What IS Systemic Change?

Welcome to Jim Needham's

"A Former Board member's view from the OTHER side of the table."
Molalla River "BoardWatch" Website

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It's a good time to pray for terrorist victims!

Since the Board of Education will no longer be providing video-taping for cablecast (effective July, 2002), suspended delivery of the "Molalla River Reporter" and stopped communication with the "Educational Ambassadors" (September, 2002) I have tried to provide information regarding education concerns for interested persons:


Jim Needham's
12-01-2003 - Post Term Expiration:  Opponents of the State "temporary" tax increase have apparently turned in nearly three times MORE than the required 50,000 signatures!  Recent polls indicate that Oregonians are STILL opposed to any tax hike similar to the $313,000,000.00 tax increase they defeated last January!  Why would any reasonable person expect that the voters would endorse an $800,000,000.00 surcharge?

Revenue forecast released last week indicate $70,000,000.00 more in state revenue than what was forecast at the close of the longest legislative session in Oregon history.  A session which was little more than a free-for-all of partisan refusal to cooperate while blaming the other for not cooperating in making government more efficient and effective and/or finding a sustainable method of funding education and state services!  They certainly were attentive to ensuring that legislative costs will be more than ever and that family members could receive special gifts without violating ethics rules.

In view of the legislature's inability or refusal to produce cost-effective state services one would expect reasonable and prudent District Administrators, especially the Board of Education, to heed the concerns expressed by teachers during the current negotiations!  What IS the District going to do if the tax surcharge is overturned by voters next February 3rd?

If past practice is any indicator, the District will continue business as usual:  Cut days, cut services, or cut staff...ALL of which compel the students and staff to bear the burden of administrative inability or refusal to find systemic changes which will produce innovative funding solutions.  Solutions which could be produced if some 'joined-at-the-hip' Board Members were not so preoccupied with inaction, avoiding controversy and making Boardmanship appear to be a big game in which they joke and clown while students and staff are starving for leadership!

It will be a challenge for the District to translate recent Board Goals into sustainable funding which will be LESS dependent upon undependable State revenues.  A School Board is comprised of lay citizens whose greatest resource is the community and school patrons who elect them.  Wouldn't it be nice if the Board would listen to and grant legitimate consideration of proposals they solicited during budget hearings?  Perhaps even ACT upon the recommendations of the Budget Committee and review these proposals in a timely fashion?

Many Oregon Districts develop 2-year budgets or have already begun developing their budgets in December - Molalla may begin their budget process in March, 2004 (probably contingent upon the outcome of the State Tax Surcharge ballot).  Many Oregon Districts place a HIGH priority on communicating with District patrons and consulting them on a regular basis.  The average umber of students per District Administrator in Oregon is 897.3 - 472.3 in Molalla where a greater number of administrators means a lower student ratio.  Many Oregon Districts pay to have their Board Policies online - Molalla had an opportunity to get theirs online without cost, but never followed through on their agreement to do so.

How nice it would be if not only Jill Parker, Ralph Gierke, and Steve Kraxberger, but the entire Molalla River Board of Education were of a mind to accept suggestions and potential solutions in the interest of the students in the Molalla River School District rather than as threats to their fragile egos.

08-08-2003 - Post Term Expiration:  Congratulations to Maple Grove Elementary School!  According to the Friday, August 8, 2003 Oregonian, Maple Grove turned in the best performance on statewide testing of any school in Oregon!  I would personally like to praise the efforts of the staff and students at Maple Grove!  I hope that Maple Grove and the other schools in our district will be able to continue their exceptional performance and apply the new technology (TESA), including wireless networking, to maintain their outstanding service to our students!

Unfortunately, during the Budget deliberations the Budget Committee and Deneen Munson's advocacy of an excessively conservative budget compelled Maple Grove to accept a devastating and disproportionate reduction in staff!  Even though the Maple Grove Site Council took an unprecedented initiative in researching how utilizing a teacher-administrator and insignificant boundary change could resolve their budgetary shortfall (based on facility recommendations by District Administration)!

The Budget Committee recommended that the Board conduct further review of the proposals to apply carryover funds to maintain smaller classroom sizes.  Nevertheless, the Board would not even discuss any of these proposals before approving the Budget that Alice Ericksen (former Superintendent) recommended to Deneen Munson that the Board approve without any further discussion.  The results are history.  The budget was approved, unchanged, in spite of my efforts to persuade the Board to exercise their responsibilities and at least discuss these and other "out of box" proposals.

08-06-2003 - Post Term Expiration:  Anybody heard anything from the Board of Education?  Like whether or not the Board is following through with their agreement to continue budget deliberations with the Budget Committee during the Summer?  I haven't. But I'm certainly in good company, for I don't know of ANY former Board Members who have even been invited to participate in the Educational Ambassadors or participate in any other District affairs!

Remember that group of 'key communicators' who were promised regular disclosures of information concerning District activities?  The purpose of this group of District patrons was to minimize rumors and provide a solution to the community belief that information was being withheld in order to perpetuate the Board's operation in an information vacuum.  It's now been almost a year since Janette Palmer commenced her efforts to suppress the information disclosed to the community, and the fact that there have been few (if any) Molalla Reporter mailings and virtually NO communication with the Educational Ambassadors indicate that she has been very successful in her efforts.  In spite of damaging rumors which emerged after it 'appeared' that the District had 'found' $936,130.00 after 'misleading' staff negotiators with claims that the District had NO money.

Well, at least the Legislature is giving signs that lobbying efforts by concerned education patrons have been successful to some extent.  "A compromise school funding figure of $5.23 billion was being discussed in both houses." ("Budget Talks Said Encouraging", Charles E. Beggs, Associated Press, 8/5/03).  This is substantially more than the $4.5 billion my former associates were advocating during the 2003-2004 Budget deliberations!  I'd still like to know why the "Bus Barn" fund is decreasing in spite of the Dickey Prairie property sale and Highway 211 funds which were supposed to be added to it!

07-25-2003 - Post Term Expiration:  Sour Grapes?  I think not.  Those who have read editorials in the Molalla Pioneer, or attended Board of Education Meetings will bear witness to the Board's disregard of all proposals for temperance prior to cutting the school calendar as well as all efforts to establish a relationship with the City Council (until the month following the conclusion of my term of office)!

My only regret, aside from my joy that the Board is finally taking some of the actions I'd advocated nearly my entire term of office, is that the students and staff of the school district were held hostage to the contempt of Board members for one of their own associates!  Perhaps, now, the Molalla Moms AND the Molalla Dads can get on with the business of ensuring a quality education for the Molalla Youth instead of furthering their personal agendas!

06-12-2003 Regular Board Business Meeting - The $936,130.00 ending fund balance and the budget meetings are now history.  The budget proposed and modified multiple times, clear up until the last meeting of the Budget Committee, has now been approved by the Budget Committee without ever having seen all the changes incorporated into a final budget!  The $936,130.00 ending fund balance has been redistributed and reassigned to provide for insurance against possible State Funding reductions.  This is based upon an MRSD projection of State School Fund revenue at $4.5 billion, well below the estimate of Senator Beyer ($4.6-4.9 billion), estimated by the Governor ($5,051 billion), or the Co-Chairs budget estimate ($4.9 billion).  The Board chose to postpone any discussion of expense reductions or revenue increases discussed and/or recommended by the Budget Committee.  The Board chose to approve the Budget essentially unchanged from the original proposal, approve reductions in force and approve increased class sizes, keeping nearly $300,000.00 just in case.

Note:  If most of the $1.13 million MREA budget reduction proposals had been implemented last year, when they were proposed, instead of in the 2003-2004 budget the Molalla River School District could very likely have had an ending fund balance over $2 million and not been compelled to make ANY staff or calendar reductions in 2002-2003 OR 2003-2004!

04-10-2003 Regular Board Business Meeting - More good news!  The teachers, administrators, parents and students have made many sacrifices during the past several months and the fruits of our frugality are beginning to be revealed.  At the Board Meeting we received notification of some of the information not available to us in January and we are now looking at an ending fund balance of $936,130.00.  The consensus of the Board was that we would gather input from the Unions and the community before making any decisions on how to address these funds.  The Board of Education and the District Administration sent out a letter, April 15, 2003,  to inform  the community of the $936,130.00 revised Ending Fund Balance.

Although many have expressed concern over whether or not this information should have been available sooner, that is not always possible in calculating funding for education (see how these funds are calculated).  The only thing we can do with any certainty is delay decisions which will have an adverse affect on students until all the financial data is available and sometimes that may be too late.  In extenuating circumstances which currently exist, with legislative budget deficits due to depressed economic conditions, timing is of the essence!

01-09-2003 Regular Board Business Meeting - Good news!  The Board of Education has approved the sale of the Highway 211 property near the Molalla Middle School!  During the deliberations it was disclosed that the sale would yield $250,000.00!  A motion was made to amend the motion to approve this sale subject to the proceeds being added to the funds accrued in the 'Bus Barn Fund' (similar to the action taken in October of 2002 with the Dickey Prairie property).  The Chair stated that it was not necessary to specify the funds to be deposited in the 'Bus Barn Fund', as it was a foregone conclusion they would be.  The Superintendent stated that it was her understanding that the proceeds from the sale of all surplus property would go into the 'Bus Barn Fund'.  This would bring the total in the 'Bus Barn Fund' to approximately $301,500.00.

This was a very heated meeting.  Emotions were high.  Many concerns were expressed regarding the Administration recommendation that the Board approve a Reduction In Force (RIF) effective February 1, 2003.  This is to accomplish the Administrative goal of assuring a 'balanced budget' for the 2001-2002 school year and maximizing the 'cash carryover'.  Rarely have I seen a more concerted effort to indict the leadership of the Union.  Even to the extent that the Chair felt compelled to take copies of correspondences from the District to the Union leadership out to the audience for a teacher to examine!  Nevertheless, the Board voted 6-1 to authorize the District to compile a RIF List which would be withheld until January 21 pending commencement of Union discussions with District Administration regarding a "contingency plan" to reduce days in the school calendar if Measure 28 fails.  As the dissenting vote I was compelled to go on record opposing any mid-year Reduction In Force prior to opening discussions with the Union.  If the Union does not enter discussions the RIF list will be submitted January 21, 2003.  Then, even if Measure 28 passes, 29 teachers will still have been served notice of transfer or discharge effective February 1, 2003 and likely will be seeking other employment.

During the meeting the Board was reminded that a concern had been raised at the December Board of Education Business meeting that we should begin planning for the 'contingency' of ballot measure 28's failure.  In December it was pointed out that we will NOT know the actual deficit in the 'cash carryover' until the year is over and that would give us about five months to deliberate alternative measures for addressing the potential deficit such as selling surplus district property or hiring a grant writer.  Perhaps we could even engage staff, students, and key communicators in these discussions.  The Board of Education has chosen to preclude any method of addressing the deficit other than reduction in calendar days or staff.  If the Board has duly deliberated every option available to District Administration and the Board of Education to address the possible deficit subsequent to possible failure of Ballot Measure 28, then NO Board member should be offended if ANYONE questions whether they have done so!

The following highlighted segment was added to this sight prior to the September 12, 2002 Regular Business Meeting of the Molalla River School District Board of Education and before any action was taken by the Board:  09-12-2002 Business Meeting - There has been a great deal of discussion recently concerning changing past policy concerning Board Member attendance at the Fall OSBA conference.  This is a conference that allows Board Members and Superintendents to gather information from OSBA lobbyists and Legislative Representatives concerning education related issues of the last legislative sessions.  This is of particular importance this year due to the ongoing debate over school funding!  The Board Chair suggested that all Board Members should pay for their own dinner ($23, $24, or $25 each - $168.00 if ALL members attended).  I can't help wondering why it is beneficial to be frugal over a $25.00 meal when there was absolutely NO support for cutting the Board of Education's legal expenses by 1/3 to save $30,000.00 (based upon the 2001-2002 budget) as suggested by the MREA.  It seems that at least one Board member is of the mind that "If you can't afford to pay for the meal.......then don't attend." thus making attendance at an OSBA function subject to one's ability to pay!  Seems to me this is like saying that "if you can't afford to be a Board Member then get off the Board!"  Now I see that the Board of Education Policy is in the Information/Discussion portion of the Board Packet for the next meeting.  Wonder who requested that?  Does this mean that those members who seek to impose their beliefs on other Board members will simply vote to deny the opportunity to attend this or other conferences?  I guess we'll see what this is all about at the meeting Thursday!

09-07-2002 Budget Worksession - Subsequent to this meeting I wrote the following Letter to the Editor of the Molalla Pioneer after informing my fellow Board Members in an e-mail to Deneen Munson which was 'carbon copied' to all the members of the Board of Education who have functional e-mail, as well as Pam Monte (District Secretary) and Alice Ericksen (Superintendent):

Thursday, September 5, 2002 the Molalla River Board of Education had a Worksession, which was actually a ‘Budget’ worksession. Yes, this was the 1
st and only Board Worksession conducted for and dedicated to deliberating how we are going to deal with the pending legislative reductions in funding, and the Measures that the Legislature has referred to the voters at the forthcoming special election! In spite of several efforts to persuade the Board to consider alternative methods of cutting expenses or increasing revenue the prevailing theme of the meeting was how many days to cut from the school calendar and the rejection of any discussion of alternative methods of raising revenue or cutting expenses.  The bottom line is that a majority of Board Members will send a message to Molalla students, staff and community, at it’s next Business Meeting at 7:30pm in the Molalla City Library Meeting Room September 12, 2002.  That message is that District Leadership has looked at every possible method of cutting expenses or increasing revenue and, if Ballot Measure 19 fails, or the Legislature does not develop a significant new source of revenue for schools, the Board will ask the students and staff to absorb the impact of reductions in State Funding and nearly a million dollars of increases in staff and Administrative salaries and benefits.  I happen to be one of those who believe that there may be additional sources of revenue from sale of surplus district property; reduction in CIM and CAM mandates; developing partnerships (like the library and swimming pool) with local government and/or businesses who benefit from having a better trained workforce; and a comprehensive investigation of State and Federal Grants which may be available to educational institutions.  On the expense reduction side I believe there is room for reduction in District Administrative staff to past levels; investigation of securing District Charter School Status to open new sources of funding and reduce or modify state regulations and mandates for education while opening up the possibility for out-of-district students to attend our schools (perhaps thru web-based instruction); negotiation of Modified Health Insurance; increased use and engagement of Internet-trained staff/students and applications; review and evaluate classroom approaches and content for Intra/Internet based application (we’ve invested a great deal of money in our technology and need to realize a return on that investment if it is to have maximum benefit); and explore methods of applying modified ‘bell-times’ to benefit staff and funding.  Of course it would be much easier to just say “let’s maintain business as usual and blame someone else for increased costs while reducing the amount and quality of public education”.

07-11-2002 Regular Board Meeting (noted 7/12/02) - One of the first items of business was the election of officers.  Janette Palmer was elected Chair by virtue of no opposition.  Deneen Munson was elected Vice-chair.

The dispute over Facility Use continued.  After the emotional dialogue of the previous meeting several of the ladies decided that the policy which was to go into effect July 1, 2002 should be implemented early for the ACS.  After I requested that the early implementation of the policy should apply to everyone who applied for facility use on or after the date the ACS applied, the Board consensus changed to a preference that "no fees be collected until after the policy could be reviewed AGAIN (3rd time in two years!) in September".  I think it reprehensible that ANY member of the Board would consider the blatant favoritism of allowing one organization to have their fees waived or reduced while other equally deserving organizations are charged the maximum allowed by the policy...such as the 12-step programs!  I also find it difficult to believe that ANY community organization should be charged ANYTHING when the community taxes and fees have BUILT, PURCHASED, and MAINTAINED these facilities and now they are being asked to pay MORE...seems like 'double jeopardy' to me!  In view of $17,000.00 in revenue generated by the Facility Use policies over a period of two years, I seriously question it's worth in view of the negative public relations the policy produces!

Note regarding the next paragraph:
Then there was the issue of the Board Goals for 2001-2002.  In spite of the financial chaos the District currently faces the Board preferred to ignore the loss of staff and programs and readopt the goals from 2001-2002.  This, after adopting the budget without even considering any administrative cuts or giving the proposed $1.14 million dollars in SERVICE reductions of the Molalla River Education Association!

The fact is that we COULD be following the example of the Canby School District and evaluating a graduated (incremental) approach that would provide us with a PLAN for whatever contingency emerges from the State Budget deliberations!  The Goals that were adopted completely ignore any effort to address the districts efficient and effective management of public funds!  Instead the Board chose to assume a Pollyanna approach by adopting the goals from last year that had so little importance that several of them were not even addressed!

Then there were the meeting notifications.  This was one of the concerns expressed my Ralph Gierke and myself when he received meeting notification through the USPS with a postmark dated AFTER the infamous '8-minute' budget meeting June 18, 2002.  I had also been in the process of assisting my fiancée in moving from North Bend, and didn't see the notification of the Executive Session until I returned...then it was too late to either attend the Executive Session or get to the meeting by 5:30pm.   Pam Monte told the Board that she had previously notified Board Members by telephone, but since the new Board Members had come on-board she had stopped doing so.  Janette Palmer, the new Board Chair, felt that it was only necessary to notify the Board Members by telephone when there would be a 'change' in meeting scheduling.

During the Regular Meeting, June 13, 2002, the question was raised as to how much of the position (Director of Supported Education) was funded out of the general fund.  The Superintendent did not feel it was necessary to answer this question at the June meeting and, since Ralph was not at the "subsequent meeting" even though the Superintendent had the information, and it was requested at the July Board meeting, it was not disclosed until an e-mail dated 7/17/2002.

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