Chariho School Parents’ Forum

September 2, 2009

Shhhh! Nobody is watching so maybe they won’t notice

Filed under: Chariho,contract negotiations,transparency — Editor @ 8:33 pm

I should say, “Shhh! We won’t let anybody watch so maybe they won’t notice.” What I’m referencing is the Chariho teachers contract. It expired Aug 31 but I don’t recall seeing anything in the paper during the entire process. One would assume that since it’s overdue, maybe the school committee is pushing the envelope and the union isn’t buying. But we can only guess…

Having spent time on both governing bodies, I can tell you that the process of deciding how far to push the envelope is a matter of power.

In the town council our choice was to use the town manager and council person to negotiate the contract and find a reasonable middle ground, which has not impact on the budget, or spend money for legal help.  And in the case of police and fire, they have binding arbitration so at best you will be ordered a middle ground resolution (although more and more legalminds are suggesting that binding arbitration is unconstitutional). So the POWER goes to the union because they have plenty of lawyers on staff and love long expensive battles.

But at the school we had the fear of strike – POWER of intimidation. Andy Polouski carried the union’s water during the negotiations I was involved in and told the committee that (paraphrased), ‘if we push they will strike, then the food service strikes and the parents will complain because they won’t know what to do with their kids when they can’t go to school.’

In the town example, the union had the power of money, and in the school example the union had the power of intimidation (manifest in parent complaints). Both of these could be remedied with transparency.

I tried to make the case to the HTC that if we were transparent with the process we might find the people would support and want us to fight harder. Tom et. al., did well getting rid of longevity, but I still think more could have been done especially with the pensions – an issue that was mostly resolved until Bill DeLibero made a last day change.   To a woman, or man, most on the HTC agree that we treat the public sector employees better than private sector employees, but we can only change it in small steps – otherwise it would require legal help ($$$). My thought was that if we were willing to let the voters decide if we want to spend $2m to purchase open space (the bond) then we could ask the same people if they want to spend half a mil to fight the contract (and binding arbitration).

In the case of the school, transparency would let the public give input to the school committee members if they did or did not want them to push the envelope – and if they would be willing to stand behind the school if the teachers went on strike. Transparency also lets the people know the truth – that teachers, police, etc., are willing to strike to hold onto their double digit raises and gold plated pension while you, the ones paying the bill, must settle for much less. At least make them own it publicly.

But for now, we are on the outside looking in (through a blacked out window).  If anyone has heard anything in the news that I may have missed please let us know.

August 13, 2009

Transparency in schools

Filed under: transparency — Editor @ 11:26 pm

Early in my time on the Chariho School Committee I was contacted by a Peyton Wolcott, an amazing advocate from Texas. She started by going to meetings and butting her head against the wall and then she decided to focus on one thing, getting the monthly check book (including copies of the credit card bills) posted on the school website.

She offers a blueprint how she does it – pasted below. Below that is a essay she wrote on her successes.

How to persuade
your district:
The friendly approach
works best–t
ake the
Golden Rule with you
when
asking your schools
to post their checks.

Testimo
nials  (issues & concerns).
 

 Arrarently, the links above didn’t cut and paste well. You can find the information on the center column of her website HERE>

Delaware takes the lead in public school financial

transparency; Texas drops to second place

It’s altogether fitting that our nation’s first state would today also be the first state to take a step towards another sort of freedom — freedom for taxpayers from having to shoulder skyrocketing public school administrative costs — by requiring all of its public school districts to post their check registers online.

 

By stroke of a pen later today Governor Jack Markell (above left) will sign Delaware’s HB 119 which includes the following commendable non-wiggly language: “HB 119: §1509. Transparency of District Finances. Each district and charter school shall post on its web site by September 1, 2009 and every three months thereafter a check register indicating the recipient of each check issued by the school district or charter school, the amount of the check, and identifying information regarding the check sufficient to permit members of the public to seek additional information regarding the payment in question. The only information excepted from inclusion in this database shall be records that would not constitute public records…and records for which the disclosure would violate any federal or state law.” (Of course no HIPAA laws should be violated with any public documents posted, including check registers.)

 

How Delaware reached this point: a road map for the rest of America

In every other state, including here in Texas, although many legislators have written laws over the past several years proposing that school districts post their check registers online, in almost every case the proposed legislation has fallen by the wayside for one simple reason: Having become accustomed to little oversight regarding the details of their spending by either the public or their school boards, superintendents either directly or through their lobbyists voiced opposition to being made to do so, often citing local governance issues. Although they were willing to ask for and accept state and federal dollars in addition to local property taxes, they wanted to continue 100% local control of oversight of their spending.

 

The Delaware road map for the rest of America

Both the governor and his lieutenant governor campaigned on an education platform which included greater transparency, then delivered on their promise, starting with a dozen Back to School Briefings suggested by Markell and hosted by Lt. Gov. Matt Denn (top right) and Delaware Secretary of Education, Lillian Lowery. In this way, both public education professionals and citizens were invited to share their goals for the state’s public schools. It helped that Delaware House Education chair Terry Schooley (lower right, and, yes, that really is her name) who wrote the bill is former president of the Delaware School Boards Association. So the strong leadership on this has come from the top in Delaware. Although individuals with whom I have spoken this past week pointed out that Delaware’s small size probably helped — there are only 19 school districts in the entire state — as anyone who has ever participated in a local school board race can attest, accomplishing something in a small venue can be just as difficult if not more than in a large one.

 

Markell, a former Nextel executive who is also a McKinsey alum, previously served as Delaware’s State Treasurer from 1998 until his election last year, and it was in this capacity that I first learned of him. Several years ago while doing some research one of his lower-rung employees insisted over my protestations words to the effect, “You don’t understand. Our new state treasurer really is serious about reforming Delaware spending.” As his Communications Director Joe Rogalsky confirmed late yesterday, “Gov. Markell’s administration is committed to open, transparent government. He believes the public has a right to know how their tax dollars are being spent. He has already put the executive branch’s checkbook online, and believes taxpayers also deserve to know how their tax dollars are being spent by school districts. Governor Markell’s reforms are giving school districts greater flexibility in making spending decisions, but with that flexibility comes greater accountability to the public.” Those reforms include redefining the state’s Unit Count school funding.

 

As Denn has said previously, HB 119 is part of his own continuing effort to “put procedures in place to direct more public dollars into the classroom and less into administrative overhead.” Again, the carrot: While enforcing tighter internal controls at the same time give schools more financial flexibility.

 

Other states

Texas of course took the early lead in school spending transparency with Governor Rick Perry’s executive order in 2005 requiring all school districts to post their check registers online if they failed to reach a 65% spending level; then-commissioner Shirley Neeley diluted the import of this by inviting fellow school superintendents to Austin to help rewrite the already-generous NCES formula; last time I checked fewer than a dozen districts were posting their check registers online as part of the resulting SchoolsFIRST plan. That over a third of Texas’ 1031school districts are voluntarily posting is a testament to individual school superintendents and their boards. It helps that new Commissioner of Education Robert Scott has also been a long-time proponent of transparency, starting with his posting the Texas Education Agency’s check register online in February 2007, and by so doing becoming the first state DOE in the nation to do so. More here www.tea.state.tx.us

While all of TEA’s checks are online, last year then-Alaska Governor Sarah Palin put everything over $1,000 online for all Alaska state government including their DOE.

Alabama has taken a different tack towards transparency; Governor Bob Riley signed an executive order this past February requiring all state government checks to go online, and the Alabama State Board of Education followed suit this summer by voting to require all Alabama school districts to post their checks online if they wanted state funding. In one fell swoop, both carrot and stick. I like what he told the Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama: “Taxpayers will know where their money goes and to whom it goes. You shouldn’t have to be an investigative reporter to find out how the state spends tax dollars. This reform empowers taxpayers to become fiscal watchdogs.” Individual efforts in Illinois (Adam Andrzejewski) and Michigan (Mackinaw Center) have resulted in several districts voluntarily posting online in those states. .

School financial transparency: conservative or liberal issue?

The great thing about transparency is that embracement of it can cut across all party lines. I note with rue as a conservative that by getting a law passed requiring all school districts to put their check registers online, three Democrats in Delaware — the governor, lieutenant governor and house education committee chair — have accomplished what has eluded their Republican counterparts here in Texas. Terry Schooley’s Texas equivalent, Rob Eissler, pointed out by phone yesterday from San Angelo where he was speaking at an education conference that HB 3, passed earlier this year, “has a significant part in terms of transparency where our state comptroller is charged with looking at and ranking districts in terms of efficiencies. So I think we‘ll get similar results, maybe even better.” Not quite so, as many transparency seekers would point out. Aggregated numbers — whether they’re efficiency percentages or pie charts — do not constitute transparency but rather the ability to manipulate statistics according to arcane formulas few understand. And such aggregates certainly don’t show how much a superintendent is spending on his monthly credit card for travel and meals, another mentioned reason for some administrators‘ opposition to putting checks online for all to view. Instead of serving us pie charts, let us see those tax dollars spent on servings of pie at fine dining establishments.

 

National roster

Once again I’m in the process of updating the national rosters I maintain (see the links on my website www.peytonwolcott.com); Delaware is the 32nd state to come on board. By the time all Alabama and Delaware districts are added, the roster will total over 600. Given that when we started this transparency project almost three years ago there were at most only 20 or so districts online in 4 or 5 states, to say that this progress is encouraging is an understatement. But in the world of politics, a little understatement now and then is probably a good thing.

 

Bottom line

As one state employee told me, “We’re streamlining things because we have no money.”  There is no surer or faster way to streamline than to publish all expenditures, see which stand up to scrutiny by folks out of a job and struggling to make their mortgage payments.  Given that all other states are in the same boat — except for Texas and Alaska, thanks to governors Rick Perry and Sarah Palin — the three folks in this picture at top have a lot to smile about, as do their schoolchildren and voters.  That federal stimulus money isn’t going to last very long, and with half of all U.S. mortgages scheduled to go underwater next year, governmental entities spending beyond their means must learn to self-regulate their spending in order for our great nation to survive the tough times ahead.  Thank you, Delaware, for leading the way for the rest of us — again.

July 19, 2009

More Police Contract info

Filed under: contract negotiations,Hopkinton,Police,transparency — Editor @ 2:11 pm

The new police contract is on the HTC agenda to be voted on for ratification on Monday. Unfortunately, I will be at the NCSL next week  but I wanted to continue posting information on the current police contract.  I’ve already gone on record as voting against the new contract for a variety of reasons (no, you haven’t heard about the votes like you did at Chariho. At HTC they chose to take “consents” which don’t require public notification).

But I’m just going to review the current contract until the new one is released

To establish our place in the hierarchy of wealth in RI I posted census data –  we are 19th in per capita income, 18th in median household income, and 21st in median family income. In a population of 39 cities and towns I think it is reasonable to say that Hopkinton is slightly below average in regards to income.

Here are the police salaries ranked among the same population.

Recruit and top-level patrol

Town recruit 09 Town Top Patrol
 West Warwick  $50,967.54  Westerly  $63,121.00
 Pawtucket  $46,069.00  Warwick  $59,281.56
East Greenwich $45,779.00 Hopkinton  $55,288.00
 North Prov  $43,945.00 charlestown $54,081.00
charlestown $43,004.00  Johnstown  $53,964.45
 Smithfield  $42,954.00  South Kingstown  $53,878.00
Coventry $42,810.04  Pawtucket  $53,539.85
 Johnstown  $42,559.53  Lincoln  $53,536.00
Bristol $42,447.44  Narragansett  $53,054.88
 North Smithfield  $42,016.00  Scituate  $52,691.60
 Little Comp  $41,320.00 Coventry $52,442.52
 Gloster  $41,134.00 East Greenwich $51,946.17
 Newport  $40,793.00  Gloster  $51,527.30
 Cumberland  $40,384.67  Portsmouth  $51,436.67
Cranston $39,529.18  Jamestown  $51,252.56
 Portsmouth  $39,474.00  North Prov  $50,984.20
 New Shoreham  $39,198.00 Barrington $50,857.00
Burrilville $38,688.30  Newport  $50,675.00
 Middletown  $38,669.00  Woonsocket  $49,202.61
 South Kingstown  $38,508.00  Middletown  $49,202.00
 Scituate  $38,064.00  West Greenwich  $49,190.26
 West Greenwich  $37,404.81  North Smithfield  $48,973.08
Hopkinton  $37,252.00  Smithfield  $48,524.00
 Warren  $37,111.00  Richmond  $48,364.00
 Richmond  $37,064.00  Warren  $47,271.00
 Westerly  $36,964.00  Little Comp  $46,537.00
 Warwick  $36,764.00 Central Falls $43,309.00
 Narragansett  $36,236.92 Cranston  
Barrington $36,098.00  Cumberland   
 Lincoln  $36,041.00 Bristol  
 Jamestown  $36,016.00 Burrilville  
 Woonsocket  $35,399.14  New Shoreham   
Central Falls $32,935.24  West Warwick   

 

Sergeants and Lieutenants

Town Sgt 2009 Town Lt 09
 Warwick  $67,860.00  Warwick  $74,048.00
 Westerly  $67,795.00 Cranston $66,082.35
Cranston $60,090.03  Pawtucket  $65,983.32
 Pawtucket  $60,009.00 Barrington $65,426.00
Hopkinton  $58,543.00  Newport  $65,005.00
 Newport  $58,435.00 charlestown $63,953.00
charlestown $58,135.00  Narragansett  $62,937.00
Barrington $57,319.00  Smithfield  $62,450.00
 Narragansett  $57,215.00 East Greenwich $62,295.00
East Greenwich $57,120.00 Hopkinton  $61,693.00
 Smithfield  $56,880.00 Coventry $61,176.44
 Lincoln  $56,735.00  North Prov  $61,101.00
 Scituate  $56,680.00  Portsmouth  $60,649.00
Coventry $56,642.56  Johnstown  $60,628.86
 Johnstown  $56,622.93  South Kingstown  $60,098.00
 South Kingstown  $56,378.00  West Warwick  $59,255.82
 West Warwick  $56,134.26  Jamestown  $58,907.99
 North Prov  $55,943.00  Middletown  $58,665.00
 Portsmouth  $55,248.00  Lincoln  $58,644.00
 Richmond  $55,160.00 Bristol $58,194.72
 Cumberland  $54,756.68 Burrilville $57,785.09
 Middletown  $54,562.00  West Greenwich  $56,868.36
Bristol $54,387.58  Woonsocket  $56,500.26
 West Greenwich  $54,101.00  Cumberland  $56,464.43
 Jamestown  $53,844.00  Gloster  $55,905.00
 Gloster  $52,905.00  Warren  $54,860.00
Burrilville $52,708.41  Little Comp  $54,467.00
 Woonsocket  $52,291.57  New Shoreham  $53,747.00
 North Smithfield  $52,260.00  North Smithfield  $53,612.00
 Warren  $51,806.00 Central Falls $49,583.00
 Little Comp  $51,060.00  Richmond   
 New Shoreham  $46,538.00  Scituate   
Central Falls $46,340.84  Westerly   

“Raises” are a combination of the reported “raise” plus steps and longevity. The current Hopkinton police contract has raises ranging from a low of 3.5% and a high of 16% – the average raise for the HPD in the newly expired contract was 7.2%.

In review, Hopkinton is below average on income but we have much higher than average police salaries.  I find this especially troubling considering all the problems (and legal fees) associated with this highly paid department. I don’t feel like I’m getting my money’s worth.

Later tonight I will post the numbers comparing our current pension system with one used in the private market (defined benefit versus defined contribution).

February 19, 2009

Transparency on the move

Filed under: transparency — Editor @ 8:34 pm

We (you and me) started this blog in Dec 2006.  In February 07 OSPRI started the Transparency Train open government project.  February 9th of this year General Treasurer Caprio introduced the Treasury Online Checkbook. Feb 15th the Dept of Administration went online and the Governor’s office is following in a couple of weeks. 

Empowering citizens with information is, well, empowering. Its good to know what is going on, especially if you want to change it (like ending the ridicules practice of giving 10.5% raises for the first 10 years).

In those efforts, we are expanding the push to MA and will be speaking on this tonight on Blog Talk Radiofrom 8 to 8:30.  If you are so inclined, listen online and maybe even call in (number listed on website linked above).  I plan on referencing this Web site as a quick, free way than any citizen could do it in their town.

ps. For those of you who are donors to OSPRI, see above what we have been doing with your support. THANKS (and our grandchildren thank you)

March 20, 2008

From today’s ProJo

Filed under: contract negotiations,transparency,Unions — Editor @ 3:05 pm

“The right to know is a top priority” 

The Providence Journal recently reported on a “statement” read into the Chariho School Committee minutes by member Bob Petit denouncing me for sharing “confidential” information with the public (Felkner’s Web blog ruffles feathers, March 13).  The Committee decides what is hidden in executive sessions and I’m sorry if what I am about to share offends them, but there is more that you should know.

 

This all started when the NEA accused me of illegally interfering with the contract negotiation process by saying something to someone via a post on my blog (Chariho School Parents’ Forum, https://cspf.wordpress.com).  When I asked for the evidence, the NEA flatly refused to provide me with any details. 

 

Four months later I learned that the NEA had requested a hearing with the Labor Relations Board (LRB).  I was not notified.  The interim Chariho solicitor, Andrew Henneous, and the Chariho Superintendent, Barry Ricci, were notified.  The LRB asked Mr. Henneous if I would be present at the hearing.  He didn’t respond. 

 

I asked Superintendent Ricci if he was aware of the LRB’s request and he said the lawyer never told him.  However, the board chairman, Bill Day, was notified. 

 

This is indeed an odd situation.  First it is odd that Bill Day, whose wife and son are both NEA members at Chariho, would be involved.  Secondly, and more perplexing, is the fact that the lawyer is an interim solicitor who is vying for the permanent job.  The superintendent has repeatedly recommended that the Committee hire him – even after the revelation of this communication breakdown.  Would you hire a lawyer that kept information from you?

 

But all this was hidden in executive session and seven of the eleven Committee members who voted to approve the “statement” chastise me for sharing it with you.  It’s your money, do you agree with them?

 Bill Felkner, Hopkinton representative on the Chariho Regional School Committee. 

March 12, 2008

Transparency in contract negotiations (cont.)

Filed under: contract negotiations,executive sessions,transparency — Editor @ 10:25 pm

I was emailed recently asking about my motion to release the ESP contract before it was ratified.  The motion was made at the November 27th meeting in exec session (you will also notice more discussion of this blog which was somehow listed as “litigation” – but I digress). 

Some of the minor chit chat centered on why it would be ok to release the information.  The majority of the Committee didn’t want to release it because, essentially, they promised the union that they wouldn’t.  But they also acknowledged that the NEA had broken that agreement.  Plus, everyone now knows that there is no law requiring closed meetings for negotiations.  It is an agreement made between the Union and the Committee.  So you have to ask yourself, why would they make that agreement and why would they honor it when they acknowledged that the union had already broken it.  

I have admitted that when we started I thought it was law, but as soon as I learned it was not, I would not support it (we voted for it at each meeting – it could have been changed at any time).  So why would they still want to hide it even after they learned its not necessary?

Governor Caricieri made a similar proposal recently and placed it as an Article in the budget. 

“The debate yesterday largely centered on Carcieri’s push to shed light on the collective bargaining process, which is generally conducted behind closed doors between union representatives and municipal or school department leaders.”

“This budget article will improve transparency of budget decisions in local cities and towns, while giving people a voice in the decision-making process by requiring a public hearing,” the governor’s spokesman, Jeff Neal, said. “If approved, it would enable the citizens of local communities to express their support for, concerns about or opposition to collective bargaining contracts being agreed to by municipalities.”

Of course, the unions have the expected response:

“I’m halfway decent at reading tea leaves and I’m pretty clear that this budget article is about putting pressure on public officials not to give decent, in my view, pay raises and benefits to public sector workers,” said James Parisi, a lobbyist for the Rhode Island Federation of Teachers and Health Professionals. “It’s built on a couple false assumptions — that the employer doesn’t know what they’re doing and they’re getting hoodwinked by unions…. Public perception and the chatter out there aside, it’s just not true and you need to know it’s not true.”

Did I mention that the last teacher’s union contract at Chariho had average step raises of 10.3% and the latest support personnel contract step raises average 9.5%?   Do you get double digit raises just for making it from one year to the next (besides, we all know how you can’t hardly fire an incompetent public employee)?

But maybe the unions are right.  Maybe the school committees do know what they are doing.  Maybe they intended on treating the public sector employees with double digit raises and gold-plated benefits. 

This is a very simple issue – transparency.  We are spending your money.  You should have a say in the process.  Ask your Chariho representative why they voted to keep the information from you.  Don’t buy the “we made a promise” line – ask them why they made the promise in the first place and then ask them to promise to represent you next time.

School Committee votes to make a statement

Filed under: Corruption,executive sessions,transparency — Editor @ 10:41 am

The following statement (file linked below) was read into  the record by Bob Petit last night and the majority of the Committee voted to accept.   There was a discussion for a while.  Normally, the Committee gets to speak and then the public.  But Holly Eaves made a (now famous – or infamous) “move to motion question” which killed discussion – blocking out Barbara Capalbo from speaking.   Which is a shame considering they accused me of not working for the kids – I said I was working for my constituents and their children.  It might have been helpful for the Hopkinton councilor to speak considering she too represents them, but for some reason Holly didn’t think it was necessary.  And, of course, the majority of the Committee agreed.

sc-accuses-felkner-of-violation.jpg

February 10, 2008

NEA to the taxpayers, “**** You!”

Filed under: 1,contract negotiations,transparency,Unions — Editor @ 1:37 pm

pat-crowley-bird.jpg

First of all, I apologize for the crud title and picture – but it is important to know who we are dealing with.

Meet Pat Crowley – the $84,000 per year Assistant Executive Director of the RI affiliate of the National Education Association – and Pat is also the Lincoln Democrat Party chairman.  Here you see him with bull horn in hand telling RI taxpayers what he thinks of them at the recent Tiverton teacher contract negotiation.

Crowley and the NEA published in the Westerly Sun recently, trying to tell us that RI’s welfare system is just fine and we should continue business as usual.  First you may ask why is an organization that represents public school employees lobbying for the welfare industry.  For that answer you should know that the SIEU (another union) is very hard at work trying to unionize welfare workers, including day care providers.  And who could forget the connection between the NEA and the AFL-CIO.  Frank Montanaro is the President of the AFL-CIO and also the Chairman of the Board for Blue Cross Blue Shield (BCBS).  Could that be the reason that most teacher contracts in RI are REQUIRED to only provide BCBS insurance for teachers?  Chariho even gives a bonus to employees if they use that carrier. 

Anyway, now that we know why the unions are working together – lets get to the real facts.  Here is my response to the NEA’s letter:

“Mr. Crowley’s ‘facts’ bear close scrutiny”
(my suggested title was, “The NEA – a bad example for our children”)
Westerly Sun, February 10, 2008

I tend not to respond to misguided rhetoric such as those provided by Pat Crowley, the Assistant Executive Director of the RI affiliate of the National Education Association (NEA), but his latest attempt to con parents and taxpayers provides too much opportunity to show what the NEA has become (Peoples’ Forum, Governor unfair in comments about families in the welfare system, February 8, 2008).   

Mr. Crowley represents the teachers and employees of our public schools.  The dubious nature of his “facts” have been exposed before (Providence Journal, Justin Katz: Correcting NEA guy’s ‘facts’, February 6, 2008) and now the National Education Association is attempting to counsel us on Governor Carieri’s proposed welfare reforms. 

First they claim that RI is not a welfare magnet and cite data from the Department of Humans Services (DHS) to convince us that people are not moving to RI for our welfare benefits.  Can we trust this data? 

In 2006, Governor Carcieri changed welfare eligibility so that people exhausting 5 years of welfare in other states could no longer come to RI and receive another 5 years of benefits (or more). 

In response to this change, Heidi Collins, from the Poverty Institute located at Rhode Island College, lobbyied the DHS to implement an investigative system called the Declarative Method.  This means that when a welfare recipient applies for benefits, and we want to find out if they came from another state, we rely solely on the applicant for that information.  

This method of gathering information made possible Rhode Island’s first baby of 2008 – the third child to a 19 year old girl whose boyfriend was an illegal immigrant (Providence Journal, Celebrity father now facing deportation, January 7, 2008).  Do you think this arrangement was accurately declared?   

The Declarative Method also makes it possible for people like Rosa Gonzalez to conceal a drug dealing operation that was managed completely by welfare recipients.  The social workers asked Rosa and her management team about their income and assets, but they all forgot to mention things like the Porsche SUV, Harley Davidsons and other “luxury vehicles” that they owned (Providence Journal, Luxury Wheels while on welfare, July 13, 2007).  Somehow our welfare system is empowering fraud and the special interest groups play the enabler. 

Next, Mr. Crowley (representing another special interest group) tells us about the amazing accomplishments of our welfare program – how we reduced the welfare roles by 11 percent in a year and by 43 percent over a longer period.  Aren’t you impressed? 

What they neglected to tell you was that when we compare Rhode Island’s performance to the other states, we see that RI consistently ranks near the bottom.  By saying RI reduced the welfare roles by 43 percent but omitting the fact that the national average is closer to 60 percent and some states have achieved rates approaching 80 percent, the NEA is playing the same game as Rosa Gonzalez. 

The question to ask is why do welfare programs in other states result in populations that are self sufficient when the welfare program in Rhode Island results in a population that cannot take care of it’s own children?  In RI, childhood poverty grew by 26.6% between the 1990 and 2000 census, the absolute worst trend in the nation. 

Rhode Island provides a disservice to the poor by not supporting them with a proven welfare system and Mr. Crowley is doing the once-proud profession of teaching a disservice by playing the role of a propagandist.   

I didn’t want to respond to this nonsense, but what he said is not as important as who is saying it.  Mr. Crowley represents those educating our children.  What example does union management set for its membership?  Would you accept this kind of data manipulation when reporting student achievement?   

To distort and manipulate data for political gain is the mechanism of corruption.  And knowing that tax-funded salaries are levied for union dues to pay for this type of political activity – well that’s beyond acceptable.  The NEA should be ashamed of itself and honest people who pay union dues should be outraged. 

One of the duties in my “day job” is to research welfare programs and as such I am not hesitant to say that Mr. Crowley’s adoration of RI’s welfare program was an incomplete representation of the facts, at best.  I also research education policy and am a member of the Chariho Regional School Committee and in those roles I can also speak to the nature and motives of the present day teacher’s union.  His actions do not surprise me.  Who could forget his one finger salute to the taxpayers of Tiverton during their contract negotiations. 

If there is one good thing that could come from this NEA letter it is this:  I have tried to get all public contract negotiations into the public eye – but I have failed.  The majority of the school committee will not even release all of the meeting minutes.  Perhaps, now that everyone can see what has become of the National Education Association, my fellow committee members will join me in insisting that the public be allowed to watch when we negotiate away their money.  Or will they continue to protect the NEA from public scrutiny? 

William Felkner is the President of the Rhode Island Association of Scholars, President and Fellow on Education and Welfare Policy at the Ocean State Policy Research Institute and is also a member of the Chariho Regional School Committee representing Hopkinton 

*************************************************************

So, now you know the tactics and agenda of the NEA – for readers of this blog, this will come as no surprise.  Who could forget our own local NEA rep, Pete Gingras.  He posts crude comments on this website and has also filed a “slap” complaint with the Labor Relations Board about this blog.  And, of course, Ricci falls right into line by telling a reporter that I will be costing the school a lot of money.  Did Ricci acknowledge that it is the NEA who is causing the school to spend money on legal fees – they were the ones that filed the complaint and refused to submit evidence.  Is Ricci working to help the union or did he misspeak and will he publicly apologize for this error?

Transparency at Chariho

Filed under: transparency — Editor @ 1:12 pm

There is a discussion going on in the comments section of another post about the Open Meeting Act.   Chariho has a history of hiding things in executive sessions. (remember Hirst vs Chariho where the AG’s office ruled Chariho had violated OMA).  It might be a good time to review a previous post with more information – such as a court case that spells out the extent executive session votes should be announced:

PR 06-16 Parks v. Cumberland School Committee

 and it suffices that the Personnel Sub-Committee’s agenda violated the OMA by failing to provide an adequate statement specifying the nature of the business to be discussed. See R.I. Gen. Laws § 42-46-6(b). 

880 A.2d 784; Tanner v. The Town Council of East Greenwich 

we hold that the requirement that a public body provide supplemental notice, including a “statement specifying the nature of the business to be discussed,” obligates that public body to provide fair notice to the public under the circumstances, or such notice based on the totality of the circumstances as would fairly inform the public of the nature of the business to be discussed or acted upon. Although we recognize that this standard is somewhat flexible and we decline to provide specific guidelines or “magic words,” such an approach accounts for the range and assortment of meetings, votes, and actions covered under the OMA, and the realities of local government, while also safeguarding the public’s interest in knowing and observing the workings of its governmental bodies.(fn15) 

 I also believe Chariho has a history of putting things into executive session when they don’t belong there such as when Superintendent Ricci called an executive session because he thought my letter in the Sun “challenged his integrity.”  (by the way, did you know that Ricci consulted with the school’s solicitor before this meeting – does the solicitor work for the Committee or for Ricci?)  The OMA says:

§ 42-46-4  Closed meetings. (a)….No public body shall discuss in closed session any public matter which does not fall within the citations to § 42-46-5(a) referred to by the public body in voting to close the meeting, even if these discussions could otherwise be closed to the public under this chapter.

And § 42-46-5 (a) says:

SECTION 42-46-5   § 42-46-5  … (a) A public body may hold a meeting closed to the public pursuant to § 42-46-4 for one or more of the following purposes:   (1) Any discussions of the job performance, character, or physical or mental health of a person or persons provided that such person or persons affected shall have been notified in advance in writing and advised that they may require that the discussion be held at an open meeting.   Failure to provide such notification shall render any action taken against the person or persons affected null and void. Before going into a closed meeting pursuant to this subsection, the public body shall state for the record that any persons to be discussed have been so notified and this statement shall be noted in the minutes of the meeting.   (2) Sessions pertaining to collective bargaining or litigation, or work sessions pertaining to collective bargaining or litigation.

   (3) Discussion regarding the matter of security including, but not limited to, the deployment of security personnel or devices.

   (4) Any investigative proceedings regarding allegations of misconduct, either civil or criminal.

   (5) Any discussions or considerations related to the acquisition or lease of real property for public purposes, or of the disposition of publicly held property wherein advanced public information would be detrimental to the interest of the public.

   (6) Any discussions related to or concerning a prospective business or industry locating in the state of Rhode Island when an open meeting would have a detrimental effect on the interest of the public.

   (7) A matter related to the question of the investment of public funds where the premature disclosure would adversely affect the public interest. Public funds shall include any investment plan or matter related thereto, including, but not limited to, state lottery plans for new promotions.

   (8) Any executive sessions of a local school committee exclusively for the purposes: (i) of conducting student disciplinary hearings; or (ii) of reviewing other matters which relate to the privacy of students and their records, including all hearings of the various juvenile hearing boards of any municipality; provided, however, that any affected student shall have been notified in advance in writing and advised that he or she may require that the discussion be held in an open meeting.

   Failure to provide such notification shall render any action taken against the student or students affected null and void. Before going into a closed meeting pursuant to this subsection, the public body shall state for the record that any students to be discussed have been so notified and this statement shall be noted in the minutes of the meeting.

   (9) Any hearings on, or discussions of, a grievance filed pursuant to a collective bargaining agreement.

   (10) Any discussion of the personal finances of a prospective donor to a library.

Of course, Mr. Ricci said I “challenged his integrity” so he was using reason #1 for the session.  However, page 23 of the AG’s Guide to Open Government in RI 5th Edition says, “However, such affected person(s) have no right to request that the discussion be held in closed session.”

 

And we must remember exactly what the agenda said:

“Given Bill Felkner’s concerns about my character and integrity [as detailed in his letter to the Westerly Sun], this item is on the agenda at my [Superintendent Ricci] request.  It will provide Bill and other members of the Committee an opportunity to comment in an appropriate forum.” 

So there is no doubt who called this meeting and this is evidence of another OMA violation.

 

Giancarlo Giccetti read this rule to the school board during the meeting – but they ignored him and held the closed session anyway.  Bill Day, Andy Polouski, Andy McQuade, Terry Serra and others have no problem ignoring the law so that they can hide information from you.

 

So check out the old post here and brush up on the law.  And you might want to pay attention at this Tuesday’s meeting – a similar situation might occur (aired on Ch 18 @ 8:00PM on Wednesday and 12 noon on Friday).

February 1, 2008

NEA complaint continued (part 2)

Filed under: transparency,Unions — Editor @ 5:27 pm

From the Chariho Times:

  Felkner’s comments will cost school district   

By JAMES MADDEN  WOOD RIVER JCT. – Information provided by Chariho School Committee member Bill Felkner on his website “Chariho School Parents’ Forum” may cost the Chariho School District hundreds of dollars in legal fees.  

“It will cost the school district,” said Chariho School Superintendent Barry Ricci at last week’s School Committee meeting.   

Last September, Peter Gingras – the lead negotiator of Chariho’s 164-member support-personnel union – filed a complaint with the Rhode Island State Labor Relation Board against the Chariho School Committee. Gingras – who works for the National Education Association/Rhode Island (NEA) – alleged that Felkner illegally negotiated with the union, on an individual basis, by posting information on his website on the union’s previous pay raises and benefits. 

Contract negotiations between the school committee and union came to a conclusion two months ago when a new deal was struck between the two parties.  Gingras’ complaint states that, “On or about Sept. 17, 2007, and on dates thereafter, an agent of the Chariho Regional School District has purposely attempted to communicate directly with bargaining unit members directly represented by the union. The purpose of these communications was to discourage union membership and is tantamount to a refusal to bargain with the certified representative of the union.” 

After the complaint was filed, the labor relations board put the complaint in abeyance, but Ricci said the complaint is going to be heard by the labor relations board.  As a result, the School Committee voted 5-2-1 to ask Felkner – who was not at the school committee meeting – to put a disclaimer on his website indicating that his personal views are not representative of the school committee as a whole.  

Richmond School Committee member Terri Serra made the motion and said, “I heard there was a disclaimer on this website. I have not been able to find it.” Charlestown School Committee member Giancarlo Cicchetti said, “I don’t think that as a School Committee we have any power over Mr. Felkner… We can’t instruct him to do anything.”   

Ricci said the school district will have to pay its solicitor $135 per hour to represent the school district in this matter. He said the case could last a day, or weeks.  Felkner said Gingras is required to explain how the posting of information on his website was equivalent to negotiating directly with the union.

Felkner said Gingras hasn’t yet explained this to the school committee or the labor relations board.  “I still haven’t been notified as to what the complaint is,” Felkner said. 

Consequently, Felkner said that it’s unnecessary for the school district to litigate until Gingras comes forward with a specific complaint.   

Ricci said, “I believe he [Gingras] has given partial explanation,” to the labor relations board.    

In other business: Bond The school committee again supported a revote of the $26 million Chariho bond to renovate and improve the Switch Road campus.  The school committee specified that they would support either a two-way or three-way split bond.    

Chariho Act     The school committee voted for the tri-town solicitors to review the newly drafted Chariho Act.  “This has been an incredibly complicated process taking into account 22 years of amendments and changes,” said Ricci.  Let unresolved at the meeting was who will pay the legal fees for the town solicitors to review the act?  The school district is hoping it’s going to be the towns.   Splitting the Bond Ricci indicated that the Chariho Building Committee, who were the architects behind the recent Chariho bond building plans, are going to have a say in how the bond is split, if that happens. 

 Chariho School Committee Chairman Bill Day also said, “I think the school committee should be involved in how this bond will be broken down.”

[UPDATE] Mr. Ricci has informed me that Mr. Gingras has presented some information to the LRB but I still have not seen anything.  I’ll make sure to share it when I get it.  It is odd that the complaint was placed in abeyance so as to allow us time to resolve the problem, but Mr. Gingras would not tell me what he objected to, so we couldn’t work on anything.  When I asked for the information – he refused to provide it.

For the record (and Mr. Ricci knows this) I told them that I believe this is a frivolous complaint just to give the board a reason to keep me off the negotiations committee.  Knowingly or not, Mr. Ricci appears to be playing into it.  Of course, compared to what the NEA assistant directors do, I’m a kitten.  Our friends at Anchorrising have all that and more.

 PS>  Regarding Mrs. Serra’s concerns – over on the right column – where it says “What is the Chariho School Parents’ Forum” is a disclaimer that has been up since Dec 1, 2006.  I’m sorry she was unable to figure out where that was.

Next Page »