If you have never attended a board meeting for the North East School District, you owe it to yourself to show up at least once. Very few members of the public appear at any meetings and when board members become used to operating relatively unseen and unheard, it’s easy for their behavior and procedures to stray from what you would expect. Whether or not you have children in school, the majority of your property taxes go to the school district and if you do have students in your family, how much money is spent, what that money is used for and how students are educated should be of concern. Far too many residents and taxpayers assume the public’s best interests are at the forefront in all decisions made by the board, but sitting through a few board meetings may cause you to question those assumptions.
Overwhelm the public
The board publishes the agenda for the meeting just over a day in advance and also publishes backup documents pertaining to the agenda items. The agenda itself for the most recent meeting was 9 pages long, but the backup documents were 179 pages long! The voluminous backup documents seem designed to show how difficult the board’s work must be having to read and analyze so much information, but they simultaneously give the public practically no time to read through them to find out what’s relevant.
Mix the major with the mundane
To the casual observer, meetings are not very exciting or especially interesting. They will often fill long stretches with student recognition or special awards for someone on the staff, but when your attention starts to drift, they quickly conduct the real business. There’s a lot of “inside baseball” talk, many references to things you’re not familiar with then followed by a wide range of items thrown together to get them all out of the way at once so the meeting can quickly proceed before you notice what’s going on and that’s where the magic happens, right under your nose, it’s done and you’ve missed it.
In the video below, beginning at 16:50, Jeff Fox, board secretary states, “It is recommended that the board approve items 1 through 15 as listed.”
Unless you have an agenda in front of you to reference section B Business, there’s no way to know what those items are. There are items like:
#6 “It is recommended that the Board approve the Food Service Report”
#12 “It is recommended that the Board approve the firm of Buffamante, Whipple and Buttafaro, P.C., as auditors for the fiscal year beginning July 1, 2022 through June 30, 2023.”
Pretty exciting, right? But scroll down to the last item:
#15 “It is recommended that the Board approve the attached agreement with Keystone Sports Construction for athletic facilities improvement by participation in the COSTARS contract #14-E23-312 at a cost of $3,581,560.26.”
All 15 items are voted on as a block, everything from approving reports, setting school lunch prices and appointing an auditor to… spending $3.5 million dollars!
No public comment or questions are allowed since it is not “public participation” time, just a board vote and then moving on to the next set of items.
The board needs some sunshine
For quite some time, many of us have heard comments about what is going on in the schools and how board meetings are conducted. Then it was announced that taxes would be raised almost 4 percent this year, following a similar increase last year and 2 percent the year before. As a result, it seemed going to a few board meetings might be worthwhile to sort out fact from fiction. It was, … interesting.
There’s much more to come, but in the meantime, try to fit a school board meeting into your schedule. Watch and listen and form your own conclusions. While it may not be the most enjoyable meeting you have ever attended, more eyes and ears are needed.
(Note: the next meeting on June 1st, is at 6PM instead of the normal 7PM due to a school function at 7 that interferes.)
Ted Jones says
This article is completely accurate. Thank you for being an actual journalist! When the district claims they are completely transparent they are telling the truth in part. The information is there and available if you are able to find it. You have to dig. Agendas are frequently posted just in the nick of time to make it within the law and give the citizen limited time to research. Board members are allowed to scold the public without the public being able to have a rebuttal. It’s shameful!
Jon McLaughlin says
This article fails to mention that the entire Keystone Sports Construction project was presented in full at the previous board meeting. That presentation included the cost of the entire project for public knowledge, which then also included a participation section at the end. Furthermore, the team assembled for this project included community members to represent the town. At that board meeting, the project was slated be voted on in a future meeting (the meeting to which the author is referring). To say that this information was “hidden” is just plain laziness on the author’s reporting.
Paul Crowe says
The previous meeting is a story in itself, which I planned to address in another article. Yes, the professional sales pitch was given at that meeting, but it, too, was based on information presented in excruciating detail, pages 8 through 39, in the backup documents along with 80 pages of information on many other topics, which were dropped just over a day before the meeting.
The public participation section at the end of the meeting isn’t really participation in any normal sense of the word. Members of the public may speak on matters before the board, but the board doesn’t answer any questions, they simply look at the person speaking and when that person is finished, the board president asks, “anyone else have something to say?” and if not, then public participation is closed. Questions are not answered or acknowledged, however, at the last meeting, the board president became quite agitated at multiple members of the audience and made several statements directed at each of them and when those audience members tried to defend themselves they were threatened with expulsion from the meeting. If someone had asked about or objected to the Keystone project, it’s seems unlikely they would have received any response.
Did the assembled project team have a summary of their meetings, discussions and conclusions for the public to read and evaluate to reflect their work on our behalf? Dumping 30 plus pages of drawings and specifications a day before the meeting isn’t informing anyone, but no, it’s not hiding, it’s obfuscation.
Well written! I attend every school board mtg so was at the presentation by Keystone. For a project of this magnitude I expected a lot more of a presentation to the board and us taxpayers, and for sure a lot of discussion and questions by the board…. But as usual, this was not the case. This past week this was item #15 under “Business”… zero questions or discussion by board prior to vote…. Again, disappointing but the norm.
Joan Bubna says
I think they all should be removed any group that operates that underhanded is not doing it for our school but for themselves
Glenn Craig says
We need more public showing up to the meetings. Our group gets beat up by people who don’t show up to the meetings to see how we are being gaslit by the board, admins and the lawyer. Who by the way told us the we don’t have any first amendment rights! Raise our taxes while hiding 12+ million in reserves.
Cheryl Buscemi says
Appreciate the article!!