The primary purpose of the meeting was for the audit committee to hear from the internal auditors from Tobin & Company. That report was made in executive session so there is not much to report. John Quinn spoke about the internal auditors report in the opening meeting but without the context of the report it was difficult to evaluate them significance of what he had to say.
The main two news items coming out of the meeting were, (1) the Aramark settlement; and (2) the approval of the contract for school principals. There is more on the Aramark settlement here.
This was also the first meeting of the board since the coup which deposed Quay Watkins. It is worth noting that Watkins remained in the clerk’s office, by herself, during the executive session (even though she is on the Audit Committee). During the public meeting, Watkins sat about as “apart” as you can get at the conference table in the Carew room — she sat at the farthest end of the table, away from Richmond and Petrone, and across from Jeff Hastie. She did not say a word to anyone as she entered the room, did not speak during the meeting and as I left the room had no spoken a word to anyone. I would describe her as melancholy and disengaged.
Regarding the contract, the board passed a resolution ratifying the agreement between the City School District of the City of New Rochelle and the New Rochelle Administrative and Aupervisory Association for the period July 1, 2009 through June 30, 2011. F.U.S.E. President Marty Daly was on-hand for the formality of ratifying the contract.
In other news…
Board members agreed to take liaison positions to represent the School District outside of New Rochelle. David Lacher, not present for the meeting, was slated to continue as Westchester Putnam School Boards Association Liaison for 2009-10. Jeff Hastie agreed to take some unspecified role that involves legislative lobbying and Cindy Babcock-Deutsche agreed to serve as BOCES Liaison for 2009-10.
UPDATE: Schools Clerk Liz Saraiva sent over the following details:
Following are our Board’s representatives to the following positions for the 2009-2010 school year:
David Lacher – Westchester-Putnam School Boards Association (WPSBA) Board Liaison
Jeffrey Hastie – WPSBA Legislative Action Committee (LAC) Representative
Cindy Babcock Deutsch – Liaison to BOCES [Back-up is Sara M. Richmond]
The LAC Representatives receive all mailings from the LAC. They help WPSBA develop legislative priorities, discuss positions on New York State School Boards Association resolutions and make recommendations for WPSBA membership action on active legislative issues. They also assist in planning local meetings with our state and federal legislators.
In conjunction with the City of New Rochelle, the District received a $25,000 grant for technology projects that eliminate redundancy [insert joke here].
Mary Jane Reddington wanted “everyone” to know that she’s been attending board meetings for 26 years and that she has an “stellar” attendance record. That she was in England attending the “Oxford experience”. Apparently she did not like hearing that I had asked why she was not present at the “coup” board meeting earlier in the month. Not to be outdone, David Lacher, who was absent, wanted Talk of the Sound readers to know that he was not at the meeting on July 27th due to a prior personal commitment.
Sarah Richmond and Chrisanne Petrone sought Board approval to attend the 2009-10 New York State School Board Association meeting in White Plains for new school Board executives, a one-day meeting. Also discussed, there will be New York State School Board Conference in New York City October 15-18th.
There was some discussion regarding something about a “paved area” at New Rochelle High School near the Twin Lakes. Schools Superintendent Richard Organisciak and Sarah Richmond found some humor in the persistant nature of the person who raised this issue to each of them. Later in the discussion, Organisciak mentioned “Mrs. Fosina” but it was not clear what exactly they found so amusing about her.
There were two speakers during the public comment period.
Dr. Jack Wagner raised questions about the Internal Audit Report. He proposes a “personnel audit” where auditors would show up at work places around the district and ask to see people who were listed on the District payroll. He mentioned reports on Talk of the Sound of individuals who would have flunked such an audit. He also digressed briefly into the BMI issue.
I used my five minutes to present the board with the printout from Amazon.com of a page describing the Marantz professional audio recorder referenced in my post the day before. It is somewhat similar to the device currently used record school board meetings with the primary difference being the recorder are presented as digital rather than relying on analog cassette tapes as is currently the case. I urged the board to allocate $700 to purchase the Marantz recorder digital recorder as a replacement for the current analog recorder so that the audio recordings from school board meetings could be uploaded to the district website immediately after each school board meeting rather than never as is currently the case.
I moved on to another transparency issue, pointing out that more than six months earlier the board had discussed appearances by Schools Superintendent Richard Organisciak on WVOX. At that time, I had suggested – and the board appeared to have found merit in the idea — recording those appearances and publishing them on the District website as podcasts. I pointed out that since the first podcast was made in February none had been made since.
Moving on to yet another transparency issue, I raised the issue of putting School Board Resolutions online and doing so before the meeting where they are to be voted upon. I pointed out that last fall Christine Coleman has spent an hour talking to the board about her pet “green technology initiatives”, that Mr. Hastie had talked throughout his campaign about a professed desire for openness and more transparency, that Mrs. Reddington had bemoaned the fact that turnout for school board elections was so low, and that many board members had expressed, from time to time, their supposed desire for more involvement from the community. I then asked if this was really the case why the district was still not publishing the Board Resolutions on their District web site prior to the board meetings. I pointed out that the district already owns the software necessary to convert Microsoft Word documents to Adobe PDF documents and they already have a web site so there is no good reason that the district is not publishing the board agenda and board resolutions to the district website in PDF format at the same time that was printing out hardcopies for physical distribution to board members.
I also wondered aloud why, if the school district was really concerned about green initiatives then why not discontinue the practice of having a district employee drive around town in a car, delivering by hand, paper copies of documents that could be distributed at no cost, and with no use of fossil fuels, and done instantly via the Internet using the same PDF documents either by sending them as e-mail attachments or simply providing a link to the document on the District website. All of this with the benefit that everyone in the community could have access to the meeting agenda the board resolutions and any other supporting documents at the same time and, in the words of Mr. Hastie during the campaign, make a decision beforehand as to whether or not they wish to attend the meeting based on the topics that the board intended to cover in a particular night. This might, in turn, address Mrs. Reddington’s supposed desire for greater community involvement and turnout for school board elections.
Or maybe that was all just campaign rhetoric and really they prefer things the way they are where they can operate with as little oversight and accountability as possible.
Running out of time, I attempted to squeeze in the issue of video.
The City Council has been broadcasting their meetings for a decade, while the BoE, with a budget more than $50 million bigger, has never had a live broadcast of their meetings. I informed the board that I has spoken with the City government and confirmed that the physical cables to send video from City Hall to both Verizon and Cablevision are already installed in the building and that those cables could easily be extended to run from the first floor to the second floor which would allow the school district to provide live video feeds to the cable access channel and similar Verizon FIOS channel. In addition, I told the board, the City can stream video over the web from a camera connected to the Internet through a broadband Ethernet connection. I reminded Ms. Polow of her statement during the campaign she wanted more video or that she thought the District wanted to do more video but that since many school board meetings were held at the school buildings rather than City Hall it was not practical to offer live video from the meetings. I pointed out that every school building has broadband Ethernet networks that can be easily accessed to allow for live web streaming over the Internet.. As the buzzer went off indicating that my time was up, I closed by noting that, at the very least the school board to do what it did in one of the budget meetings held at New Rochelle High School — record the meeting on videocassette and then play that cassette tape on the cable access channels.
Rest assured, I intend to continue to remind those members of the school board who have claimed to embrace transparency and openness, to desire greater involvement of the community in the School Board, to have a greater voter turnout during school board elections and budget referendums that their words ring awfully hollow when they will not even take the most basic steps such as pushing a button to turn a Word file into a PDF file and uploading it to the web, something which takes less time than printing paper documents, requires zero investment in new technology, obviates the need to deliver paper documents to board members and allows the entire New Rochelle community to know beforehand what resolutions are before the board on a given evening.