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Physician, heal thyself

By Gerald Totten
Posted Wednesday, March 10, 2004

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Dr. Keith McManus published a volume on the captioned chatlist about citizens' responsibilities as far as the Board of Education (BOE) was concerned. He particularly implied a number of citizens who criticize the BOE did so out of some personal agenda or to make someone else look bad.

This is a rudderless ship more often than not.

I have attended every published BOE meeting since August of 2003 but have not seen the good doctor there. Maybe he was but he is an imposing figure and would have been noticed by someone. He wasn't. My guess is that most of his comments result from "pillow talk" with his wife, the chair of the BOE. Had he attended the meetings, particularly that 12 January 2004 circus, he would not wonder why the criticism. Citizen after citizen have brought issues of concern to the board, some repetitive, but nothing is done or even responded to in most cases. The BOE with the notable exceptions of Ronnie Collins and Allan Zimmerman makes itself look worse than bad too frequently. This is a rudderless ship more often than not. It's leadership has been criticized often as being dependent totally on someone who should follow not lead, despite protestations that the board runs the show.

That secret meeting which "never took place" refers to an event following the adjournment of a regularly scheduled meeting on 5 January after all public attendees, the media representatives and two members of the BOE had already left. We thought adjournment meant the show was over. Then Ms. McManus, Cadle Cooper, Ernest Dark, Superintendent Dr. Larry Mabe, the board selected architect and the board's attorney adjourned to a separate room where they ostensibly ate finger food and socialized. I wasn't in that gathering but that appearance coupled with the frothing move the very next week to create a totally unsupported bond proposal certainly causes my eyebrows to raise that more than the weather or price of pork was discussed. Just a suspicion, not an accusation.

Then we get to 12 January (following the meeting which never occurred).

Yes, a board member can add items to an agenda but when Cadle Cooper made the motion and his side-kick Ernest Dark seconded it to discuss the bond proposal, it was a shock to almost everyone else there that a bond amount was going to be set and voted upon. Certainly it blind-sided Ronnie Collins and Allan Zimmerman but then they weren't in that meeting that never occurred either.

Ms. McManus, Cadle Cooper and Ernest Dark reminded me of children in a candy store as they tried to stuff their goody bag, aka bond proposal, with a little from the gum drop jar, some licorice sticks, lollipops and, as if that wasn't enough to slake their appetite, they asked the store's manager what else they could have. He offered some peppermint and wintergreen sticks then they counted their piggy banks and saw there wasn't enough to cover their insatiable appetites.

At that point, the other two customers, Collins and Zimmerman, opted to go ahead and ask for consensus. Rather than having to put all the goodies back, the three shoppers and the shop manager decided to get some more information from the architect who had the costs, although he even said they were very rough and unsubstantiated. The next visit to the candy store was to take place on 26 January at Northwood, another out of sequence meeting. A snowstorm prevented that shopping trip visit so it was reset for 9 February also at Northwood another date out of sequence just to accommodate Ernest Dark who had another engagement on the regular first Monday date.

In the meanwhile some people became aware of the run on the candy store and planned to attend the give away program. It too was cancelled then the candy bags were shelved for now pending an independent professional study which every bond committee stated was needed. The BOE could have avoided a great deal of animosity and criticism had they bothered to listen to the common sense stand of Collins and Zimmerman or bothered to follow their agreements made at the bond "workshop" of 18 December 2003 or bothered to listen to the combined wisdom of the bond committee reports from back in October. Their advice to "damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead" was poor.

Dr. McManus refers to "atrocious" behavior of bond chairs. The plural is his but I never saw that. What I did see and I willingly participated in was a frank discussion of the erroneous information initially given the bond committees. We were to make a decision about a three year old spending plan created by the school administration and rubber stamped by this BOE. That plan was hardly worth the paper it was written on and none of the 25 committee members or a group called Chatham Parents supported it fully. Even Dr. McManus's idea (which was a good one) did not blindly follow what the BOE instructed us to do. If that lack of a rubber stamp meets the doctor's definition of atrocious then I am guilty. If he is speaking about the comments made following the presentation of the bond committees' reports, I am guilty of those too but atrocious is hardly a correct adjective unless certain members of the BOE were made uncomfortable by hearing what they should have heard maybe years ago. The adage "beauty is in the eye of the beholder" is apropos. If the BOE members bit buttonholes in their skivvies as they listened to established points of their inept handling of certain duties, I firmly believe they deserve it.

He uses the word "confrontational" and I agree that some of the comments made are such. After dealing with a stone wall on some of those issues for months, how would he like issues handled? Delivered on a silver platter with Marta Stewart's best floral decoration? If the BOE and the superintendent would simply answer questions in a timely fashion or take action in a timely fashion or truthfully explain why the bureaucracy can't, that would alleviate a great deal of confrontation. By allowing issue after issue to drag on, they shoot themselves in the foot. When it begins to hurt, they finally do something.

Now, lets deal with his rant about the chain of command. As a retired military man, I think I know what that is, having spent almost 31 years living it. The chain of command in this education system is almost impossible to find. There is ample evidence teachers ask their principals, principals go to the superintendent and things die there. There is also ample evidence parents use that same channel and nothing happens until they go directly to the BOE and jump up and down with serious concerns and even then those concerns are not often addressed.

Dr. McManus uses the illustration of contacting the lowest appropriate level in companies in which he has an interest. If that contact doesn't work in an appropriate period of time, he moves to the next level and so forth. That is the chain of command that I know too.

Last October his wife chastised me because I questioned some authority she assumed under the school policies. It turns out in studying those policies, she was wrong. My study of those policies also pointed out a number of other errors being made in the BOE administration. One of which involved the method by which minutes of meetings were being kept. Since a question had already been raised about the purchase agreements for the Jack Bennett Road proposed school site, I asked for closed session minutes having to do with real estate from 1999 to date be made public. 1999 was a busy property discussion and acquisition year for the BOE.

The custodian of those minutes and the secretary to the board, Superintendent Dr. Larry Mabe, was the lowest level in that chain of command. He informed me only the BOE could open those minutes although the state law says after three years they will be opened. No choice, "will" is the operative word. I asked the BOE to open those minutes and furnished them opinions by an attorney as to why they should be opened as well as copies of the appropriate state statutes and school policies. Nothing saw the light of day. Finally in January I put my request in writing and asked for a reason why they were still hidden. The superintendent's response was to refer my request to the board attorney for an opinion. Rather than answer my question about the existence of the minutes, he deferred any response to someone else knowing that they did not exist. The BOE never responded either. With no decision from anyone connected with the education system, I formally demanded access to those minutes as advised by my attorney and put a date by which I expected them. On the last day, 5 March, Superintendent Dr. Larry Mabe, called and said the board would let me have them and I could pick them up anytime at his office.

Is five months of what I call shuckin' 'n jivin' appropriate, Dr. McManus? I think patience was certainly extended and all of this could have been avoided if the BOE had just complied with their own policies, i.e., opened what I asked for. Keep in mind the state statutes says those records can only be hidden from view as long as a reason exists or for three years maximum.

The evening I made my formal demand, Ms. McManus told me they were not required to keep those minutes in 1999. She was dead wrong again! Check the statutes yourself since I sent Ms. McManus a copy. What I was finally given was junk and no substance as required by the state statutes. The beginning date was May 20, 2000. Clearly there is a long standing violation of state law predating school policies as to the requirement to keep accurate minutes, when they must be opened for inspection and a clear violation since the board policies were adopted in October 1995. That violation is by none other than Superintendent Dr. Larry Mabe who is charged with that duty and by the BOE who allowed it to continue, perhaps in ignorance of the law and policies. At this past Monday's meeting Superintendent Dr. Larry Mabe finally stated there were no minutes kept prior to May 20, 2000 and he "did not know why". It was his duty, a word I also understand from military service, and he failed miserably. One could also believe there were reasons why those minutes don't exist, sort of like a suspicion if the corporate boards in which stock is owned and vital information with stockholders is hidden like the Enron boys did. An opinion, not an accusation.

Those junkets to resort areas are not mentioned in the state requirement for 12 hours of BOE training. Does that comment mean in 4-5 days of conventioning, our BOE only has to attend 12 hours of sessions? Seems a mite expensive hourly cost to those of us who pay our taxes in a timely fashion and who cannot go to those training sessions. I know that comment is not altogether fair because some will overdo themselves and attend more than 12 hours but some BOE members have already reached 12 hours and Orlando is not needed where audiovisual equipment is. Besides, the sessions at the National School Board Association meeting later this month are generally repeats of what has been offered before with a new name. True some are updates to new regulations and some are meaningful to new board members but, come on, how much will Cadle Cooper and Ernest Dark and Superintendent Dr. Larry Mabe impart that knowledge when they return? They haven't yet after attending a large number of those meetings. Besides is there no other way to get that information? When the system is poor mouthing virtually every request for help, the priorities are way out of sync.

Those large meeting sessions usually provide handouts and even slide or transparency copies of each one used which can be reused locally.

Unless a change of some kind has been made, Superintendent Dr. Larry Mabe told me in writing that the school system had put up $40 for a "workshop" for Ernest Dark and a like sum for the same reason for Meria Alston, secretary to the superintendent. I asked why we had to pay for workshops when the registration fee was also charged. What did registration cover? The reluctant answer was a Black Caucus luncheon for Ernest Dark and an event for board secretaries - which Meria is not. Yes, they do get per diem to cover meals but these are double dipping and hidden under the guise of paying for a "workshop".

As to Gene Galin's attempt to add some humor to the boards with his "Welcome to Florida" poster, would you have liked it better if he had selected DisneyWorld for a background or the clown college near Orlando? Either would also have been appropriate. It is said laughter is the best medicine and it does not take an expensive office visit to get it. So I say, "Physician, heal thyself". I don't know who to attribute that quote to, however.

I am going to close this rebuttal based upon what I have lived and see and hear as an attendee without benefit of that pillow talk. Unfortunately none of the meetings are taped and too much depends upon Superintendent Dr. Larry Mabe's memory. There are also a number of instances where that memory lacks recall. Of course he can hide behind the fact the board has approved the minutes so what is left must be all that happened.

By the way, if you think this is libelous or slanderous, like President Bush as said, "Bring it on" and please have the filings spell my name correctly.

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Physician, heal thyself
Larry & Carolyn Mabe

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