Over the last few weeks, much attention has focused on the possible outsourcing of aides, paraeducators and substitute teachers – the lowest paid group of employees in the TE School District. I have spoken with a number of the employees that are facing an uncertain future. They continue to question ‘why’ the School Board gave the District administrators pay increases and bonuses, then turn around, and consider outsourcing the jobs of those least paid. District employees, whose jobs are now on the cutting block, do not understand how the administrators received raises, without any public discussion, as part of a consent agenda. If the school district’s financial situation is driving outsourcing, why did the School Board give the administrator raises and bonuses a few months ago?
For those who may not recall; at the TE School Board meeting on January 28, resident Ray Clarke questioned the inclusion of the administrator salary increases and bonuses in the consent agenda. He asked for public discussion of this specific issue and was told by the School Board president that any public discussion would occur ‘after’ the vote was taken rather than before.
The purpose of a consent agenda is to group routine, noncontroversial items together to be voted on under one motion. It is understood that items on the consent agenda should be routine items that do require further information before the board vote. The assumption is that the consent agenda purpose is not to purposely hide important issues or stifle discussion – yet in the case of the administrator salary increases, that is exactly what happened.
With upcoming important District votes related to outsourcing, it is important to review the District’s policy related to public discussion. Under District Policy Series 9000: By-Laws of the Board, is 9311 Order of Business of Monthly Board Meetings that clearly spells out the parameters that govern the School Board’s use of the consent agenda.
District Policy Series 9000: By-Laws of the Board
9311 Order of Business of Monthly Board Meetings
VIII Consent Agenda
A. Approve Minutes
B. Receive Financial Reports
D. Curriculum and Instruction
E. Business Office
F. Staff and Students
H. School Board
Now that I look over the District’s consent agenda policy, it is unclear under which category the Board used the consent agenda approval of administrator raises and bonuses. Originally, my objection was the administrator salary increases and bonuses were not ‘routine’ and, therefore should not have been included in the consent agenda. However, when reviewing the list of approved uses of the consent agenda, it is not clear to me which category the School Board actually included administrator raises and bonuses. Interesting …
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You are absolutely correct Pattye. Further, if the admin raises should not have been the consent agenda according to their own bylaws, it is obvious that the vote should be declared null and void and re-addressed, this time WITH district members discussion and comment, as was already requested before the vote.
In addition the action of hiding it and voting without the comment of district taxpaying members, could be construed as less than upstanding behavior, with an intended agenda, and one should look at the list of behaviors that could cause a PESERS retiree to lose THEIR pension. The list is available at the PSERS website under Publications, 2013 PSERS Member Update page 2:
“The Pennsylvania crimes listed under the Pension Forfeiture Act are:
theft by deception
theft by extortion
theft of services
theft by failure to make required
disposition of funds received
tampering with records or
misapplication of entrusted
property and property of government
or financial institutions
bribery in official and political
threats and other improper
influence in official and political
unsworn falsification to
false reports to law
witness or informant taking bribe
tampering with or fabricating
tampering with public records or
intimidation of witnesses or victims
retaliation against witness, victim,
obstructing administration of law
or other governmental function
official oppression, speculating
or wagering on official action or
Pattye, it is very vague, the descriptions for consent agenda…”business”? “personnel? board? Hard to decipher.
Despite remaining anonymous, are you now suggesting criminal behavior?
From various sites on the topic:
Say the term libel when referring to the written defamation of someone’s character. Libel is the defamation of an individual’s or an entity’s character which is published in a written medium, such as a newspaper. However, any written communication can be libelous as long as it’s transmitted to a third party.
Now is the time you contact the press and get them involved.
Time to expose what is real and best for our district.
As tax payers it’s time to face the truth and do what is best.
Personnel. Standard practice. Should have asked a board member to take it to the discussion part.
Defamation of character is written or spoken injury to a person or organization’s reputation. Libel is the written act of defamation, vs. slander, the oral act of defamation.
You often hear “Truth is the perfect defense against libel.” A curious notion, not entirely supported by what goes on in the courts. Truth is a very good defense. It may prove an unshakable defense if you have $50,000 for lawyers to defend against a defamation lawsuit. If you don’t feel like being on the frontier of legal theory, you should build a somewhat better defense. Add on these concepts:
Avoid the impression of malice. “Malice” means different things. When applied to mainstream media, the legal meaning is closer to “reckless disregard of the facts” – so lawyers for daily newspapers and radio/TV usually refer to “fault” rather than malice. For an individual, “malice” pretty much means the dictionary definition: intent to do harm.
State the facts, and then state your opinion separately. This is a legal defense – and also keeps things clear in your mind.
All wrong: “My neighbor John Smith is a stinking lush.” This is wildly defamatory: an unproven, judgmental (“stinking” and “lush” instead of “alcoholic”) statement about a private individual.
Getting better: “Governor Smith consumed 14 glasses of whiskey last night at The Watering Hole Bar. In my opinion he’s an alcoholic.” The proof is a bit hazy – getting drunk once does not prove alcoholism – but a governor is a public figure with less protection than John Smith, you have clearly separated fact from opinion, and there is no particular evidence of malice.
Pretty safe: “Governor Smith consumed 14 glasses of whiskey last night at The Watering Hole Bar. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn he’s an alcoholic.” This is entirely fact, with no clear evidence of malice, about a public figure.
What defamation is not.
Generally, a statement made about an undefinable group of people or organizations cannot be defamation. Take, “Real estate agents are crooks.” It’s defamatory enough, but there is no identifiable victim.
“Most of the agents at Smith Real Estate Company are crooks” is getting dicier, but it is still hard to define the victim.
“Smith Real Estate Company is a crooked company.” Wham! You have a victim: Smith Real Estate Company.
Thanks for the legal lesson. Are you saying that placing raises and bonuses involving significant amount of money, and that was questioned at the time, on a consent agenda was the proper way to handle the issue?
In order for an item to stay on the consent agenda, all of the board members must agree. You don’t vote on a consent agenda.
Under Roberts Rules, a single board member can ask to have an individual item on the consent agenda taken off and placed on the regular agenda. They don’t even need a second, much less a vote.
Do all board members always agree to these substantive consent agenda items? You would think that one of them might recognize the need for public discussion.
Or is the board not following standard Roberts Rules in its use of the consent agenda?
In my opinion, to keep the board members accountable to the people and honest, salary increases and bonuses should be decided on by public vote and certainly never by consent agenda. That’s just corruption waiting to happen.
well public vote is a bit tenuous.. it would require all that vote to do due diligence and this may legitimately be too much. This is why we vote for board members… So they do it..
We vote for board members to serve the best interests of the tax paying citizen not to hide decisions made in private in consent agendas so citizens won’t. Find out.
correct. So it is important to have a legit trustworthy board.
I wonder if there can be a community liason attached to the board to observe? Someone like Ray (sorry Ray) who knows the ins and outs of financial nuance and has a good feel for the workings of the board.. I imagine this would not pass with this board, maybe others would rebuke it too.. How to do?
This is an excellent idea Margaritaville. Many on this blog from citizens to candidates have called for citizen advisory committees, community liason’s attached to the board to observe, etc.
How do we go about instituting this? The board, by allowing an administrator to now answer citizen e-mails because Karen C. says there are so many, has further isolated themselves from the tax paying public. E-mail was never a highly effective way to communicate to board members but now even that road has been shut down. Their allegiance to administrators will only grow as they come to rely even more heavily on them.