Monday, March 8, 2010

Five alternative reasons why people don't attend school board budget hearings

The Concord Monitor's Karen Langley has a story about the fact that no resident of the Concord community bothered to attend the school board's budget hearings. Some of the quotes in the article are pretty hilarious, from Superintendent Dr. Chris Rath insinuating that people are happy to former school board member Betty Hoadley suggesting that most people don't have the "time or expertise" to follow the process. Wow. Heaven forbid you actually help people become aware, right?
I posted a long comment for which I will probably be attacked online. Whatever. Here now, however, are five alternative reasons for why people probably didn't attend the school board's budget hearings:

1. Most people know that the school board isn't going to listen to them anyway on anything, so why bother? It is apathy, Dr. Rath. I have spoken to a lot of folks who feel this way. That has become perfectly clear to anyone with a free-thinking brain. Most of the members of the school board will nod politely but will not actually listen to what parents want.

2. Turnout was probably low since one of the hearings was held on a Thursday at 5:30 p.m. when most parents are either still working, still commuting, or sitting down for dinner with their families. While there was another hearing on Wednesday at 7 p.m., why would anyone attend when they would miss "American Idol"? (That was sarcasm, BTW).
I was at least one person who requested during the elementary school process that meetings be scheduled at various times so that those people with complicated schedules could attend hearings and find out what was going on. That seemed logical but it fell on deaf ears.
There's absolutely no reason why a budget meeting can't be scheduled at 8 a.m. on a Friday or noon on a Saturday so that people could make time within their very busy schedules to get there. In many other towns throughout the country, long budget hearings are held on Saturdays so that people can attend. There was just a four hour one in Belmont, Mass., this week, where the entire School Committee and leadership team went through most of the budget in a public hearing. There were no public comments but residents at least know a lot about the budget.

3. In keeping with the schedule point, what kind of outreach was done? It's interesting that there was little to no notice about the public hearings. I saw a notice in the Monitor but thousands of people in Concord don't buy the Monitor. How are you supposed to find out about the hearings? That's right, you didn't. And, it's impossible to babysit the school's Web site for important hearings. Come on. Compare this lack of outreach to the fact that activists in the PTO used email lists to advocate for a political position which went against the interest of parents during the Legislative Charter Commission process ...

4. Why should anyone take any budget process seriously when you can't really get at the details? A few people are still trying to find out via Right-to-Know how much Attn. Teague was paid to advocate for the school system in Legislative hearings while not wearing the required lobbyist notification or even being registered as a lobbyist, which was against the law at the time. Apparently, the administration won't release the information. Why? Why can't parents and taxpayers find out how much the school's attorney was paid to advocate against their interests, while not following the law? Question for the Concord Monitor: How come you're not going after that Right-to-Know inquiry like you did with Duprey? Surely the school's attorney allegedly breaking the law would be a big story, right?

5. Most people do understand budgeting and do want to keep up with things, unlike what Hoadley said. You don't have to be a journalist to understand or have a desire to understand budgeting. Most of us do budgets for our homes all the time. However, many folks are just too busy trying to put food on the table and make ends meet. We're also spending a lot of time making sure that our kids are being properly raised, whether in school or out. We don't have time to worry about everything that is going on (although we should make time).
For these reasons, the school board and administrators should be congratulated for keeping the tax rate as low as possible. Thank you. But, let's be honest, we all know the bills that are coming for the consolidation project ...


Anonymous said...

Theyre gonna do what theyre gonna do. Why give up dinner when the outcome is predetermined. Just look at the move to tear down old schools and build new. The board didnt care whether the majority of the public was with them or not.

Jeremy said...

I wish I had known. I pay a good amount of attention, but had no idea this was going on.