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In defense of my wife and the BOE

By Keith McManus
Posted Tuesday, March 9, 2004

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When Deb decided to run for school board, I decided to stay out of her way while maintaining my right as a citizen to express my opinion. I did that when presenting my proposal for a school bond including
consolidation of CCHS and JMHS. Otherwise I have tried to stay out of her way and limit my involvement in politics. Recently, however, a number of extremely misleading posts have taken place. Since Deb does not read the Chatlist, only the few emailed to her came to her attention. I read it, but most are so off base or conspiracy/paranoid oriented that I do not even tell her about them since they are not worthy of serious response.

Recently there have been some posts that have gone beyond politics and as a husband I am going to respond first to some general issues, and then to some specific, personal ones.

First, the secret meetings/bond vote that got so much discussion. There never was any "meeting" - they were eating and talking. Unlike the atrocious behavior some of our Bond Committee Chairs demonstrated at other committee's meetings, some people do like to relax and talk about things other than issues. The bond was listed at the next meeting as a discussion because that is all that was planned. Any member of the BOE has the right to call for a vote if he so desires. One member thought that he did. Other members played "Devil's advocate" to show him that he was not ready to delineate bond needs. If in fact, three members of the BOE had decided in secret that they were going to pass a bond issue, I ask the proponents of this misinformation to check their math. Where I went to school, 3 out of 5 is a majority and they would have simply come in, called for a vote and passed it. There was no secret meeting or plan to call for a bond. In fact, from the very beginning of her term on the BOE, Deb has stated that she only wanted a bond that had unanimous support of the Board,

Second is the cost of educational programs. I find it especially interesting that the same people insinuating that our Superintendent is not competent would be opposed to our Board being instructed on how to improve our system. The state instructs that every member of a Board should obtain a MINIMUM of 12 hours of education each year. This is so they can keep up not only with changes in educational instruction and administration, but with the ever changing legal and legislative demands placed on systems as well. If members of the BOE do not maintain this education, then they must rely on their Superintendent, or on well meaning but self-serving constituents, who may be ignorant of the legal requirements or have their own agenda not in the best interest of the county as a whole.

The money spent to send BOE members to meetings may be the best investment in the long run to insure that your elected representatives maintain the best education possible for our children. Knowing what is possible means that they do not have to rely on the Superintendent or on special interest groups who helped elect them. Conferences are planned in resort areas to attract the best speakers and because those are the only places capable of holding so large a group. This is true of medical, dental, educational, or any other large group. These groups do arrange special rates and often alternate where each state may stay to spread the cost evenly from year to year among the states.
Staying at a cheaper place not arranged by the organizers could mean larger expenses in taxi fares or other incidentals.

Meals are only paid by per diem (I think this is $25 per day). Unless you only eat at McDonalds (not a healthy choice) it is impossible to eat 3 meals on this amount, especially in a resort area. The BOE pays the rest out of their pocket. Members are paid $90 per day, not per meeting as stated in posts. This hardly covers the lost income from the jobs some BOE members have, not to mention the time away from family. If you check the schedule of events, there is little time for "frolicking on the beach". And I would remind you that no one on our BOE plans where these meetings will be.

It seems that some people with personal agendas, or just nothing better to do with their time, would like to make someone else look bad. I would not argue with limiting attendance to a certain number of the BOE each meeting, but there are so many worthwhile sessions that 3 or 4 members still could not cover everything. Plus there is an advantage to having more than 1 or 2 there since there may be very different interpretations of a presentation. I personally think that having members of the BOE with no background or training in the field of education, and who are not receiving any while on the BOE, is a greater threat to our county than having too many members learning how to improve our county schools.

Now to our Superintendent; I was very anti-Larry for a long time. I saw things happening at our children's school and Larry assured me they would change. They did not. Since then I have realized that Larry is a good bureaucrat. His job is to do what the BOE instructs him to do. Sometimes he is acting on his interpretation of their policies, and some times he is doing what he is told, even if does not agree with his personal feelings. I have come to respect the fact that he often accepts criticism for doing what he is instructed, even though he does not agree with the instructions. Does he pass the buck - not nearly as much as people suggest or he could. It is frequently asked what Larry does. A lot of his time is wasted by trying to placate a few individuals who think they are special and request specific information from him. Although all information is public domain, he should require that we all go through proper channels and then maybe he could do more supervising of staff instead of babysitting taxpayers with inflated egos. I do not call the CEO of a company I hold stock in to get figures. I call the appropriate department and make my request. If it is not handled in an APPROPRIATE amount of time (not while I am holding the phone or before they do their required jobs), I move up the chain
of command. If you feel you need more direct access, run for the BOE or apply for Larry's job. Individuals with military experience should understand the chain of command.

Our BOE is trying to help. They are not blind to needs and that things fall through the cracks. Parents complained of the gym floor and smells at JM. The county said it had been resolved. Deb went under the floor and found a problem, which the county quickly corrected. When reports of problems at Horton were raised, Deb visited and the county completed work planned. If you check with the principals and
teachers, you will find that this BOE has tried to visit schools and deal with problems presented them.

Part of the problem is parents not utilizing the chain of command. They are blaming the Central Office when they have skipped the school. Several problems posted on the Chatlist were never addressed with the school principal. Conversely, several complaints directed to our principal initially were answered by "the BOE cut it". However on follow up, we found that the issues were never forwarded to the BOE by the principal. Each school presents a list of needs to the county and these are prioritized by the principals. Money is then allotted based on priority. If things are not done, check your school's priority list before attacking the county or BOE.

Money is an issue for everyone. Some people are trying to make it sound like the county is not paying for basic services. PTA's raise funds to enhance their schools. Phones, utilities, etc. will be paid by the county. Long distance is not. The school receives a general fund. If the PTA provides the money to pay for phone, mail, or other basics, then the principal has more money to do optional things with the county funds. It is not true that the county is not providing basic services for the schools. This is just uninformed individuals jumping to conclusions and trying to cause problems. These are the same people disputing the county's reports based on "maintenance people at the school", or a "lady of unquestionable integrity", or their own expertise which is undoubtedly better than that of the county office, BOE or assorted consultants and lawyers, even if they do not have all the facts, some of which are confidential. Government bureaucracy and legal systems frequently do not move quickly and are confidential. Just because every question or demand is not met immediately does not mean that it has not been heard or considered. There may be reasons that cannot be explained immediately.

People also seem to be ignoring that our scores are steadily improving. Imagine that. At Monday night's BOE meeting, there were several speakers who wanted to voice their concerns, some in a very rude and confrontational manner, others in order to be heard in preparation to run for office. However, when the presentation of our County Report Card was given, all these people were gone. They may have been (and should have been) interested to know that we are performing above the state and are dramatically closing the ethnic gap in scores. Guess they aren't interested in facts or good things about our system.

Finally is the real reason I started this. If some people want to make themselves seem important by harassing the County Commissioners or the BOE, that is their constitutional right and I wish them well. I would hope that they learn to check their facts and realize that my friend 'John Doe', or even the Chatlist, may NOT be accurate information. However it is unacceptable for anyone to slander or liable on the Chatlist. The posts that were placed about the uses of motel rooms and footsies under the table were uncalled for. As one individual is fond of saying, a lawyer's review of the posts stated that they did provide the basis for a liable suit. The beach cartoon was self-serving and in poor taste. Also inaccurate since there are no beaches in Orlando, but in keeping with many other posts which have no basis in fact. The comments about "the skirt" are sexist, since Deb has never referred to herself that way. At one forum she stated she was the only one in a skirt when she had to go around a stage when the men all stepped up on it. Please refrain from such personal attacks on any of our elected
officials, since they only demonstrate a lack of any intelligent position, requiring the use of slander in place of articulate positions or solutions. If you feel the need to make personal attacks, please let me know and I will attend the next Board meeting so you may.

If you have problems with how things are in Chatham County, get involved and do something constructive. Personal attacks are not constructive and are the tool of people who do not have answers or even knowledge of the problems. Don't like how things are? Run for office - Commissioner, BOE, city council - and find out the facts. At the present state of things, how do you expect anyone to want to run for any office in our county? You will deserve what you get, or maybe it will be you and we can have fun.

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In defense of my wife and the BOE
Deb & Keith McManus

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