Saturday, June 30, 2018

A Few Highlights From the Last BMA meeting

Quite a bit happened (and didn't happen) at the BMA meeting last Monday, June 25. I will provide a few highlights from the meeting, because I realize that many citizens don't have time to view the meeting on the  City webpage or YouTube. On the City webpage, the recording of the meeting is broken into various clickable agenda items. I am including a few of these below for your convenience as I discuss some of the items, but some may be interested in other agenda items as well. If so, go to the City webpage link above.

Note: As I was composing this post, the City video failed, so I edited to add the YouTube link. Just remember that you have two options, but only the City webpage option has clickable agenda items. 

Before I get to the agenda items, I need to point out that at the beginning of the meeting, Alderman Janda announced his desire to move to exclude Carrefour from the apartment moratorium at a future meeting. I previously discussed the request by the Economic Development Commission to exclude that project from the moratorium in my May 12 post-- Carefour Exempt from Apartment Moratorium ?, request from Economic Development Commission. The Commercial Appeal discusses this recently in Carrefour at Kirby Woods developers Ask for Exemption from Germantown Moratorium.  


I.  Rebuild Tennessee Award – Thornwood 

A great deal of praise was heaped on the Thornwood development, as Cameron Ross and the developers spent a good chunk of time extolling the virtues of same. We even learned that Mayor Palazzolo's parents are considering moving to the Thornwood apartments, because they no longer want the burden of home ownership. These apartments are listed on Zillow. The Thornwood apartment webpage also lists more information about the available apartments. 

Somewhere after the 26 minute mark, Mayor Palazzolo suddenly turns on Alderman Massey, taking exception to a statement from Massey quoted in the recent Commercial Appeal article Sides Chosen: Germantown Mayor and Alderman Debate Direction of Suburb's Growth

Here is Massey's statement: 

"The problem I have with Thornwood is the way that it was presented to the public. It passed to begin with, without opposition. The mayor's administration represented that those apartments were going to be condos where families would actually have ownership in the property." 

The Mayor vehemently denied he had ever said the Thornwood living spaces were going to be condos; he then read the application for Thornwood dated 11-7-2014 which stated that there would be apartments. He claimed Massey was either misinformed or was purposely misleading the public, and, in an accusing manner, he directly asked Massey why he would want to do that. This must not have been discussed at the Executive session, as Massey appeared to be blindsided. The alderman, who was recovering from a bad cold, stated: 

1. Mayor Palazzolo was not the Mayor at the time, and he was not referring to him. Also, he was only referring to the Mayor's administration. (note: the administration was the same under Mayor Goldsworthy and Mayor Palazzolo), and 

2. the public was led to believe that the project would be condominiums by various newspaper articles.

The Mayor demanded to know what newspaper articles, but, not being prepared for the attack, Massey did not have a list of specific newspaper articles.

Given the high emotions in this exchange, I decided to investigate. I was unable to find evidence that then Alderman Palazzolo stated that there would be condominiums rather than apartments at Thornwood. However, as pointed out by  Massey, that is not what Massey had claimed in the Commercial Appeal article.

In support of what Massey did state-- namely, that the mayor's administration led the public to believe that there would be condos at Thornwood-- I was able to find two newspaper articles that each clearly indicated that there would be condominiums at Thornwood. 

Developer Buys Land for $150 million mixed-use project in Germantown (Memphis Business Journal, Sept. 25, 2014)

Smart Growth Plan Sets Stage in Germantown (Memphis Daily News, Sept. 30, 2014).  

Thornwood, which will be built in multiple phases over several years at the northeast corner of Neshoba and Germantown roads, will include hundreds of condominium units, around 60,000 square feet of retail and a four-story Hampton Inn & Suites.

“We hope that what ultimately gets built there is the execution of the vision of the smart growth plan,” said Cameron Ross, director of economic and community development for Germantown. “Because of that plan and the zoning that was put in place, that project is possible today.”

We do not know if the "Mayor's administration" informed the media that the project contained condominiums rather than apartments, as Massey's statement implies. But Director of Economic Development Cameron Ross was quoted extensively in the Daily News article (then-alderman Palazzolo was also quoted), so I contend that, although there is not hard proof, it was logical for Massey to assume that Ross (part of the "Mayor's administration"), was the source of the publicly disseminated misinformation that the multi-family portion of the Thornwood project would be condominiums. Also, one would have thought that City officials would want to request corrections to articles in the newspaper that contained inaccurate information about a development.

These articles were both written prior to the November 7 application date that Mayor Palazzolo referred to in the BMA meeting. Interestingly enough, that application date was three days after the 2014 election.

I am at a loss to understand why Mayor Palazzolo wanted to bring Massey's statement in the Commerical Appeal to the forefront at the BMA meeting, ensuring that as many people as possible would be aware of it.

This unnecessary exchange was much ado about nothing. However, the overall topic should give the public pause. Citizens who felt misled by the newspaper articles claim that this is just another example of "bait and switch" by the City on developments. I give a different example of the "bait and switch" tactic in City Officials Misrepresent and Ignore Forest Hill Heights Small Area Plan.  

 II.  Ordinance No. 2018-1 – Ordinance to Adopt the FY2019 Budget 

Of course the real meat of the meeting was in the third and final reading of the budget. What "happened" was that the budget recommended by the City administration passed. What "didn't happen" at the meeting was passage of any of the amendments to the budget proposed by Massey. 

Massey had a wide range of objections to the budget. He noted that there has been no cost-benefit analysis of the budgeted water tower in the Forest Hill Heights area. He also noted that sales tax revenue is purposely underestimated, so the budget is not reliable. He cannot get the details about the budget that he needs. Rather than staff giving only one option on tax rate, and rubber stamping it, various options should be given the legislative branch, so that the legislators can select from the options. Should we be funding drainage projects for developers' projects when we have so many drainage issues in existing neighborhoods? The schools have many needs, so why are we spending $2.5 million for street beautification?

(Note: The motions that were turned down 3-2 were voted "no" by Aldermen Owens, Gibson, and Janda, and "yes" by Barzizza and Massey):

Massey's failed motions: 

1. Remove two million dollars from sewer project for developers in the Western Gateway (Carrefour)  (Note see my posts Carrefour Exempt from Apartment Moratorium?  and City Projection of Capital Costs related to Development. (Massey says a vote for this is a vote for apartments, and ignores the moratoriumThere was no second for this motion.

2. Remove $240,000 for the water tower in Forest Hill Heights. Failed 3-2.

3. Remove $1,140,000 for water main in Forest Hill Heights area--no cost benefit analysis performed. No second for this motion.

4. Remove $500,000 for streetscape, and re-allocate the funds for the Houston Fieldhouse project. (GMSD is about to lose a one million dollar private matching grant for this project due to a time limit imposed by the donor!). Failed 3-2 

Alderman Barzizza stated that spending was out of control, and that the budget was large compared with other cities the same size as Germantown. 

The budget passed 3-2.  

III. Link   
Revote: Ordinance No. 2018-3 – Real and Personalty Property Tax – Third and Final Reading

This slight roll back in the property tax rate (to $1.95) was made necessary by the state of Tennessee, because the figures on re-appraisals of property indicated a higher total value than had been assumed when the original tax rate ($1.97) was set. Citizens need to know that this is an adjustment in the tax rate made necessary by the change in total appraised values, not a true "reduction", as it does not change the total tax revenues projected by the City. 

At various points in the meeting Aldermen Massey and Barzizza pointed out that sales tax revenues are consistently under-budgeted, which skews the bottom line. City Administrator Lawton responded that the City wants to be very conservative and be prepared in case there is a recession. He even asked if everyone had noticed that the stock market went down Monday. He talked about the fiscal difficulties of the City during the Great Recession. That makes him "very conservative" in forecasting revenues. 

Massey said that he consistently sees "profit" in the financials in the City, and the City is not supposed to be a profit making enterprise.

[My opinion: It is not productive to consistently under-estimate tax revenues. It is better to budget the best estimate. However, it is wise to be conservative, and shortfalls during a year can be covered by a "conservative" fund balance.]  

Thus, Massey suggested a roll back of $.10 of the of the property tax cut. He did not make a motion, saying that he knew any such motion would not pass. He feels the Board should be given options for tax rates, budgets and projects. 

The standard roll back of the tax rate (from $1.97 to $1.95), made necessary by final appraisal values in the City, passed 5-0.  


Please remember that this post is just a discussion of a few highlights of the meeting, and not a summary. Check out either of the options listed (City webpage or YouTube) to view the entire meeting.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Joint Work Session--BMA and GMSD and Capital Expenditures for Schools

The joint session of the BMA and the School Board occurred well into the budget making process because of late scheduling and conflicts. You may listen to the commentary from the May 14 BMA meeting, where Alderman Massey discusses this, and his reluctance to vote for items such as a two million dollar sewer project benefiting a proposed development without first hearing from the school board about its capital expenditure needs. The City had scheduled a date, but several school board members were not able to attend at the scheduled time. Alderman Barzizza had even cancelled a trip in order to be able to attend on the original scheduled date. Finally, the work session to address the capital expenditure needs of GMSD was held on June 5.  


Brief Summary:  In the joint work session, the City stated that the budget for capital projects for schools included $1.5 million for a boiler for Riverdale, and $200,000 for part of a matching grant for the field house/band room. But, at the second reading of the budget on June 11, only the $1.5 million dollars was left under the Municipal School budget. There was $250,000 in a "contingency" (see graphic below under BMA meeting heading), and hopefully that includes the $200,000 for the field house match. I did not hear this line item discussed at the BMA meeting.

Furthermore, at the BMA meeting only $1 million dollars was funded for the boiler. Depending on the final cost of the boiler, more funds could be added to next year's budget to cover that, according to Mr. Lawton. The $500,000 was instead added for security in this year's budget. The school board had requested $3.0 million for the boiler in this year's budget, as well as $600,000 to make Dogwood ADA compliant, and $500,000 for security (also the matching grant).

Although not related to capital funding projects, Suzanne Jones informed the BMA that administrative costs would immediately rise by almost three million dollars per year as soon as our new elementary school opens, and there would be no offset in revenue from the state or county. She said everyone needs to realize this, and that if GMSD is to have "excellence always" in our schools, it will require operating funds in the future.

**The Work Session**

The City and GMSD turned down Suzanne Jones' request to record the work session, but citizen Sarah Wilkerson Freeman attended the meeting and recorded it. I put it on my YouTube channel. took notes, and time stamped my notes: 



Link  City Administrator Patrick Lawton talks in general about capital improvements plan. CIP has six year plan, voted on one year at a time, think about credit rating, debt or "pay as you use." Speaks of City-wide capital projects, e,g. new fire stations. He seems to be talking a long time and taking up a large percentage of the time for what is supposed to be a joint work session. Right as I was typing this, I note that Ms. Jones asks him a question, trying to keep on topic of the schools capital improvement budget.

Link- after almost ten minutes of background by Mr. Lawton, Ms. Jones interjects a question about the schools. She points out that the school needs need to be planned for the future, integrated with City. There is back and forth between the two of them. Then Mr. Lawton takes over again. 

Link  Finally getting to subject of schools, from general fund reserves of budget $7.8 million in CIP, included (from Mr. Lawton's conversations with Mr. Manuel) is $1.7 million for schools--for boiler at Riverdale $1.5 million, and $200.000 for matching grant for field house). Ms. Jones asks to confirm that these are these are the only two items in this years City budget for the capital needs of the schools. Mayor Palazzolo states that the City is widening Forest Hill, and that is for the school (although in truth this was needed even without the school). In future years, more can be done, mentions possible $5 million expansion of Houston Middle School for FY20 if needed then. He said it would not be able to move it up a year to FY19. Ms. Jones asked if proper procedure was for school board to request capital expenditures for schools as needed, and City could tell the schools when not feasible.

Link  Mr. Massey asks for clarification from Mr. Lawton on how the two projects for the schools were selected.  Mr. Massey says legislative branch should have say in the projects. Mr. Lawton states  the budget he submits is the City Administrator's budget, and then the aldermen can look at it and change it, but all need to fit into the fiscal plan. 

Link  Mr. Manuel- Elementary School capacity is satisfied with new school. Demographer underestimated enrollment. We are over capacity in middle schools now, without even adding transfers. Teaching out of science labs, etc. Mr. Manuel talks of the various ratios used to estimate enrollment. Looked at each undeveloped portion of City and projected out numbers of students if developed. Lots of detail here.  

Link Mr. Manuel begins talking about the capital needs of the schools-- a five year list. Listed past capital improvements completed --Priorities for this year, for the City to fund-- The Board- (GMSD provides funds for some capital improvement projects, the below are what it requests from City):
The priorities for funding are boxed in yellow./the matching field house money is also a priority.

(At the time, only $1.5 million for the boiler and the $200,000 for the matching field house grant are in the City capital improvement project--later $500,000 is shifted by City from the boiler to the security upgrades.) 

Link In response to Mr. Massey's question, Mr. Manuel speaks about the security issues that need to be addressed in the future, such as moving doors so that people get buzzed in through the office rather than the hallway, fences, etc. There may be grants for this and they do not yet have estimates of numbers, according to Mayor Palazzolo. 

Link Police Department spokesperson addresses future security needs of schools in more detail. Discussed active shooter training, relationship with kids, and training for kids and staff, their job is reactive, assessments of security, opportunity for state and federal grants, total $$$ cannot be estimated yet for fencing, building new entrances, connecting two buildings at HHS, should have more numbers in the next few months, HHS the priority.

Link,  Ms. Jones suggests another joint meeting between BMA and GMSD Board after more security numbers are known. 

Link Alderman Mary Anne Gibson says that the City has a certain amount of money they can give the schools, and it is up to the school board to determine priorities. Shifts in money that the Financial Advisory Commission says is available can be handled by School Board. 

Link  Mayor Palazzolo cuts off the conversation and says time is getting late and everyone is concerned about safety, and City provides officers for safety, ready to be a great partner.

Link  Ms. Jones- Again states importance of having joint meetings at the same table, Mr. Massey agrees. Ms. Jones--don't lose sight--operating expenses increase by almost three million dollars in general funds when the new school opens, we won't get any more state money. Children are already sitting on top of each other. GMSD is not a funding body. Will need operating funds. Where will the funds come from? Aldermen need to understand that. Will need four million dollars per year in general operating expenses if we want to hit excellence in our classrooms, keeping optimal size classrooms, everyone needs to know that. 

Link Alderman Barzizza acknowledges what Ms. Jones said, and in particular we must get back together and make sure security needs are funded when we have a better idea of costs at the end of summer.  

**June 11 BMA Meeting Second Reading** 

Fast forward to the second reading of the City budget on June 11. It seems that the $1.7 million proposed by the City for the capital expenditures for the schools has dropped to $1.5 million. 

The $1.5 million is now spread out between two projects, with $1,000,000 for the boiler and $500,000 for security, based on the discussion at the joint work session, where Ms. Jones, Mr. Barzizza, and Mr. Massey called for money for security in the schools. Mr. Lawton discusses this at at this link at the June 11 BMA. If more money is needed for the boiler, it could be pushed into next year's budget.

Mr. Barzizza asks if, in the event that grants are received for some of the security needs, that amount can be shifted to the boiler (link). Mr. Lawton says yes, but it depends on when the funds come in. 

The $200,000 for the matching grant for the field house was not mentioned in the BMA meeting. Hopefully it is under "contingency" which is listed in the graphic.  

Mr. Massey states that he would have funded some of the needs of the schools over things like streetscape projects. (link). He would have put a higher priority on school needs. Also remember that we have in the budget  $2 million for a sewer project for the Western Gateway 
  This would be needed for Carrefour redevelopment. Please remember that  Carrefour is covered by the apartment moratorium, although both the Economic Development Commission and the Germantown Chamber of Commerce have asked that it be exempted from the moratorium.   

The third and final reading of the budget is Monday night, June 25, at the BMA meeting.     

Note: I made an edit to this post. Originally I stated that the $200,000 in matching funds for the field house was no longer in the budget. Although it was not included and not discussed under the municipal schools budget, I realize now it could be under the title "contingency" which was not discussed.       

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

In a 3-2 vote, GMSD Board gave Jason Manuel a new Four Year Contract

The new four year contract for Superintendent Jason Manuel:

In favor: Betsy Landers, Linda Fisher, and Lisa Parker. 

Against: Suzanne Jones, Amy Eoff.   

Will fireworks happen, my husband asked me as I left our condo to take in the GMSD Board meeting last night? The answer? Yes. To access the two most forthright and controversial parts of the meeting, which best exemplify the divisions in the Board of Education, you may skip directly to Suzanne Jones speaking about her frustrations with the Board and Superintendent Manuel, and Lisa Parker's pronouncements that were nothing short of jaw dropping, including this statement: "It takes two or more people to make bullying happen." Two audience members came close to being removed by security during her presentation, and they and many others voluntarily left the meeting in protest. Chair Betsy Landers corrected Ms. Parker several times for being off-topic. 

For those who want more detail than the above but do not have three plus hours to listen to the entire meeting, I time stamp, link and summarize what happened at the GMSD Work Session and Board Meeting last night. In addition, I add some of my own observations and comments. I highlight my thoughts by using blue text, so the reader can distinguish between the summary and my commentary. Because this is a tedious task, as usual this is going to be in note-taking format, rather than a formal essay, and will be in in chronological order. Also, for brevity, I am not covering every detail.

Work Session 

Began with discussion of evaluation of Superintendent Jason Manuel-- an overall rating of 3.9 out of 4.0, "highly effective". Noted that these were based on "measurable" rather than subjective goals.  00:48  

Suzanne Jones asked Valerie Speakman, speaker and attorney featured in June 2018 GMSD Retreat Video about her role. Ms. Speakman said Chair asked her to speak, and there is "no contract." Previous counsel engaged on a month to month basis. Debra Owen, former School Board Attorney is gone??  05:45 

Ms. Speakman began discussion about specifics of Superintendent's contract. Fortunately she stuck to legal issues and, unlike the Board retreat, foregoes comparisons to obscure movie scenes and does not repeat her thoughts that 50%-90% of those people who say they are bullied are actually bullying. 7:12  

Board members (mostly Suzanne Jones and Amy Eoff) discussed the contract and various changes needed. There was general agreement that some of the specifics needed to be changed, such as benefits being excluded in any payoff to the Superintendent if the Board replaced him prior to the contract's expiration.  25:41 

Ms. Jones asked, what are the benefits of an extension?  A rationale is needed, because of fiscal impact. Why two years before expiration, instead of one year? Ms. Jones called for fiscal responsibility and Lisa Parker responded by saying it is a very emotional decision for her. 48:02

Ms. Jones pointed out that the justification that Jason Manuel used in the past in negotiations for his contract was that he did not want to do it in an election year. But this is an election year. He is not being consistent.  54:00

Jason Manuel defended his desire for a new contract, saying his staff and teachers need stability. Somehow I feel this answer is disingenuous, I think he feels he needs stability and he is asking for this precisely because it is an election year. Oh my GOSH he said he is hurt because we have lost a "culture of kindness." This is strange. I am confused. Why is it unkind to question the reason for renegotiating a contract two years before it is set to expire?  He said he needs the extension because employees are being attacked in Facebook posts.  That is a really puzzling justification. You need to listen to this. If the employees need something it is probably something like a raise, not the extension of the Superintendent's contract.  55:47 

Chair Betsy Landers tried to defend this not based on morale or emotion, but as a "good business decision" 58:34 

Amy Eoff pointed out that GMSD is four years old and this is the superintendent's third contract, if it passes. Suggested a three year contract, not reviewed in an election year would provide stability. 59:57 

Other items on the agenda discussed. 1.07:01 

GMSD Board Meeting

The GMSD Board Meeting begins: 1.31:30 

Can Citizens To Be Heard  legally be moved so it is heard prior to the vote on the Superintendent's comments? Citizens were previously notified that CTBH would be after the vote on the contract; thus, no one had prepared remarks about the subject. Now this worked out conveniently for certain members of the school board! They could claim to be responsive, without actually having to listen to parents arguing against the new contract. 1.31:46  

Superintendent Manuel gave a report that noted various successes in the district, especially measurable items such as test scores. 1.41:13 

Manuel, after stating that he wanted no child to be bullied, turned the meeting over to Mr. Bland, who, along with another staff person, gave a presentation on what GMSD does and will do about bullying. Please listen to this. They said they want to do something about bullying, but their plan does not call for an outside investigation. I would have to know a lot more about the task force that they have assembled. Exactly who is on the task force? How were they selected? There are parents on the task force, we are told. Who are they? Is the task force dominated by employees of the district, or did we reach out to community volunteers employed in the mental health fields? I have way many more questions about this than I have answers.  If this is a case of the administration investigating itself, as was done with Patrick Lawton simultaneously receiving the use of a car plus receiving a car allowance, then this is unacceptable, and unlikely to lead to significantly different outcomes. 1.58:10  

Mr. Manuel reiterated that he does not want any children bullied. 2.04:35

Citizens to Be Heard:   

As noted previously, Ms. Landers announced that Citizens to Be Heard was moved in the agenda to precede the vote on the new contract for the superintendent. However, since the public had no notice of the change, no-one spoke on the issue. Oddly enough, she repeats the information given to the Board by Valerie Speakman at the retreat--GMSD is not required to even have a Citizens To Be Heard!  Is she suggesting that it could be eliminated if parents don't tow the line? She goes on to say that if a lot of speakers want to talk on the same subject, they have to appoint one speaker. Why would this be brought up? Nobody repeated remarks of other speakers last meeting. Strange. She announces that five people had turned in the paperwork to address the Board.  2.08:21 

Despite the announcement, eight people address the Board, which was certainly unexpected. The order of the speakers seems to have been intentional, with three parents speaking about bullying at the beginning of CTBH, and five GMSD employees extolling the virtues of their boss at the end.

Speaker #1 Samantha Schmidt -her kid relentlessly bullied, school policies meant to protect the perpetrator, what protects the rights of the victim? Bullies harass victims, causing big problems for children, Handbook is questioned. Penalties useless and benign. GMSD meeting minimum guidelines only. 2.10:49

Speaker #2 Lori Vincent- mother of boy who spoke at last meeting, After hearing other stories, she expected to hear that what happened to her son was wrong and would look into why policies weren't followed. That did not happen. She expected honesty, transparency, humility, did not expect to be accused of pandering to the media or hear in the retreat that 90% of victims were bullies themselves. Heard nothing about outside consultant. Not a disgruntled minority. District not behind her and other parents, parents are met with deflections 2.14:29

Speaker #3 Katherine Kittsman (sp?) Daughter bullied for four months, ruined her school year, clarify "abusive language" no clarity, some bullying behavior not put in right category, talks about research on psychological research and gives references for GMSD to use, she is a licensed provider of psychological services 2.18:14 

Speaker #4 Carla Christian GMSD employee, educator, community member, saying thank you to everyone including superintendent, staff, faculty, Board, and students, she is a counselor as well, gets emotional, be solutions focused.  2.18:00

Speaker #5 Heather Fisher GMSD employee, thanks Jason Manuel and lauds accomplishments of district, applauds "cabinet", we have human resources, excellence always means building each other up,  2.23:51 

Speaker #6 Teresa Price GMSD employee Encouragement and accolades for school district, steep mountain to climb to build policies, not cookie cutter district, Mr. Manuel gives autonomy, works at DisneyWorld (??) 2.26:33

Speaker #7 Lorrrie Tingle, GMSD employee Likes Jason Manuel, known him in many roles, no person more suited than he, love for schools, his soul intact, 2.29:01

Speaker #8 Joseph Bond, GMSD employee, principal of Riverdale School, got support from Mr. Manuel, he is amazing, parents with concerns know where to find him. 2.31.01
Two more individuals did not turn in their paperwork in time to be considered for Citizens to be Heard.

Discussion of Jason Manuel's Contract 

The discussion of Mr. Manuel's contract began. First the evaluation was discussed. (I discussed under Work Session) 

Various mostly non-controversial amendments introduced and passed. 2.39:08 

Ms. Eoff stated that the Board is establishing a pattern of reviewing the contract every two years. Because of that, she says the contract should be for three years rather than four. She proposed an amendment to change the length of the contract to three years. Fails in a 3-2 vote. 2.50:51 

Ms. Jones spoke at 2.54:08 and stated that there is no benefit to the Board to renegotiate the contract. Reiterated that Mr. Manuel specifically stated the last time he renegotiated a contract that he did not want to do it in an election year, yet he is asking that now. Furthermore, we need a strong leader, and a strong leader does not exhibit some of the behaviors that Mr. Manuel exhibits, such as saying that he is "broken" by comments in Citizens to Be Heard or on Facebook. Strong leaders do not publicly show frustration, and are responsible for their actions and those of his subordinates. We have a "culture of retribution." A strong leader embraces the private donors for projects and takes responsibility for making them happen. (note: there probably needs to be a separate blog post on this issue.) There is much more in this speech than I can put in the post so you need to click on the link above and listen to it. Any board member who votes for this contract is looking at past relationship with Mr. Manuel and is not looking out for the best interests of the district.  

Linda Fisher spoke after Ms. Jones, supporting Mr. Manuel.

Ms. Parker's cringe-worthy speech is at 3.04.37. Many parents walked out and security was present to keep others in line after a very brief but noisy protest. "It takes two or more people to make bullying happen." I am sorry, after that I cannot take anything she says seriously, and the rest of my text would be blue if I said any more, but watch this for the fireworks value. 

Ms. Eoff at 3.15:08 moved that the consideration of the new contract be put off for six months. Six months would be after the November election. Betsy Landers, who is up for election this year, took quite awhile to vote "no" on the motion. The motion failed, as did Ms. Eoff's other attempt at compromise, making the contract for three years.

The new four-year contract passed, in a 3-2 vote.

My take on this process, and the result: The length of the contract will probably have no detrimental effect for the district, although there is always that possibility.  As Ms. Speakman stated earlier, in the vast majority of cases, superintendent changes are smooth transitions. If the Board wants a new Superintendent, they notify him, and he would quietly begin looking for another job. Of course, if he could not find a new job, the school system could demote him to another position with different duties, and hire a new superintendent. Yes, the school system would be responsible for the large salary and benefits. Still, this result is unlikely. The vote was partially about fiscal responsibility, and partially about the message the Board wanted to send. In the end, the Board (or at least three members), sent the message that it wanted Jason Manuel as superintendent for the next four years.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

June 2018 GMSD Retreat Video

A GMSD Board Retreat was held on June 8. All Board members were present except for Suzanne Jones, who was out of town. The retreat was not recorded by the district, but instead was recorded by a citizen, Sarah Wilkerson Freeman. She was unable to arrive at the beginning of the retreat, so the three videos (uploaded to YouTube) only cover the last portion of the retreat. I do regret that I do not have access to the content of the meeting other than what is captured in these three videos. I wish that the school system had recorded this. I and my readers surely miss a great deal of the presentation about all the wonderful things happening at GMSD! The GMSD website yielded this material that was presented at the retreat. 


The three videos, in the YouTube presentations below, are as follows:

 #1 partial  Superintendent Manuel presents successes of the district in this video, and begins explaining each category in his evaluation process. This is his pitch to earn high marks on his evaluation.

#2 Mr. Manuel continues to explain each category in the evaluation process, and his role in the successes in each one. Valerie Speakman, the attorney for Arlington School district, and also an independent contractor, takes over. This is where the retreat takes a strange twist. She has a powerpoint that lists the duties of school board members.

#3 Ms. Speakman continues to talk about the legal duties of school board members. Movie clips are generously used in her presentation to make various points. Many seem gratuitous, such as a movie clip of an intoxicated woman on a airplane. This was to show the legal principle that school board members should not be intoxicated. For this (public intoxication), they can be removed from office. I am unsure why this subject is germane to GMSD.

Just food for thought: Surely a school board member being intoxicated on an airplane without otherwise causing problems is not as objectionable as an intoxicated principal climbing a ladder in the middle of the night to peep into the window of the nineteen year old daughter of a teacher? Why would the school board member be dismissed for intoxication, and the principal simply be given a reprimand?  


Superintendent Manuel's presentation is straightforward. Much of Ms. Speakman's presentation is not. Sometimes she never really gets to the point she is trying to make--we therefore have to assume what she meant. 
This may be something she does not want to voice, but merely hint at. Sometimes the illustrations she gives are not pertinent to the point she is trying to make. This is a little disconcerting to the listener. It is literally impossible for me to avoid interjecting my personal comments on her presentation.

I time stamp some of the things discussed, so that you may listen to the particular portions that interest you. (Click on the time and it should take you directly to the discussion). 

The above video (#1 partial): 

0:00 Manuel speaks of effective teacher recruitment, retention, and professional development. 

08:15 Community engagement, social media "like"s, views, broadcasts, log-ins 

10:30 indicates they note particular individuals and how often they log-in. (privacy implications!, belittling unnamed individual)

11:45 Individuals want tours of schools, partnerships with other organizations, bring in experts, community volunteers 

16:00 providing students personal engagement devices and software 

18:30 long-range facility planning, partnership with city, light at end of tunnel 

23:34-end Superintendent evaluation process categories discussed. The evaluations are to be--ineffective, developing, effective, highly effective, and each criteria is discussed.  Mr. Manuel explains each category and his role in successes of same. "Not just evaluating me, evaluating the performance of the school system."

The above video (#2): 

0:00 Mr. Manuel continues his presentation on the categories of the superintendent evaluation, and pitching how he is fulfilling each one.  

19:40 Mr. Manuel's presentation stops, and Betsy Landers speaks and thanks Jason Manuel, then a break.  

21:40 Valerie Speakman begins a presentation "When board members aren't happy, everyone is unhappy."  

22:42  Asks each Board member why they wanted to be on the Board, and how it is different from expectations. You can listen to what they each say.

38:40 Ms. Speakman says she was bullied as a kid. But people who said they were victims and that they were being bullied, were the bullies, in her legal field. (my note: Although she never makes the connection, given the CTBH at the last meeting where citizens spoke of bullying, one wonders if is she vaguely implying that the some of the parents and students complaining about bullying at the school could really be the bullies? Because otherwise, I do not see why her experience in the legal profession re: bullying is relevant to the school board retreat. Again, she made no specific accusations. This was an instance where her point was just hanging out there.)

42:23  What expectations should be, according to the law, ("real reality") per Ms. Speakman. The Power Point goes over various sections of the law.

52:15 notes that Mr. Manuel was never given a description of his duties.  

52:27 The presentation takes a stranger turn after viewing a video clip of a simulated car crash, and more talk about expectations. 

53:13 An old 1991 state case against Wilson County School Board members is discussed, about the district misstating various funds and falsifying records. The chief responsibility of the board was to make policy for the school system, and therefore the Attorney General wanted to hold them responsible for $800,000 in errors to their financial records. However, the Court found that since the budget starts with the Superintendent, and he has responsibility for the budget throughout the year, the Board was not held responsible.   

(My interjection--of course the School Board should not be held responsible for the various misallocations of funds that were under the direct control of the Superintendent. However, I fail to see how this relates to the broader point that Ms. Speakman seems to want to make-- that the Superintendent has broad control of the overall budget. After all, the Board has the power to vote on the budget. I am not understanding the relevance of this case to GMSD. Or was the point that the Attorney General can attempt to remove a school board member if she is not doing her duty? A lot of time was spent discussing this case. I was scratching my head about its significance. I don't think any GMSD school board member has ever claimed they have day-to-day responsibility for the way that the accounting procedures are handled. However, that doesn't mean that the Board does not have control over the budget. Again, they approve a budget.

There are also a few too many movie clips in this presentation to suit my taste. Two or three would be okay but this is ridiculous. It makes me wonder about the database she is using to find all of these. Please note in general I like the idea of using video clips of movies to make points. But most of these do not hit the mark, with me at least.) 

Goes into more of the duties of the School Board members.

Video #3:  

0:00 More movie clips, this time one of lava crossing a road. This has something to do with school board members, but I am not sure what. Board members should be happy! Be happy!  

4:11 While most of this presentation seems to be a lecture about getting along and individual school board members not having much power to do anything except for voting, I note here the following statement that at least seems to recognize that individuals do have free speech rights:

"When individual Board Members or the Director of Schools express their views on any issue which is in opposition to a view expressed in Board policy, they have the duty to make clear that the view expressed is not the official view of the Board or school system." 

4:28 One of the most important duties of the school board is to evaluate the Director of Schools (superintendent). 

10:35 All documentation, strengths and weaknesses, shall be supported by objective evidence. 

12:21 There should be measureable performance goals.

17:24  If you like Sly and the Family Stone, "We are Family" click here. This is probably a YouTube clip, rather than a movie clip. 

18:45 Questions and Answers: I suggest you just listen to all of this, if you are interested in how the Board responds to cases of bullying. A lot of this deals with privacy issues, the media, etc. Ms. Speakman also notes that schools are not legally required to have a time set aside for citizens to be heard. Ms. Parker seems to be really disturbed about the people speaking at CTBH at the last meeting, and alludes to some sort of investigation. Some of the discussion is difficult to hear.

27:55 Notes that the schools are required to report cases of bullying to the state, since GMSD doesn't have many reports, must not be much of a problem. Amy Eoff does note that there may be under-reporting, and she talks of school environment, although, again, this part is difficult to hear. Betsy Landers speaks but is difficult to hear. Lisa Parker again complains about people who came to smear the schools. Ms. Speakman: Haters gonna hate. "Half the people who are accusing us of being bullies are bullies themselves."  There is a discussion among the three Board members about training (excluding Lisa Parker). Valerie Speakman: "Kids will be kids" is not an excuse for bullying. Although this discussion is hard to hear at times, it is worth a listen. 


Thank you, Sarah Freeman, for providing us with these videos.