Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Inside the House: The Concord School District Charter

State Rep. Rick Watrous

An unusual 90 minute meeting occurred Monday in an unheated classroom at Conant Elementary School. The school district invited the school board, Concord city councilors, and Concord’s state representatives (including myself) to a breakfast meeting to discuss pending legislation. Superintendent Chris Rath presided, asking Rep. Steve Shurtleff and Rep. Jessie Osborne to explain their bills amending the Concord School District Charter.
Among the approximately 30 people, I noted seven state reps, three city councilors, Mayor Jim Bouley, state Sen. Sylvia Larson, the majority of the school board and several former school board members. Unfortunately there were no media or members of the general public present to hear the frank but civil dialogue over the proposed legislation.
On Tuesday the House Municipal & County Government Committee met in open executive session to consider House Bill 33 [] which “amends the composition of the board of education of the Concord school district, subject to the approval of the Concord school district voters.” This bill, sponsored by Shurtleff, would offer Concord voters a referendum in which they could choose to change the current election system of all school board members being elected at-large, to a system of members being elected from Concord’s three districts — resulting in more direct representation.
Previously, on Jan. 14, the committee had heard public testimony from citizens and state reps. (including myself) supporting the bill, and past and present school board members opposing the bill. Now — with several Concord citizens, school board members, and school superintendent Rath listening in — they debated the merits of the bill. Vice Chairman Rep. Raymond Gagnon summed up one school of thought: the committee ought to pass the bill in order to “let the citizens of Concord decide” the representation issue in a referendum.
However, a vote on the bill was soon sidelined by confusion over the Concord school charter. Unlike other towns, in Concord the school district has its own unique charter, being completely autonomous and separate from the city government. After 40 minutes of debate — without having the charter itself to refer to — the committee moved onto other bills while a copy of the charter was attained [].
Later in the day the committee examined the charter and became further perplexed, calling in Secretary of State Bill Gardner to explain it. Upon his examination, Sec. Gardner declared the Concord school charter to be unlike any other and that it would take Legislative action to change it and put it more in line with other charters. After more discussion and head scratching, the Municipal Committee put off a vote on the bill.
Next week the committee will find themselves pondering many of the same issues when House Bill 319 [] forces them to again consider amending the one-of-a-kind charter of the Concord School District. That hearing is set for Feb. 3 at 2:30 p.m. in room 301 of the Legislative Office Building.
All interested citizens are invited.


Anonymous said...

Sounds like the meeting was designed to understand what the two House Bills were about. Nothing evil or great planning between the School, City, and State to keep ideas from the public.

Tony said...

No, it doesn't look like it. But, when you tell the public that they aren't allowed into a meeting that should be public, and then you cancel the meeting, it looks a little fishy. The fact that elected officials and the public pressed the issue, that the meeting should be open, was worth the time ... even if no one from the public showed up.

Anonymous said...

I think it is safe to say that we don't have any evil servants representing Concord. There is a tendency for them to be clubby (not quite cliqueish) and want to reduce the friction that comes from active public partipation (witness the not quite democratic response to the tax cap referendum petition and the reluctance to put the school consolidation up for any kind of referendum).

That said, what starts out as benign in practice can change, and it is really important for folks like Tony (what is up with the Monitor not doing it as well? )to keep our elected officials to the highest standards.

Thanks to Rick, who would not have been in the club if it was up to the current members, for stepping up on this.

Anonymous said...

1st of all, you are all missing the point, which is usual in Concord, because everyone wants to protect what is theirs.
New Board Members, Kevin Fleming, Jack Dunn, Eric Williams and Clint Cogswell, did not run to become control of the city, they choose to run, because they cared about Concord and they care greatly about the Education System, and flaws in the system.
There are some of the older members of the Concord School Board, who need to have a full investigation as why they are on it, I think the Monitor and you have done a poor job investigating them. Special Interest, special preservation, are all things that need to be announced to the public.
If everyone is looking for new blood in the board and to help out the school system, how about showing some support, some sign that you actually care about the schools? Something, a bit, anything, phone calls, letters, showing up, anything? Writing about changes in a blog or in the Monitor do very little.
The only reason people actually caer, is not for the Education system, but how much the taxes are being spent. If we had a different tax system, there would be no bill. Now, would would vote for legistlator that says we need a new tax structure, um, noone. but let's blame the school board, it's more fun.

Anonymous said...

For what it is worth, I canvassed and held signs for Rick when he ran for school committee and would regularly bend the ears of at least one school committee member with whom I regularly interact.

Don't confuse blogging activity with inactivity elsewhere.

Tony said...

I was going to respond to Ben’s point earlier today but let me take a minute to respond to both of you.

I wish I had more time to put into OurConcord than I do. But, I just don’t. I work a full-time job, which is often between 40 and 50 hours per week, and an additional eight to 10 hours I spend in the car. I also have two young children. So, the amount of my free time is extremely limited. Frankly, it’s amazing I’m able to blog as much as I do.

Ideally, my hope was for OurConcord to be more interactive with the community, with people contributing things. Thankfully, Rick has been putting his columns together. That gives me the chance to take a breather. And, I appreciate people commenting and reading, which is why I try to keep up with it.

Anon9:54, I don’t think you are correct. People do care about the education system and they also care about taxes. But, at the same time, people feel powerless to change anything because it is clear that they are not being listened to. And even when they are, nothing is done. It was clear to anyone with half a brain that the elementary school consolidation plan, of which there is no real plan, should have been put on hold until more studying could be done, which serious analysis and more complete data. The student size data and cost estimates were rigged, there are no concrete price for any of these projects, and they left out the Dewey construction costs for a new administration building out of the component. And, when anyone, like myself, said anything about it, we were attacked. I have no problem with that personally ... I have a pretty thick skin. I stick my neck out, I'm going to get cut. But you can’t attack THE FACTS. All I did was state the facts and that was attacked. Is it any wonder why no one shows up? Why show up? You’re better off spending time with your children and broadening their education because that board is not going to listen to you.

Ideally, I had hoped to be at the meeting, so I could write about it, but I’ve had a bad head cold of late so I couldn’t go Monday at 7:30 a.m. When push comes to shove, my health, family, and job, the thing that puts food on the table, are more important.
I can’t tell you why the Monitor wasn’t there. It was an editor’s choice not to send a reporter. I don’t know why no one else from the public was there. I did the best I could do, with the resources I have, to publicize the meeting.

Anonymous said...

The Concord Monitor is so incredibly biased it is ridiculous.
Fact Kevin Fleming got on the school board to change schools, he is one person, he hates politics more than most. Is he an evil person, I think not, he is a doctor, a great dad and great husband. What is his interest, talk to him, he will do it, he has given out his email more than once on the monitor, wrote letters, encourages people to talk, if only some of the people talk, that is all people hear.
Why did Kevin join? Our son Ethan was basically denied an education at Eastman, why oh, I am sorry he is too smart, there is no real kindergarten, although we are paying for it with the taxes.We were told to go to Shaker Road, after all Kevin is a doctor, makes lots of $$, should be able to go there if we don't like it. This infuritated us, so so much. I told Kevin to run, you can change the system, I told him people care. Yes, people care if you talk to them one on one, they do. The minute you ask them to come to a meeting, to tell everyone their opinion, they are like no.
I have written letters to the editors, they don't get published, we are fighting a system, that doesn't want change. I didn't know you could have special interest and still be on the school board, yet, noone but me can do a google search.
How about children being recruited to special ed, so the school gets extra money, would any parent do that, is it ethical. I wouldn't do it, I refuse to do it, but I was asked.

Tony said...

Anon11:49: Can you tell me what the letters were about that the Monitor refused to publish?

Anonymous said...

The Monitor is more than just a little one-sided. They very actively push the agenda of the school board. I remember when the board was claiming there was no plan, while at the same time buying up land in the area where there would be a new consolidated school, if one did exist. The people of Concord aren't stupid, they are however accustomed to no-one caring what they say. So, they've quit speaking.
I had some very bad experiences with Concord public schools. (Beaver Meadow was the worst, and my catalyst for home schooling)
The board and the teachers union are at this point completely out of control, with total disregard as to what the public wants or needs. A $60 million dollar budget, with a full 80% of that going to salaries and benefits in a town the size of Concord? How does this make sense? Go to any private school, and you'll hear the same story as to why the parents chose to put their children there; the public schools failed them and wouldn't listen to them. This attitude comes from the top down, board to superintendent to principal to teacher. (The fact that in Concord 1 out of 9 kids is now on a drug for ADD or whatever should speak volumes, yet it apparently doesn't?)
Anyway, bottom line, folks need to get involved, and demand change. Use your voices and your votes!