Sunday, April 13, 2008

Recap of the meeting April 12th

Well, if the thank you's I received after the meeting were any indication, I'd say our informal Q&A time at Rocco's was well spent. There were parents there who, until recently, had no idea anything was amiss in the district. Present at the meeting, was representation of every single high school feeder pattern in our district - over 40 parents, teachers and concerned community members were in attendance and filled just about every seat in the room.

There was frank and open discussion about a myriad of issues. From teacher contract negotiations, staffing at schools, budget cuts, boundary lines, fiscal matters, morale, testing, budget concerns, strategic planning to the parcel tax, district culture, compliance issues, management style and more.

But you'll see from the list below, there was no shortage of topics, and no topic was off limits:

  1. Reminder of the feeder pattern meetings and that all should attend.
  2. General consensus that the problems at the district need to be addressed honestly and openly. Parents are tired of hearing the cheerleeding at the community meetings. We need an action plan to real change and recovery.
  3. General discussion that the board needs to listen to the community. The distrust is growing .
  4. Question was asked about the top level of management, and how much of the budget goes toward the administration at the Dent Center. (Answer was that about 8% of our personnel goes to administration which includes admin at dent, student services, principals, vice principals, maintenance, etc and that 43% went to teachers).
  5. Noted that there are about 50 people at the Dent Center, and that comparing to other districts we do have a lower percentage of administrative costs overall.
  6. Question about why there are so many administrators at some school sites with the lesser enrollment?
  7. Some discussion about categorical monies coming in and a chunk of money approved at the district level 2 years ago so that some of the underperforming schools could make local decisions. Those monies have now been cut due to budget constraints.
  8. Gary Eberhart noted that they need to look at the expenditure priorities. That McHenry provides a list of cuts to choose from. That there is no ability for the board to look at other options and that process takes the ability to prioritize and provide input away from the board, and thus, the community.
  9. Question that since we are a declining enrollment district, why do we now have so many more Associate and Assistant Superintendents than we did with much higher enrollment?
  10. Question and discussion of the compliance issues.
  11. There are 7 board contracted employees plus general counsel. The issue may not be are we top heavy, but rather are the people in those positions effective at their positions?
  12. Comment that the curriculum folks at the district are out of touch and that maybe instead teachers could be used on special assignment?
  13. Need to leverage any categorical monies in a better way, i.e. library, etc.
  14. Question about why there is a general counsel on staff and then still paying outside counsel.
  15. Why is there a separate attorney for teacher negotiations? And why must there be an attorney present at every sit down meeting? Difficult to schedule and creates an adversarial climate.
  16. Teachers have not had a contract since July 2007. There is a need to just sit down and talk, an attorney doesn't always need to present. Opinion was that if there were 3-4 sit down meetings with an open and honest discussion, negotiations may have been done by now.
  17. Teacher average experience in our district has now dropped below county average.
  18. There is a fundamental lack of support for teachers. Need to sit and agree to what to strive for. First step, open and honest communication.
  19. Questions about credit to McHenry and the top administration for making schools distinguished. Attendees felt it was the teachers, students and parents that make the schools distinguished, and frankly became distinguished despite McHenry and the upper level administration, not because of it.
  20. Concerns of non supportive principals. Concerns of principals just reciting the district party line. General lack of support at some school sites.
  21. Paul Strange noted that we must recognize we have a revenue problem. The goal needs to be more revenue, and we must fix that.
  22. In discussion of a specific IEP incident a high school, it was again reiterated that there is a fundamental problem with how the district handles legal counsel.
  23. Concern of the near/approx 9 million dollar ending fund balance, and that McHenry will spend that money on non-teacher issues given he spent money on a multi-million dollar communication system that was not supported by many.
  24. General comment: What good is anything without teachers?
  25. There is a non collaborative management style at the district.
  26. Parents voiced their distrust of McHenry's handling of any parcel tax and that they would not support any parcel tax with McHenry as Superintendent.
  27. Discussion of a possible parent led no confidence petition drive
  28. Discussion of the MDUSD schools in Walnut Creek petition to move to the Walnut Creek School District.
  29. The larger issues were discussed as to what got those parents to this point in the first place and the general problems at Northgate and the district level that led to the unrest.
  30. Also, discussion of the past Crystyl Ranch permanent decision to attend Northgate.
  31. Discussion about the 2 open board positions in November and resounding agreement amongst attendees that the board members need to listen to their community. Some cited instances of defensiveness when talking to one of the board members not in attendance. Some noted blind devotion for McHenry. The attendees were reminded that until these board members hear from us, nothing will change. It was stated that this may well be one of the most important board elections in years.
  32. Board members have had to write public request letters just to get information that should be available to them.
  33. Board members have requested, but have not yet seen the full, complete budget.
  34. General discussion of some public show of support to our teachers on May 14th. Wearing a certain color was discussed, and walking out was mentioned by one attendee. (if I hear any more details on this I'll be sure to post it)

So, as you can see, this meeting was well rounded, and certainly spirited at times. It showed there are real issues that are not going to go away any time soon, and certainly aren't going to go away by hushing the only 2 board members with children in our school district. I did find that fascinating... that the only 2 board members bringing any of this to our attention, and willing to discuss with us openly, are the 2 with children attending our schools.

My next invitation for a meeting will be to the three other board members, I understand due to some rules they may not all 3 be able to attend, but I (personally) would appreciate hearing their side of the issues and their plan of action for our district looking forward. I'll keep you all posted on that. April, Dick, Linda... please email me with your availability to meet, and I'll be emailing you shortly.

Andre' Gensburger, local writer, journalist, blogger and Clayton Pioneer contributor was in attendance and took copious notes and some photos. See his blog entry about this meeting here:

Stay tuned...


  1. Let us know if the other three board members respond. I would love to attend a meeting like yesterday with some of them. Let's fire the same questions at them and let them hear our complaints and see how they respond. It would also bwe interesting to hear their plans for changing this district, of course first they would have to recognize that their are big problems, and so far they haven't been willing to do that. Thanks for the re-cap.

  2. I'll keep you posted on the response from the other board members. I do understand only 2 would be able at any one time, but I share your desire to ask the same questions and give them a chance to answer our concerns.

    As long as we all keep talking about it and working together they won't be able to ignore the problems anymore..

  3. I know at the meeting we decided to put together a petition. Could you post information on who to contact to pick up the forms from and do we have a date in mind to have the signatures done and turned in? The more I think about it the more I think it is a great idea. I think it will make an impact, and for the parents who are not comfortable speaking out, it gives them an opportunity to participate.

  4. I think I'm getting closer to finding out who was the one discussing the possibilities of the petition and I'll post more information here as I get it! Thanks for your interest and involvement in the efforts to improve our district.