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Linglestown Gazette: B² commentary: Why CD officials get bad rap

Sunday, October 28, 2012

B² commentary: Why CD officials get bad rap

Agenda item to hire special education director
at $100,000 per year comes out of the blue

I want to make few things crystal clear before getting into the meat of this column:
  • I’m a booster of Central Dauphin schools.
  • I’m not looking to take shots at members of the school board or administration.
  • I believe board president Ford Thompson and the rest of the board should be applauded for doing what they do on a volunteer basis.
  • And I understand school officials have a tough job and get a ton of grief for making tough decisions. It’s not my intention to add to the pile of crap thrown at school officials. In fact, I want to make doing their jobs easier.
With that said, I do have one piece of constructive criticism for CD officials based on Monday’s board meeting agenda:

The district informing the public about the planned hiring of a high-paid administrator three days prior to a board vote is the kind of practice that gets the district in deep doo doo with the public because it smacks of behind-closed-door dealings.

Sure, no one expects the board or a subcommittee of the board to conduct interviews for prospective employees in public.

But, information on the need to hire a special education director and how the hiring fits into the district’s financial plan could and should have been discussed in front of the public long before a vote to fill this position. I’ll bet dollars to donuts – and you buy the donuts – that “general information” about staffing needs is not listed under the state’s Sunshine Law as a topic permitted to be discussed in executive session, which is a behind-closed-doors meeting.

Sadly, many local governments, with the blessing of their lawyers, extend the “personnel matters” exception of the Sunshine Law way beyond the intent of the law, in my opinion.

Holding “public” workshop meetings to allow administrators to discuss upcoming agenda items with board members without the pressure to vote would go a long way toward CD improving its relations with parents and all taxpayers.

A little tweak in the district’s standard operating procedure – conducting monthly public workshop meetings – likely would help board members get less doo doo thrown their way.

Bill Bostic has published Linglestown Gazette on a volunteer basis since May 2006 and recently spearheaded the formation of Citizens for CD Schools, a taxpayer group that aims to improve local public education.



At 2:53 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I saw this vacancy posted a few weeks ago on the CD website under "employment opportunities." It's not a new position...due to a resignation. I believe that is noted on the board docs under the personnel report.

At 9:42 PM, Blogger  said...

Thanks for the info!

And, your comment helps to make my point about the need for worship sessions.

Few people are going to dig into the Board Docs section of the district's website. This results in district officials getting a bad rap because key information is not shared with citizens during public meetings.

At 6:43 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

B2 Sorry, I've been tied up with family due to "Sandy." The point is the district didn't spring it on the residents 3 days before the meeting. It was posted. I also appreciate your viewpoint. Gov't and private business hire all of the time. Could you find a middle ground with the district in terms of notification?

At 9:18 PM, Blogger  said...

Technically, the district didn't spring the proposed hiring on the public because it was posted somewhere on the district's website.

My point is that it appears they did because the district doesn't publicly mention many issues until they come up for a vote.

The best way to grasp what I'm pushing for is to attend a workshop session held by a local government that holds them as part of its public meeting schedule.

For example, Lower Paxton Township every month holds a workshop session and two business meetings.

At 9:53 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Appreciate your point of view. I have years of experience with local governments. There is a difference between municipal government and school districts. I encourage you to find a middle ground.

At 10:06 PM, Blogger  said...

Please identify issue or issues that require compromise.

As far as I know, both municipal and school officials hold workshop meetings. Carlisle School District holds two workshops and one business meeting per month.

Also, both municipal and school officials are subject to the state's open government law.

At 8:23 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Sunshine Law permits executive sessions for personnel issues. Workshops are productive for broader issues.

At 9:26 PM, Blogger  said...

According to the PA Newspaper Association's legal specialist, only issues pertaining to specific employees are allowed to be discussed behind closed doors.

In general, public officials should err on the side of openness. Sadly this isn't happening yet at CD.

Lastly, please consider identifying yourself to make your input credible.

At 1:49 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You should not need a name to consider the merits of my suggestions. I'm in a sensitive position. PNA has obstructed some good legislation that would be helpful to political subdivisions. Are we talking about the hiring of a specific CD employee?

At 2:11 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

PS I am not employed in the field of education but have experience with political subdivisions.

At 5:36 PM, Blogger  said...

My commentary calls for general discussion in public on the need to hire a big-ticket employee. There's a problem when the first public discussion of an issue like this happens just prior to a vote.

Regarding identifying yourself, please consider using an alias to distinguish yourself from others who are anonymous.

At 9:45 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Re alias, ok.

At 12:39 PM, Anonymous Suzanne said...

You must understand that resignations come out the blue thus forcing employers to react quickly. I would submit that a director of special education is a critical position. I'm sure the parents of special needs children would agree.

At 4:28 PM, Blogger  said...

Thanks for the comment, Suzanne.

I'm not disputing the need for a special education director -- it's the governmental process district officials have used for this and other issues.

I call them "Friday night surprises" -- items that show up on meeting agendas under New Business that are slated for a vote on Monday.

After getting feedback via other comments about the proposed hiring, I discovered that the resignation was submitted in time to give the board (and the public) a heads-up on the need to fill the spot prior to the 11/5/12 meeting that was canceled. This is public information, according to the PA Newspaper Association's media law specialist.

This isn't trivial stuff. The same process was used to hire Dr. Johnson as superintendent, promote Karen McConnell to assistant superintendent, propose giving administrators a pay hike (the planned hike was dropped because of media and public pushback) and other key issues.

For the public to get involved, board members and administrators need to err on the side of open government. Continuing their current ways will lead to the public throwing their arms up in despair saying, "What's the use of getting involved."

At 4:56 PM, Anonymous Suzanne said...



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