This blog represents my opinions and my opinions alone, and certainly doesn't represent the collective thoughts of any of the Boards or organizations that I serve on. Unfortunately I make all sorts of miistakes, I'm a picky eater, I can't sing and I just recently found out I have been spelling certain words in my vocabulary wrong my entire life. That being said, I still continue to muddle ever onward. Welcome.





Thursday, April 29, 2010

School Board Meeting Last Night: Report

The Monona Grove Board of Education met last night, and with a light agenda, we were able to wrap the meeting up by 8:30pm. At our annual organizational meeting, the Board voted to elect officers. Susan Fox will remain the Board President. I am our new VP after Susan Manning declined her nomination. Susan Manning will remain the Board treasurer (Peter Sobol removed his name from consideration) and Lionel Norton will remain the Board Clerk (Jill List declined her nomination) The Board also voted to reinstate standing Board Committees, specifically Business Services, Policy and Curriculum. Please consider applying to serve the district on a committee. Information and applications will soon be available on the district website: http://www.mononagrove.org/.


Committee Chairs will be appointed by next week. With the re-establishment of our standing committees, the Board of Education will return to a one-meeting-a-month format beginning in June 2010. These meetings will continue to alternate between the District Office in Monona and the Glacial Drumlin IMC in Cottage Grove every second Wednesday of the month at 7pm. While our year-long experiment with the a two-meeting-a-month format did not entirely elicit the efficiency and comprehensive inclusiveness that I had hoped for, I am glad that the Board was willing to try a different approach. I never bought into the nonsense that the elimination of standing committees was an effort to stifle public input. Quite to the contrary, I am rather proud of the groundbreaking advances the Board made this year in opening up our budget reduction proposal debates to the staff and the public. I heard many comments from folks who are quite appreciative of the opportunity to speak at our public budget hearings, an option that had not been offered in our district since I've lived here. Sometimes trying new things works, sometimes it doesn't, but you'll never know until you try.

The Board approved revisions to Board Policy 185- Standing Board Committees. We also voted 7-0 to remove the expansion of our school walk zone to two miles from budget reduction consideration for 2010-2011.

17 comments:

  1. It is interesting you think people felt welcome to speak at the hearings. I felt anything but that. The "Save Maywood" crowd appropriated the situation and created an atmosphere in the room where anyone who felt to the contrary was very intimidated. The applause that was permitted contributed to this. You have a very long way to go to create a situation where everyone, not just a members of a loud, supportive crowd, feels comfortable.

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  2. There have been many times that I have personally felt uncomfortable at our Board meetings too, especially a recent meeting at Winnequah Cafeteria. There were times that I feel like jumping out of my seat and making a break for it. Some residents behavior was/is horrible. I already commented on this on past posts- see March 24th Board of Education Meeting post. Whatever the crowd's behavior was, our district has never given our taxpayers the chance to participate in the process of budget reductions and I am very happy to have been part of bringing that about. It is wonderful to see more community input and I would not want to shut down that avenue now that it has been opened.

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  3. What revisions were made to the Board Policy that you referenced?

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  4. "I heard many comments from folks who are quite appreciative of the opportunity to speak at our public budget hearings, an option that had never been offered in our district before."

    I am not sure what you mean because I have lived in this district for over 20 years and I have watched or attended many budget hearings. To my knowledge, everytime this district has had to cut big chunks from the budget, it has been preceded by very public and well attended budget hearings. I watched some of the latest round on television and I was profoundly disappointed that they were no different than they have been for the two decades I have lived here. People get up, spew for three minutes, say things are moving too fast or there is not enough information, implore the board to save their pet programs and that's about it. Your compliments are coming from the people who largely agreed with your decisions. Of course they are happy with you! If the board had voted the other way on Maywood, some of these same people would be trying to recall you. Bottom line? The board will always be liked by those who are getting their way and reviled by those who are not.

    I honestly think the advent of these blogs has done more to help with getting out info and gathering ideas (if you ignore the flat out nasty stuff) than anything else in recent years. Keep up the good work on that! I do not always agree with you, but if you run again I will probably support you because I think you are genuinely trying to communicate and do the right thing.

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  5. To the above poster: you are right in that we have always had public appearances before every Board meeting. I was referring to the addition of two specially held forums for the MGSD staff to voice their ideas and concerns and the three specially held extra public forums for the community to voice their ideas and concerns. It is definitely a step in the right direction to gathering more community input. Your assumption that I have only heard from people who personally agreed with the decisions that I made is not really true. In fact, the most poignant comment I heard was from someone who really REALLY disagreed with the idea of delaying the consolidation of Maywood and Winnequah, which he expressed without mincing any words, and then finished off by saying "but you know, I'm really glad we had a public forum to get this off my chest. The past Board would have never even held a meeting, much less listened."

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  6. Board Policy 185 had added language that "annually at the board re-organizational meeting or when appropriate, the board may determine whether the following standing committees will be established:" This language replaces this line from the original policy: "The Board President shall appoint the following standing committees with Board approval:"
    The policy goes on to list curriculum, policy, business services and negotiations. That list was revised to inlcude the addition of a legislative committee, which was written out of policy when a past board disbanded the committee. We may or may not have a legislative committee in the future, but by adding it back into the policy while making the other revision, we will be able to have that option should we pursue it. Board Rule 185 has added language that "the Board President, in cooperation with the Committee Chairs, shall appoint citizen members of standing committees." That replaces this original policy wording "The Board President shall annually nominate, for appointment by the Board,
    citizen members of standing committees." Appointment times and other minor details were also cleaned up. Finally the committee citizen member application was beefed up to include more and better detailed questions for applicants.

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  7. I honestly do not think it serves this board well to attempt to build its capital as being somehow better than the past boards. There are a great many people who supported past boards and their actions. Please understand that when you criticize how things were done in the past you alienate large numbers of people who think the past was better than what they see happening currently. I believe this is why the turnout at the recent hearings was so poor among Cottage Grove residents in general and people from Monona who supported closing Maywood - something which I am surprised does not concern you. Legitimately or not, they see this board as being stacked against them. While this may not sit well with you, it is the reality and under this reality you must function. All I am saying is tread lightly on attempting to make it appear that Things Are So Much Better Now Than They Have Ever Been, because there are quite a few people who would beg to differ and when you give off that vibe, they certainly see no point in engaging with you. These people, as did a different crowd in the past, believe that engaging with the board is a waste of time. Maybe what is really happening is that a different crowd is having its day in the sun. Maybe the divisiveness will never go away no matter how hard you try. Maybe the swing of the pendulum is a physical property that cannot be changed. Just don't mistake it for something other than that.

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  8. Thanks for your comment Lily. I don't think that this Board is better or worse than any other past or future Board. I haven't lived in this district long enough to make such sweeping generalizations, nor would I do that even if I had lived in this district for the past thirty years. What I was saying was that since I have lived here and have been active in the schools, I see the public forums that we held this year in regards to the budget reduction process is a great step in the right direction for increasing community awareness, interaction and education. Good vibes.

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  9. But Jessica, the good vibes you suggest were shared by just a small subset of our citizenry. I think there was a huge part of our community that simply stayed away, mostly Cottage Grove residents and pretty much anyone who did not agree with keeping Maywood open. I did not see every minute of every person who testified, but by and large I saw a very well organized group who wanted to keep Maywood open. There was the odd dissenter here and there, but it was pretty overwhelmingly stacked with Monona people who wanted to keep Maywood open. To the extent that caused a young group in Monona to wake up and pay attention, that really was a good thing. But I think we need to worry about why so many others stayed away and why they did not feel welcome to express their opinions. The reason for concern is the spending referendum you must be thinking about in the next year or two. If you have a large portion of this district that feels alienated, that does not bode well at the voting booth.

    Now of course I understand that Maywood was damned if you do and damned if you do not, but I think a tremendous amount of outreach needs to occur between the leadership of this school board and those who are feeling alienated by this decision - many of whom reside in Cottage Grove - or our kids will suffer the consequences of a failed referendum. To be clear, I couldn't care less about the Kumbaya aspect of all of this, I just don't want to see a spending referendum go down in flames.

    Have a good weekend, Ms. Ace. Take off the stilettos and put those baby-swollen feet up!

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  10. Really good points, Lily. You're right, I was responding to the people who were there, using the opportunity to speak or at least be present , regardless of their position. I should have thought boarder, ie in regards to the people who didn't come and why they didn't. And I agree with your thoughts on passing the referendum. We need a buy-in from everyone and now is not the time to alienate (not there usually is a good time, but I digress) or unwittingly cast people into opposing sides. Thanks for the reminder. As for the shoes, I plan on a barefoot weekend in the garden if this rain manages to listen to me.

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  11. Monona Mom of ThreeApril 30, 2010 at 8:52 PM

    I totally agree with Lily. School Board meetings are more closed off, more angry, and more unfriendly than they have ever been. It is not a welcoming environment for all citizens and the board is responsible for creating a place where folks do not feel uncomfortable. The allowing of some of the behaviors that have gone on is silly.
    And, do you think the Maywood vote could be revisited now that we know the repercussions? Folks are really upset about loss of great staff members-- do you think that the board could now be convinced to put education over buildings- especially now that the green charter school is going to take several years?

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  12. Congrats to you Jessica. Now let's hope that you, Sue and Susan can find a way to keep Maywood open forever. Hopefully with the 3 of you in the power positions you will keep our local Monona schools vibrant.

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  13. Thanks! I hope to keep every school in our district vibrant!

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  14. "School Board meetings are more closed off, more angry, and more unfriendly than they have ever been. It is not a welcoming environment for all citizens and the board is responsible for creating a place where folks do not feel uncomfortable."

    When you are forced to consider major initiatives - such as closing a school or moving kids from one community to the other - you're going to have people coming out and speaking passionately. So you will see people show emotions. It's inevitable.

    And the 'bad behavior' is not just one group or type of person. It's from everyone one.

    I witnessed a former school board member and a current district staff member, as they sat in the back of the room, ridiculing a speaker during one meeting. I've seen board members roll their eyes at speakers. And yes, i've seen speakers call the board 'stupid' and so forth.

    But when you have such issue son the docket, you are going to bring out all sorts of emotions. You just wish everyone would stay civil.

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  15. I'd say keeping the district vibrant is more important than keeping a school vibrant. Just My $.02 Worth.

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  16. It is always important to go beyond simply witnessing a behavior of which you disapprove and passing judgment. It really pays to think more deeply and wonder why the person is behaving in that manner. In other words, even if you don't like their behavior, consider giving their motivations some validation. Doing so is in your own best interest, because it gives you insight into what might motivate people so that you can obtain your own objectives. Simply dismissing people as "bad" is not wise in the long term because most people are not bad - if they are angry or irritated, better to consider to root cause. Not to say bad behavior should be excused, but it should be understood.

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