litigation or issues where identifiable complaints are expected to be filed.

    5. To discuss agency business that would lead to disclosure of information recognized as confidential or privileged under law including initiations and conduct of investigations of possible violations of the law and quasi-judicial deliberations.

    6. For public colleges or universities to discuss matters of academic admission or standings.

    How does presenting information about the reconfiguration of district elementary schools meet any of that criteria?

    Thanks for bringing this to our attention. It sounds like this school board has a transparency problem.

    • Keith Knauss says:

      I think I can speak authoritatively about the Sunshine Act as it relates to this matter, but I sense Superintendent Parker’s explanation might be received better. From the May minutes:
      .
      “Ms. Parker addressed Mrs. Pandolfi, stating that the Board had a brief preview of this which qualified for Executive Session because it was talking about a significant personnel matter and also real estate and contracts.”

  5. Craig Huffman says:

    Ms. Do: I guess I’m one those people waiting to “pounce.” I assure you that I will stick to facts, only. You have repeatedly stated or implied that Mr. Murphy was deceptive with regard to reconfiguration. Here are the facts:

    On your campaign’s website, in the 10/18 posting you sate:
    “Beginning with Kathy’s forceful condemnation of the proposal back in May—when we were told the whole idea was just a rumor—parents mobilized and spread the word that the board was considering the dismantling of our neighborhood elementary schools in favor of a K-2, 3-5 configuration.”

    On your 10/12 posting you state: “After Mr. Murphy said in May this was all a “rumor,” Mr. Knauss now tells us that there was an “original study.” It is obvious that Mr. Knauss is very much in favor of the reconfiguration.”

    On your 10/11 posting you state: “It should be noted that despite the outcries from our opponent, Frank Murphy, in May that no such plan was being considered and that any discussion of a plan were “rumors” being spread by parents, other board members confirmed tonight that this plan has been on the table for several months, prior to the May board meeting.”

    Your above statements, currently on your own website, are wrong. Anyone who watches the videos (I encourage everyone to do so) will see that. Mr. Murphy and Sup. Parker were CLEAR that a preliminary study was done on the issue by Mr. Nolan and that there was NO PLAN. Mr. Murphy’s use of the word “rumor” was based around a “panic” e-mail (that I received as well as many other parents) that the Board was going to reconfigure the schools. He acknowledged that a preliminary study was undertaken by Mr. Nolan and that discussion would take place in the future about conducting a more advanced study, if warranted.

    Sorry for “pouncing” but I think an informed voter is the best voter.

  6. Kathy Do says:

    I’m hesitant to participate in these forums because sometimes it seems that those who oppose me are lying in wait to pounce. But if something is said about me that is patently false, I have no choice but to respond.

    Respectfully, Mr. Knauss, I NEVER said or even intimated that an elementary school reconfiguration could happen this fall or even next fall. If you go back and watch the tape of the 5/16 Board Meeting, as you suggest, you will see that I talked about why I thought this was a terrible idea. (I still do.)

    In reality, I have gone out of my way to assure concerned parents that a reconfiguration could never happen quickly. Between issues regarding Kindergarten enrollment and possible building modification, it would take time to implement a change of this magnitude. I also expressed confidence that our administration would give parents the opportunity to voice their concerns. I even said as much in a comment in the Unionville Times last month!

    Speaking of watching tapes of previous meetings, Mr. Knauss, you may wish to go back and watch the tape of the June meeting yourself. You may recall that at that meeting, I stood up and talked about my respect for you. I said that I certainly disagree with many of your positions, but I respect you for being willing to stand up and fight for what you believe in. That is all I am trying to do, and I would appreciate your respect in return.

    By the way, after I spoke, your friend and fellow board member, Jeff Hellrung, offered me membership in the Keith Knauss Fan Club. He said the membership dues are one dog biscuit. Please let him know that I checked with my dog, Layla, and she reminded me that our family is on a budget and she doesn’t have one to spare.

    Oh, and one more thing. I’m not a doctor. But thanks for the promotion!

  7. Keith Knauss says:

    Kris,

    The presentation is on the District’s main web page.

    http://www.ucfsd.org/pdf/bldg_util_goal_rpt.pdf

  8. Andrea Pandolfi says:

    I agree that personal decorum should be exhibited in public discourse. And I think this should start with the Board members. In May, Mr. Murphy set the tone for discussion on this topic with his exaggerated statements, blanket denials and overzealous attacks on individuals. The opportunity to have an open and reasonable discussion on this topic was lost amid his rush to label this whole topic as “rumor”. Of course residents are now upset that this topic, which was previously dismissed as checking a box on a to-do list, is back in front of them at the very beginning of the next school year. Of course that makes them wonder what and who they can trust.

    • Kristin Hoover says:

      Andrea – You bring up a very important point and one that I had not thought about until now. I had been thinking about the improvement on this from the previous board. I was at the May meeting and missed the June meeting, but I went back and took a look at the meeting minutes after I read your post. WOW! I get it now.

      Page 11 (meeting minutes of 16 May 2011) says, “Mr. Murphy stated that the comments about reconfiguration are really troubling. There is not (sic) plan/option to reconfigure the schools. It was a basic analysis. As Ms Parker said, there is not (sic) such plan. It is really deceitful for people to say so. In response to a request from the audience to put it in writing, Mr. Murphy stated that he did respond via e-mail. So much would have to be done just to even consider that. It is not happening, and that is the kind of dialogue that needs to stop in this school district.” He knew there was a study/plan because he had just heard about it in Executive Session!

      Page 19 of the 20 June minutes has the following exchange, [a resident] …”asked whether, in light of transparency, the idea of reconfiguration was the Board’s or the Administration’s. Mr. Murphy stated that “there was never an idea to reconfigure the schools.”

      By June, Mr. Murphy denies that there was ever even an “idea.” Andrea, thanks for bringing this to my attention. You’re right. Being a bully is not acceptable, even if you are on the Board.

      • Keith Knauss says:

        I find Mr. Murphy’s comments at the May and June board meeting entirely accurate and appropriate.
        .
        In May, Mr. Murphy was responding to Dr. Do’s reference to a “proposal that was announced last week to reconfigure our elementary-based community schools…”. His response of, “There is not a plan/option to reconfigure the schools. It was a basic analysis. As Ms Parker said, there is not such [a] plan, was accurate and appropriate. There is quite a difference between a proposal/plan and a study. A study in fulfillment of the district goal of building utilization implies time for reflection and public input before a decision is made, A plan/proposal to reconfigure the elementary schools implies imminent action.
        .
        In June, Ms. Halstead asks the question, “whose idea was it to reconfigure the schools for this fall?” (note: the minutes leave off the words “for this fall”, but the video confirms the full statement) Mr. Muphy’s response of, ““there was never an idea to reconfigure the schools this fall.” is accurate and appropriate. (note: the minutes, again, leave off the words “for this fall”, but the video confirms the full statement) As we all know and was explained in detail by Superintendent Parker at the May meeting, there never was a plan or idea to reconfigure the schools in the fall.
        .
        It’s no secret that Dr. Do is a school board candidate opposing Mr. Murphy. Was it an unintentional mistake that the building utilization study was mischaracterized by two people as a plan to be implemented this fall? Or was it purposefully done to create opposition to Mr. Murphy? We can only speculate.

  9. John says:

    It is interesting how perceptions can vary in regards to the meeting. Passionate, involved parents and community members who cared enough to take the time to let the board know how they felt about possible reconfiguration should not be chastised. They have a right to question, implore, and offer alternatives.There is nothing more important than the community’s greatest resource, the children. In a democratic society people have the right to question and challenge actions they feel threaten the fiber of the district. They should not be accused of political manipulation because they oppose a study of reconfiguration of neighborhood schools. If this had been proposed in January, the outcry would have been the same. Upcoming elections do not change the seriousness of this issue. That being said, they offer an opportunity for this community to do more than voice their opinion.
    This board has spent thousands of dollars studying outsourcing buses, maintenance and food service. Now reconfiguration, at what cost?
    As for the board members taking the challenges personally, they must be willing to accept people’s displeasure with their actions. They were not being attacked, their actions were. While board members do commit personal time and energies to their position, they do of their own accord. If you want the seat, you should accept what comes with it.

    • Kristin Hoover says:

      There is nothing wrong with passion and involvement, but several meeting attendees need to be reminded that there are proper ways to present your viewpoint in public. It means that you stay in your seat and don’t try to jump up and speak when the public comment period is over. It means that you are respectful of the time allowed. Just because the Chair did not enforce the normal three minute limit doesn’t mean that it is acceptable to monopolize the microphone with your vitriolic rant. Nobody volunteers time as a school director and fails to care about children so we really don’t need what amounts to name calling about it.

      Reconfiguration was not proposed; merely a study to see if some sort of reconfiguration might be viable option. At what cost you ask? Good question because it never got that far so that is an unfair criticism. Board members were being attacked. I’ve been going to Board meetings for years and Timotha Trigg is not easily moved to the point of tears. That was mean. It was inexcusable and simple bullying.

      This was the clearest case of political manipulation I’ve seen in a long time in this area….even more than the referendum. Suddenly when it appeared that the current school board members who are up for re-election might be unopposed, there was a clear movement for candidates to oppose them. Who where these candidates? People still mad about the failed referenda or couldn’t win when they weren’t appointed or people who feel Sharon Parker was somehow forced out (all people with a personal “ax to grind”). About fifteen minutes after the primary, this “neighborhood schools” (read political speak as in “neighborhood policing”) non-starter of a low priority became hot topic #1 in this district. It was as if the Board planned to pick up the schools and move them to Delaware! No amount of input from the board cooled this off because the scare tactics were being pumped up by the vast e-mail rumor mill in the absence of any real factual information. The logical extension of the argument presented last night is to reconfigure the schools so that K-12 are all in the same building. If you are anti-reconfiguration, then you blew it by opposing the study because the results of that study would have shut down the topic for a long time to come. Now, the topic can come back at any time.

      One final point, if our children are the most important thing as you claim, the one wonders why people don’t comport themselves into the role models that their children need. Our children are one important part of the community, but the community is made up of a wide variety of people. Every human is important. Nobody deserves to be bullied. This applies to school board members, kids in the district and people who disagree. If parents respectfully presented their differenced and behaved better, then so would our children.

    • Keith Knauss says:

      John,

      You asked a question.
      .
      This board has spent thousands of dollars studying outsourcing buses, maintenance and food service. Now reconfiguration, at what cost?

      First, I hope you know that the thousands spent on studying outsourcing has and will continue to produce tens of thousands in savings.
      .
      As for reconfiguration, unfortunately, we won’t know the financial cost. The financial estimates of moving to a K-2, 3-5 split configuration varied from $300K to over $1M per year depending on whether only teacher compensation was considered or whether indirect costs were also included.
      .
      Neither will we know the academic cost, if any. The few studies I read either did not apply or were of such poor quality as to be laughable. We won’t get a chance to process the 14 years of data from our own district (when we operated in a K-3, 4-5 split configuration) and compare it to several years of K-5 data. We won’t ask the opinions of scholars who have studied elementary configurations. Let’s recall the educational fads of whole language, fuzzy math, middle schoolism, small schools and class sizes of less than 15 that were all supported by the literature, but upon closer examination were found ineffective. Is the current trend to K-8 schools a fad? We won’t know.
      .
      I find it bothersome that some topics are so emotional that we can’t explore them. That said, we had a vote and we move on.

      • Kristin Hoover says:

        Keith – I think what John is asking is how much will the board be spending on the study itself. I believe that it is not a cost issue since John Nolen’s presentation on reconfiguration is already completed and was provided to the board back in May in Executive Session. In the spirit of transparency, just release that presentation to the community. Costs nothing; provides information and seems like a “win/win” to me!

    • Craig Huffman says:

      John: you said, “As for the board members taking the challenges personally, they must be willing to accept people’s displeasure with their actions. They were not being attacked, their actions were. While board members do commit personal time and energies to their position, they do of their own accord. If you want the seat, you should accept what comes with it.”
      So, to be clear, in your opinion, the fact that someone volunteers their time, taking away from work or family, opens them up to being verbal punching bags? Unreal. Never mind that this attitude only discourages good people from seeking office, it disregards the very basic belief that we should all treat each other with respect and dignity, even when we disagree.

  10. Craig Huffman says:

    Very well said, Kristin. Personally, I strongly support the re-election of Timotha and Frank as well as the candidacy of Sharon Jones. I don’t do this based upon the party affiliation, but because I know the deep dedication they have to the schools and the kids. I’m sure that the motivation to do what is right by the students was their singular motivation.

    The behaviour exhibited by some members of the public at the last school board meeting (and some meetings prior) was reprehensible. I have little doubt it was motivated by political support or trying to “score points” for the candidates in opposition to Timotha, Frank and Sharon. Hysterical yelling and personal attacks should not be part of public discourse.

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