Well, I attended yet another Grand Prairie school board meeting last night (February 10, 2011)- hey, it's entertaining to say the least! After that meeting I decided that I should share all of the information I am gaining while at these meetings with the public, so here goes:
As most of you know, there is an open forum at the beginning of every board meeting where the general citizenry is allowed to address the board for 5 minutes each. During this time the board is not allowed to respond, just listen (hopefully that is what they are doing - I'll give them the benefit of the doubt). One speaker discussed the need to get rid of the curriculum program, C-Scope, which the Superintendent brought with her when she came to Grand Prairie - and I'm sure the fact that her father is on the board of the company that wrote C-Scope and he had input into that program had nothing to do with it. (wink, wink) The speaker said that C-Scope is not complete and is costing the district money. She also mentioned the cost of the district doing the many benchmark tests and six weeks tests that they do - possibly eliminating these could help the district save some money. She also mentioned the new (very expensive) electronic marquee that was recently erected in front of the education center (a major sore spot for most taxpayers) and how spending money on things like that when the district is in dire financial straits is not exactly appropriate. She mentioned the many Assistant-Superintendent-of-this and the Executive-Director-of-that positions in Administration aren't exactly necessary. After her speech, Dr. Hull, the Superintendent basically shot her down and told her some information she mentioned was inaccurate and invited her to make an appointment with Linda Ellis, Director of Curriculum, to help her get the right information. Another citizen stood up and discussed furlough days and if the State allows school districts to do that she requests that it apply to everyone in the district (meaning administration) and not just a select few.
Melissa Rowe, Executive Director of Assessments and Research, presented the AEIS report, which is the academic excellent indicator report. She compared 2007 TAKS scores with 2010 TAKS scores and according to her Grand Prairie is up in every single category, including leaps and bounds above the state average. Gee, I would think if we were that good we should be getting some recognition outside out own community. What was interesting is that she said at one point, "Because of our class sizes and unavailability of funds we are unable to do what we need to do during the regular instruction day so other avenues have been implemented, including Saturday school..." I found that interesting because if the legislature does increase class size (oh heavens!) and we are unable to do what we need to do now with our current class sizes, how much worse would it be for possibly up to 10 more students per classroom.
It was announced that there are two positions on the school board up for election on May 14, 2011. Those would be for Place 3 (currently held by Tim Johnson) and Place 4 (currently held by JD Stewart). Here's your chance fellow citizens, who's going to run against them?
Thomas Dyer, the school district's on staff attorney, presented the board with a resolution for program changes which basically allows the Administration to implement a reduction in force in the following areas (apparently listed in no order of importance, hmmmm....) and listed differently by Mr. Dyar at the meeting than what was posted in the agenda packet on the school district website . In no particular order (supposedly!) Librarians, Gifted and Talented Teachers, Special Education Inclusion Teachers, General Administration, and Technology Facilitators. Dr. Hull mentioned that they are expecting a $15-$16 million dollar cut in funding from the State of Texas and cuts are going to have to be made somewhere. She said that eliminating people's jobs is a last resort but wants to restructure these departments to "better utilize our resources" in these areas. Let's see if that really is the very last thing they do to save money!
Kit Mason, Executive Director of Facilities, requested the board approve entering into a contract with EnerNOC Total Energy Management. This would be a 3-year contract and it would monitor the energy usage at 12 campuses with real time feedback on electricity usage, it would review our utility bills for ways to save. He also mentioned how this company would monitor any rolling blackouts that might happen and the district could opt out of those blackouts if school was in session. The contract would cost the district $43,000 per year for 3 years and we would see the savings of that in 5 years. Bebe Bingham and Paul Martinez both asked him at one point, "Now what will this company be doing again." All the board members seemed perplexed as to what this contract was really about - yet EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THEM voted to approve it! Here are my thoughts - I figure since you are reading this blog that is really want you want...my thoughts!! That contract at $43,000 per year is a teacher's salary for three years! We won't see a return for 5 years (which this administration will be long gone from our fair district by that time) and according to the GPISD website we already have a full time employee that does that exact thing, his name is Jerry Palermo so are they eliminating his position? Well, no. Kit Mason focused on these "rolling blackouts" that just occurred because of the unusual winter weather we have been having. I felt that this was a deliberate attempt to dupe the school board. First of all, rolling blackouts have never occurred in the history of the State of Texas, and this is the ONE AND ONLY time it has happened and that was 7 days prior to this board meeting. Am I supposed to believe that the administration did not come up with the idea of this contract until the blackouts happened one week prior? I don't think so. He used that fact to convince the board that we needed to contract with this company to "prevent" the blackouts at the schools and in essence duping the board into voting for the contract - and it worked!! What was also interesting was he said they don't have all the information they need before entering into this contract yet still wanted the board to approve it - and they did!! Now would you sign a contract that you didn't understand before you had all of the information? I know I wouldn't.
Julie Spears, Assistant Superintendent Business Operations, discussed the need for (yet another) bond election to the tune of $70 million dollars. This would not require a tax increase for the citizens of Grand Prairie but interestingly enough, it was mentioned that if they school district did NOT take out these new bonds then when the 2007 bonds are paid off they could reduce the taxes. Hmmmm...a few extra dollars in my pocket? I'm for it! I simply think it is bad business to be in debt to the tune of $33 million dollar payments per year (for the 2007 bond) and then to take out more debt for $70 million on top of that. Where is the money going to come from to pay back the 2010 bond? We all know, debt is never a good thing no matter what it is used to purchase. I'm thinking we already don't have enough money - why make it worse with more debt? Sometimes you just have to make do with what you have. Is it ideal? No. Do we all want better and brighter buildings, playgrounds and band equipment? Yes. But if you can't afford it. You can't afford it.
Then the board went through all their closing comments which were basically telling the superintendent and her administration how wonderful they are - which pretty much happens every month. Nothing new there. I hope you found this information helpful and you are welcome to leave comments and questions. Let's all get some dialogue going and work together to get through this budget crisis but at the same time hold our elected official accountable for their decisions.