New Hampshire Underground

Regional Discussion => Monadnock => Keene => Topic started by: Kat Kanning on February 02, 2006, 07:23 AM NHFT

Title: Keene School Board
Post by: Kat Kanning on February 02, 2006, 07:23 AM NHFT
School board: Differences abound
   
Nika Carlson
Sentinel Staff

The Keene Board of Education doesn?t always agree.

But with four seats up for election on the closely split nine-member school board, members are of like mind on one thing at least: Change is on the horizon.

March?s election, they say, is a tipping point for a group that, for the past year, has loudly and publicly disagreed.

For the board, often locked in a 5-4 vote, gridlock has been the norm for the past year. But a few more seats on the minority side of the aisle could drastically change the Keene School District, board members said.


      


What that change means depends on who you talk to: better education for a cheaper price, says the minority, a fumbling bureaucracy that cares about money instead of education, say their critics.

?The current makeup of the board tends to favor education, and I don?t know what?s going to happen after the election,? said board member Neil W. Donegan. ?It could swing to a more accounting-based board.?

Not everyone agrees on the severity of the problem ? ?I actually found that the board could work together better than I thought they would,? said new member Erik R. Murphy ? but the charges leveled back and forth over the past year have been serious.

Board members have accused each other of radicalism and of leadership and ethical failures. An outside report alleges the board micromanaged the district, some say to the point of driving off a host of top-level managers last year.

?This is a defining moment in public education in this community,? said Chairman Carol A. Brown. ?It can either go downhill, or it can turn around, but people are going to have to get involved, and they?re going to have to care.?

Differences abound on a split board, cause gridlock

Differences of opinion are to be expected when nine different people try to decide an issue, and those differences are good, said both Brown and Karl I. Hecker, who are on opposite sides of the divide.

?You need to have people with different backgrounds and different ways of looking at things, but you also need people to be civil about their discourse,? said Brown, whose hasn?t decided if she?ll run for re-election this year. ?If you want to get your viewpoint across, don?t start by insulting me. Convince me.?

The close split on the board has kept it deadlocked for most of the last year, Donegan said.

?I don?t think anything really bad has happened or anything really good,? he said.

On the other hand, ?we haven?t done what a board of education is supposed to do in the last year?: talk about education and set policy, Brown said.

?I feel like I?ve been a playground monitor for the last year,? she said.

The board has done everything set before them this school year, Murphy said. It has, for example, hired four new top administrators.

But a policy overhaul was called off, two popular educational programs weren?t funded for the second year running and, after two years of study, the fate of the 34 West St. administrative building is still undecided.

Personal disagreements have sometimes gotten in the way of progress, said board member Robert G. McLaughlin.

?Dividing the board, if a member on one side brings (a proposal up), it?s almost guaranteed it will not be supported on the other side of the divide, and that?s a problem on both sides,? he said.

He blames that in part on the leadership of Brown and finance committee Chairman John L. Tonkinson, whom he has not been shy about criticizing. In meetings and in e-mails to the public, courtesy copied to the board, he has alleged board leadership has failed. In one e-mail, he raises the possibility of removing Tonkinson from his post. ?Never a dull moment!? he wrote.

?We are by design obstructed from accomplishing anything,? McLaughlin said this week.

But change is necessary now, said McLaughlin and Hecker, who has also been critical of board leadership.

The district is ?mediocre,? and the school board needs to take money from inefficiencies, excess administrators and other surplus costs and put it toward making the district one of the best in the nation, Hecker said.

?We can?t afford to move this slow,? he said.

Change happens slowly for a reason, others countered.

?The process has been an educational process, not a business process, and I see now that there are minority elements in the community who have anti-government, anti-public education agendas,? said Tonkinson, who hasn?t decided if he?ll run again for his seat this year. ?They have gotten elected to the board and are creating a stir in the community that will ultimately hurt our education system.?

Some say it already has.

Micromanagement alleged, election called critical

In last year?s accreditation review of Keene High School by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges, ?recent changes? on the school board were blamed for ?blur(ing) lines of authority in the district,? according to the association?s report.

?Some members do not observe the established chain of command,? the report reads, citing interviews with teachers, school board members and school support staff. ?... This micromanagement by some members of the school board has created stress both within the board and between individual members of the board and the administration of the high school.?

In a November school board meeting, Donegan suggested micromanagement might be why four top-level administrators, as well as Keene High School Principal Victor P. Sokul Jr., left the district last year.

In an interview this week, Donegan was less willing than in the past to connect the school board to the administrative exodus.

Tonkinson, though, was ready. ?I am directly linking the change in the school board to the reason the whole central office staff changed over and the departure of our high school principal,? Tonkinson said.

Those administrators, which included the superintendent, assistant superintendent, business administrator and personnel manager, said publicly they were taking early retirement or leaving for personal reasons. None have publicly linked their departure to the school board.

But McLaughlin said he thinks ?maybe accountability? to the board forced them out.

Hecker agreed, saying, ?I think it?s good that the board is more active in the sense that we?re asking questions that need to be asked. I believe it was creating stress, and that it will create stress, and some stress is good.?

March?s election is an opportunity to galvanize the board, he said.

?This election is huge because if we get board members who understand that we need to do a better job educating our kids, but we also need to (be) more fiscally sound, then we?ll move forward,? Hecker said.

Incumbents mull another run, decisions due Friday

Thus far, only three people have filed for the four open seats: Murphy, who has long planned to run again, and two community members.

Tonkinson and Brown, who vote together as part of the majority, and the also-undecided Hunter, part of the minority, have until Friday, when the filing period closes, to decide if they?ll run again.

All three say family and work obligations are pushing them to say no, but Brown and Tonkinson said changes to the board are keeping them from making a final decision.

?I am hearing consistently from the school community and the Keene community at large about how much they need voices of reason now that things are changing, and that makes me think I should potentially run again,? Tonkinson said.

Even those who see the changes as neutral or minimal see this election as a tipping point.

?I just hope things get better,? member James W. Best said.
Title: Re: Keene School Board
Post by: Russell Kanning on February 03, 2006, 06:57 AM NHFT
"...and, after two years of study, the fate of the 34 West St. administrative building is still undecided."
We voted on this last year, but they don't care. We can vote all we want, but the schoolies always win.

That is why we are no longer supporting this organization with our money.
Title: Re: Keene School Board
Post by: Caleb on February 03, 2006, 09:36 PM NHFT
Give it time, Russell.  It's possible the city may want to spend our money to purchase the property from ourselves ...  :o   C'mon, it's only been two years.  ;)
Title: Re: Keene School Board
Post by: Lloyd Danforth on February 03, 2006, 11:54 PM NHFT
You can run an add selling the building in the KFP!  Photo and everything!
Title: Re: Keene School Board
Post by: Kat Kanning on February 04, 2006, 04:40 AM NHFT
LOL!  Awesome idea!
Title: Re: Keene School Board
Post by: Russell Kanning on February 04, 2006, 08:57 AM NHFT
That is too brilliant. This is why we are going to defeat the government. We have guys sitting in front of their computers thinking of the absolutely perfect gotcha!
Title: Re: Keene School Board
Post by: Caleb on February 04, 2006, 09:08 AM NHFT
You can run an add selling the building in the KFP!  Photo and everything!

Even better, you could run an ad selling the building in the KFP.  Photo and everything.  ;)
Title: Re: Keene School Board
Post by: Russell Kanning on February 04, 2006, 09:35 AM NHFT
Caleb has been going to journalism night school so he could catch that one.
Title: Re: Keene School Board
Post by: Lloyd Danforth on February 04, 2006, 09:45 AM NHFT
Some dark night Caleb will walk outside and Tracy and I will pummel him with dictionaries!
Title: Re: Keene School Board
Post by: Pat McCotter on February 04, 2006, 06:41 PM NHFT
Some dark night Caleb will walk outside and Tracy and I will pummel him with dictionaries!

 ??? ??? ???

Pummel: A section of the workpiece in spindle turning which is left square, eg when turning legs for chairs or tables.
Title: Re: Keene School Board
Post by: Lloyd Danforth on February 04, 2006, 07:52 PM NHFT
Verb
S: (v) pummel, pommel, biff (strike, usually with the fist) "The pedestrians pummeled the demonstrators"
Title: Re: Keene School Board
Post by: Pat McCotter on February 04, 2006, 08:05 PM NHFT
 ;D
Title: Re: Keene School Board
Post by: quartzes on February 18, 2006, 04:44 PM NHFT
It's interesting to me that those who protest the loudest are those who want no changes, no new programs for kids but are willing to allow teachers to have $16,000 worth of health insurance for their entire family FOREVER.  So what if it goes up 10-20% per year?...good grief, I'm glad 2 of them aren't running again.
Title: Re: Keene School Board
Post by: Russell Kanning on February 19, 2006, 10:38 AM NHFT
I wonder how high health insurance premiums will get before we can no longer pay for them for ourselves and all these government employees.
Title: Re: Keene School Board
Post by: Dave Ridley on February 19, 2006, 02:08 PM NHFT
It's interesting to me that those who protest the loudest are those who want no changes, no new programs for kids but are willing to allow teachers to have $16,000 worth of health insurance for their entire family FOREVER.  So what if it goes up 10-20% per year?...good grief, I'm glad 2 of them aren't running again.

Welcome to NHfree.com, quartzes!