Friday, June 27, 2008

Who cares about Democracy? Not these directors!

Without notice to the public and against the wishes of other board members, Brown, Schirripa, DiPietro, Hughans and Wolkoviak pushed through a facilities policy at the June 26, 2008 board meeting. No opportunity for public discussion or even informed discussion by other board members was allowed. The new policy is highly punitive to youth sports - charging groups thousands of dollars for the use of facilities if they have more than 10% non-Carlynton residents. Non-residents must pay the district $400 a year for the privilege of participating in youth programs. All this is in direct opposition to what youth sports leaders told them would be in the best interest of the young athletes and the athletics programs.

Watch the entire abuse of the powers granted to them by the people and see for yourself: http://blip.tv/file/1029285/

This is the only publicly available video of the meeting.

Get further info here: http://fixpa.wikia.com/wiki/New_Carlynton_Facilities_Policy

10 comments:

jaybentley said...

Although there are many charges here, upon reading all the background, a couple of points seem clear:

1) This issue did not suddenly appear on the horizon with less than 10 hours notice. It goes back ay least 2 months and checking School board notes, it appears the isssue was first broached in January or February 2008.

2) Ms. Modugno appears to be appealing primarily on behalf of the swim club, although this is not disclosed anywhere in her appeals.

3) Since the appeal appears to be based on the new policy's cost and therefore, an implied threat to the organization's ability to attract participants from outside the school district, we must assume that the organization (s?) protesting the loudest receives an inordinant amount of income from outside the district.

Perhaps the organization, which by its vociferous opposition to this new policy, clearly has a vested interest in outside the district participants, should re-examine its purpose and look to see how it can more effectively benefit existing residents without relying on those from beyond our tax base.

4) If in fact the organization offers such an outstanding program that it brings in many outsiders, then perhaps the additional cost imposed by the district for (apparently, until now, FREE USE )of public facilities that it charges local residents for, then this new policy will only serve to enrich the school district out of the pockets of non-residents.

5) Surely, the school district's elected representatives cannot be faulted for looking at new and reasonable methods to raise revenue!!

We have not had a substantial tax increase in several years and anyone who has a child in the school system knows that any additional revenue can only benefit our students.

There must be more to this issue than Ms Modugno presents. We owe it to ourselves to learn more from other sources, Please contact school board members to hear their side.

Mark Rauterkus said...

School board agendas need to be put out in advance of the meetings. This item was left off the agenda. Furthermore, the superintendent of the schools had said (promised) that he would do a private board survey and qualify issues so as to make a matrix of the pending solution for a vote AFTER the summer break.

That pledge was either less than honest or just smoke to give cover for the eventual motions and votes from the non-agenda item.

And, even if it is on the agenda, the words of the solution were NEVER presented for public comment -- until after the vote.

Yes, that's called 'sudden.'

It is like saying to your spouse, I think I am going to get a new ride to work. Might be a car, bus pass or a bike. Then one day show up with a new car and new car payment and say -- honey -- I told you I was going to buy a new Corvette.

The devil is in the details. Specifics were never revealed. So, the devil was really in the yes votes and the superintendent.

Mark Rauterkus said...

I think a taxpayer and advocate is more than a 'special interest' -- rather -- just with global interests.

Resident, parent, taxpayer, volunteer, fundraiser, advocate, expert, educator....

The narrow interests in this story are from the acts of the school board members and administrators who would only care to serve those in the school district schools and play spoilers to others who are being excluded by design.

Fighting bigots is a 'pet project' of mine -- and I'm happy to appeal to all others the world over in joining the fight against the pea-headed.

My appeal is broad. My target is small.

Mark Rauterkus said...

The new policy's cost is excessive.

The threat to the organization is NOT implied. Rather it is REAL. The ability to attract participants from outside the school district is NOT the case. The ability for the board to establish fairness with the facility policy is what is lacking. The capability of the sports players and program leaders is golden. The capacity of the board for stewardship is what is a failure.

The assumptions you make are bogus. The one's that speak with clarity and strong signals are NOT the poorest, NOT the cheated, NOT the hopeless. The weakest and ones who have and are being wronged the most are the least capable of making a stand.

They have been robbed and beaten already.

In the great fight for freedom, the champions are not the ones who are the slaves. The day is won by those who are more clever with solutions and more clear with the sharing of ideas.

CRAP thought looks like this: "... we must assume that the organization (s?) protesting the loudest receives an inordinant amount of income from outside the district."

WRONG.

Mark Rauterkus said...

It is easy to fault the school district's elected representatives as well as the administration for being UN-reasonable.

One does NOT raise revenue by SUBTRACTION. You win by addition. Raise revenue by inclusion. Add to what is already there. Only a dolt would think it is wise to SUBTRACT and make hardships is a new revenue stream.

jaybentley said...

The basic question is, Mr. Rauterkus, whose ox is being gored.

Just because a person is a taxpaayer and an "advocate" does not exclude them from also being a "special interest" (your words by the way, not mine -and in today's lexicon - having a vested interest is not the same)

What it boils down to is that these facilities are paid for by all "carlynton" tax payers and it is not unreasonable to expect that those who do not pay taxes to the school district should have to pay their way, not only to the "non-profit" groups, but also to the school district.

If, in fact, the groups benefitting from the use of the facilities will lose so much income from the imposition of charges for out of district participants, then perhaps their mission is not primarily for district residents, but for their own glory and edification.

Finally, your appeal for the underdog is diametrically opposed by the tenor of your comments and your willingness to throw words like pea-headed, dolt and bigot around. Grow up and have a discussion instead of gaving to call names at anyone who provides an opinion different thaan yours.

The problem with this whole issue at this point is the tone of the attack -- and I notice you don't attack the premise that this issue has been under discussion for months...

Mark Rauterkus said...

Frankly, your question that you call "basic" is what I call "meaningless."

Perhaps they worry about the 'ox' in Myanmar and who is getting it. But in this region, we've got better things to strive for.

So, your benchmark is worthless. Rather, I want to know if educations occurs.

Then you go to 'boil' and again you get way off the reservation of truthfulness and purpose.

These facilities are NOT only paid for by the in-district rate payers. Do you realize how much money comes to the Carlynton district from the state? More funds (be they less) come to the district from the Feds. This is NOT a private country club where members pay and that's that.

If Carlynton wants to go "off the grid" and say, never flush toilets again -- as that water comes to city pipes eventually -- then you'll be much like a cave man. That isn't my aim either.

Attack the tone of the attack -- missing the message -- hitting the messenger. Duhhh.

The problem is the new policy does much to damage educational opportunities. Period.

The "premise" from the board's majority and administration is bogus. Their aim is to work to penalize and punish.

Their premise is to grow by subtraction. That is bogus policy in the realm of education.

Informed Citizen 15106 said...

Mr. Bentley:

Thank you for taking the time to post on this blog and express your opinion. My purpose in creating this blog was not only to make people aware of this and other school-related issues, but to allow people to have a forum for open and honest discussion of the topics.
I appreciate your efforts and viewpoint. Below I have responded to your points.

It would be helpful to me and to those reading your post if you could tell us a little about yourself. Do you live in the district? Do you have or have you had children active in parent-run clubs? Have you run any such clubs? Did you speak with any directors about this issue? If so, with whom and what did they say? What is your interest in this issue?

Thank you again for voicing your opinion. Free and open speech without fear is a treasured hallmark of our democratic process.
Francesmary Modugno

======
"upon reading all the background"

Can you please specify exactly what background you read?

Did you rely only on the school board minutes, or did you personally view the videos of the April 17, May 1, May 27 and June 26 meetings (most of which is posted online*)? Unfortunately, the school board minutes are incomplete and omit important pieces of information that the public should know to form their own opinions. For example, at the May 27 meeting, Mr. Brown, relying on papers passed to him by Ms. Schirripa, stated that Fox Chapel, N. Allegheny and Hopewell do not allow non-residents in their clubs. Upon further probing, he added "without charging the club". I personally called these school districts and aqua directors to confirm these "facts". What I found was that the statements by the directors were false. I corrected that with a memo to the directors, which I read at the June 5th meeting, which is posted online**. Here's how that was represented in the June 5th minutes:

o "Mrs. Francismary Modugno read a statement pertaining to the adoption of the facilities usage policy and asked that it be entered into record. A copy of the document was provided to the recording secretary"

In my opinion, those minutes woefully misrepresent what occurred at the May 27th meeting and my follow up on June 5th. There are many other examples of these omissions and there are several inaccuracies both in the minutes and in what the directors say as well. That is why if you read my mail and my posts you will see that I urged everyone to

o View the actual meetings themselves and
o Verify the "facts" with the persons who have first hand knowledge of them or with the primary sources, such as documents submitted to the district. For example, when you hear something about a club, call the persons who run the club directly.


"This issue did not suddenly appear on the horizon with less than 10 hours notice."

You are absolutely correct that the facility issue did not appear with less than 10 hours notice, and I never stated that it did. This is how misinformation gets out and people get discredited. I do not appreciate that and I’m going to assume this misrepresentation was unintentional. I stated that Brown only informed the other directors of his intent to make the motion only 10 hours before the board meeting. You can verify that by watching the video of the June 26th meeting*. Hence, the directors only had a brief time to review the specifics of the motion prior to the vote.

"Ms. Modugno appears to be appealing primarily on behalf of the swim club, although this is not disclosed anywhere in her appeals."

While it is well known that I am affiliated with the swim club, my concern has been as a parent and taxpayer. That can be verified by reading my April 17*** statement or viewing the video of that meeting*. Unfortunately the board minutes, which are written by the superintendent's staff (persons whose jobs directly depend on the school board’s approval) represented my opinions as coming from the swim club, despite my stating otherwise. I requested access to the draft minutes prior to their being adopted to ensure accuracy, but I was denied and was told by the superintendent’s office "the law does not require us to provide that to you" (note that while the law does not require the school district give me access, it does not ban the school district from giving me access, either. The choice not to provide me access was wholly with the school district). The minutes become legally public and permanent only after they are adopted. Therefore, any errors or misrepresentations become "fact" for the public to see. FYI, the Signal Item, which gets much of its information from the Superintendent's office, did the same.

What is my interest in this issue? As an educator and parent, I am appalled that the directors would pass policy that will limit opportunities for children, especially those in this school district. Several parents running groups such as Girl Scouts, football, soccer and swimming, publicly state they rely on non-residents to help their programs field teams and remain viable (see the May 27 video*). Yet despite this, the directors chose to impose a policy that will cause these groups to cut back on their programs, raise their fees, require more fund raising, increase parent work or move elsewhere. Can you tell me how that benefits resident children or parents?

Moreover, in amending policy, it is short sighted to consider only how current organizations are run or to base the policy on the example of one in-house program only. Ms. Schirripa personally communicated to me that the model of the in-house girl's basketball program was the model that the directors wanted for all clubs. Ms. Hughan's comments at the May 27 meeting* support that. However, not all organizations can run in that model and that was clearly communicated to the directors numerous times. The policy needs to be written to consider the needs of different groups and how they run. It also needs to ensure future organizations will have the opportunity to come into existence.

Finally, I am most appalled at the WAY this policy was passed. That to me is the most egregious issue and where we as citizens need to be most concerned. See below for more about how the passing of this motion skirted the typical means that motions are passed.

"Since the appeal appears to be based on the new policy's cost"

Can you provide justification for the above statement?

“and therefore, an implied threat to the organization's ability to attract participants from outside the school district, we must assume that the organization (s?) protesting the loudest receives an inordinant amount of income from outside the district.”

If you review the May 27 meeting video*, you will see that those who oppose this policy do so because it will negatively impact the programs they have for district youth and residents. The ability to field teams is the main reason groups gave for wanting non-residents. Moreover, all groups have fixed costs and fixed time needs. The more members, the lower those costs and volunteer time per member. Reducing the membership pool by passing policies that severely limit or effectively bar non-residents means that those fixed costs and time needs will need to be divided among fewer people, thereby raising the costs and time requirements to the parents of district youth. Other options include: cutting back program offerings or increasing fund raising. Parents are busy enough. We don’t need to do more fund raising or volunteering. And why would we want to cut back on offerings to our children when we don’t have to?

“Perhaps the organization, which by its vociferous opposition to this new policy, clearly has a vested interest in outside the district participants, should re-examine its purpose and look to see how it can more effectively benefit existing residents without relying on those from beyond our tax base. “

Carlynton is the 10th smallest school district in the county and the smallest in this immediate area by about 50%.***** Each grade has about 110 kids. Groups are already competing for the same small pool of kids. Kids should be given a choice of activities. That will give them more opportunities for growth and enrichment beyond what they get in the classroom. It will also make our school district a more attractive place to live – increasing people’s desire to move here thereby increasing property values and our tax base. Why do we want to limit those opportunities, which are being provided to the district by the parents involved at no cost to the district?

What ways do you suggest for groups to more effectively benefit existing residents without relying on those outside the tax base? Can this generalize to all groups? And why does it matter if groups rely on those outside the tax base to achieve their goals? Do individual or groups in society in general rely only on themselves to meet their needs or achieve their ends?

4) If in fact the organization offers such an outstanding program that it brings in many outsiders, then perhaps the additional cost imposed by the district for (apparently, until now, FREE USE )of public facilities that it charges local residents for, then this new policy will only serve to enrich the school district out of the pockets of non-residents.

I whole-heartily agree that non-residents should not be allowed free use of our tax-payer funded facilities. If you carefully read my Wiki pages**** and viewed the videos*, you will see that I proposed the idea of a non-resident fee at the April 17 board meeting:

"Let me be so bold as to suggest another possible approach to the facilities usage policy. As a taxpayer, my monies go to support the maintenance and welfare of the facilities. When I participate in an organization that uses the facilities, I do not expect to pay for the facilities – I've done that already when I paid my taxes. However, those out of district residents who participate in an organization have not contributed a dime to the maintenance of our facilities. I think that's where the injustice is. A more equitable facility usage policy would not levy a fee on a club, but instead would levy the fee on the outside the district individuals who are using the facilities while participating in a club.

Those monies would go directly to the district to maintain the facilities. In essence, the district would be taxing out of district participants only – not re-taxing district residents. Isn't that more fair to everyone?"

I further provided in writing to all directors details on a reasonable fee to charge that would be very fair to the district while not being too high as to have non-residents go elsewhere. In that way, the district would bring in funds to recover its facilities costs while not undermining any groups who rely on non-residents to remain viable. In a nutshell, the amount I suggested was $60, which is more than 50% of what residents pay via taxes to cover the facilities maintenance and operation portion of the budget. No group uses the facilities 50% of the time - making $60 very fair to the taxpayers.

Unfortunately, the fee in the new policy for non-residents, $100/quarter ($400/year), will likely turn most if not all non-residents away (which is in my opinion the director’s real goal based on their comments at the April and May meetings as well as some private communications from one of the directors). The district will make little if any money off the policy and any money the district makes will come at the expense of residents who participate in the groups admitting non-residents, in terms of time, money and/or reduced programs.

There are other negatives as well. Because Carlynton is so small, many of our kids go to neighboring districts to participate in activities not offered here. What if these districts "retaliate" by slapping a high fee to our kids? What if Robinson Township passes an ordinance that schools must pay a “police fee” for each non-resident attending the schools physically located in Robinson (where the Carlynton Jr and Sr high schools both sit)? After all, the non-residents in those schools (or their families) don’t pay Robinson municipal taxes to cover police costs. What if Montour, which allows the Carlynton gymnasts to use the Montour facilities for free because Carlynton does not have gymnastics facilities decides it will now charge the gymnasts (or the district) for the use of the facilities, plus impose a $100/quarter fee to each of the gymnasts? What precedent are we setting and what will be the fall out to us and our children?

You should also be aware that when I proposed this notion of a non-resident fee to director Schirripa privately in February 08, she rejected it stating something like "The school board is not in the business of making money." Tom Brown and Tom DiPietro echoed that sentiment at the April and May meetings. You can verify all of what is in this paragraph (except my private conversation with Ms. Schirripa) by watching the video's of the April and May meetings*.

Interestingly, you are in favor of the school district raising revenue from non-residents but are opposed to resident groups using non-residents as a source of revenue (as well as to shoulder the burden of running a program, ie, volunteer support, and to enrich our children’s experiences). Why is that?

You also state that non-residents have used our facilities for free while residents are charged to use the facilities? Are you referring to resident charges beyond taxes? Can you please clarify?

Finally, your assumptions about why non-residents are in Carlynton programs are unjustified. The youth athletic programs that I am familiar with don’t recruit non-residents. The non-residents are the friends of the Carlynton kids most of whom live in Thornburgh and Ingram. Maybe you can suggest how I should tell my 9 year old son that his best buddy won’t be coming back next year because he lives in Ingram, ½ a block outside of Crafton and his backyard abuts Crafton. How should we tell the kids their friends can’t play with them and how do we explain why? And what example are we setting in terms of being neighborly, sharing and working together?

5) Surely, the school district's elected representatives cannot be faulted for looking at new and reasonable methods to raise revenue!!

No where did I fault the directors for looking at new methods of revenue raising. However, if you review the videos* of the April and May meetings, you will see that their initial reasons for wanting a new policy had nothing to do with revenue raising, and as I stated previously, the directors involved in this new policy rejected the idea and only “embraced” it when pushing through the new policy on June 26. And, if their purpose is revenue raising, why are they only imposing the non-resident fee on athletic organizations? Why do they not charge non-residents in ALL groups who use the facilities?

Moreover, why when assessing the 90% residency eligibility are only k-12 students counted for athletic programs only? So, for example, if I want to start a chess program, debate club, juggling club, knitting group or any non-athletic activity, residents of all ages “count”, but in athletics only k-12 students count. If I want to run an adult exercise class, however, none of those residents, although tax payers, count as “residents”. Essentially, all adult athletics programs now must be 100% Carlynton residents. Similarly, pre-school program have to be all 100% residents. Why?

"We have not had a substantial tax increase in several years and anyone who has a child in the school system knows that any additional revenue can only benefit our students."

I agree that additional revenues can only benefit our students and that is why I urged the directors not to penalize resident groups who use the facilities by charging them fees beyond cost, but instead to assess a reasonable facilities usage fee to non-residents.*** As stated above, however, the fee they chose and for which they provided no justification won’t accomplish the goal of raising revenue for the district. It will, however, drive costs up for district parents who will either pay more for programs using Carlynton facilities or have to drive their kids elsewhere because programs can’t afford to exist in Carlynton.

"There must be more to this issue than Ms Modugno presents. We owe it to ourselves to learn more from other sources, Please contact school board members to hear their side.

I have repeatedly encouraged everyone to view the actual videos of the meetings and read the text of documents provided to the district directors so they can form their own informed opinions. Relying on meeting minutes or other person’s accounts will always be biased and incomplete.

I do hope you and others call the directors and get their input. I then invite you to post that information here, so everyone can review it.

If you do speak to the directors see if you can get them to answer the following:

1. Why did they bypass their normal procedures for policy making to adopt this new policy? Here is the typical procedure:

a. At the first meeting of the month the draft of the policy to be voted on is adopted. Thus, the directors have time to review the policy and think about its implications. Members of the public also have time to review it and then talk to the directors as well as make public comments at the subsequent meeting.

b. At the second meeting of the month, the policy is discussed by the directors, members of the public can make comment, and then the policy is voted on

c. Unofficially, the directors have respected the wishes of any member not to vote on a policy when the member is absent and requests no vote.

d. Any documents for board discussion are sent to all directors 5 working days before the board meetings.

So in this case, one must ask the directors:
1. Why didn’t Mr. Brown present a draft of his policy at the Jun 5th meeting for adoption? Or why didn’t he present it as a draft for adoption at the June 26th meeting with a vote on a motion at the next school board meeting?

2. Why didn’t he at least circulate it to the directors 5 working days before the meeting, as is the standard for items distributed to the directors? Why instead did he choose to e-mail it only the morning of the meeting?

3. Why didn’t he make the policy available to the public for review? No copies of the text were provided at the meeting.

4. Why wasn’t the public allowed to comment on the policy?

5. Why didn’t the directors respect director Wilson’s wish to abstain from a vote until her return?

6. Do they really think it was fair to override their typical procedures and policies to push through a SPECIFIC policy that had no public review and very limited review and discussion by the entire board?

2. What is the justification for the provisions of the new policy?

a. Why do they raise the required percent of residents from 75 to 90%, specifically when several groups said (at the May 27th meeting) they struggled to field teams at 75%? Where did the 90% come from?

b. Why do they only target athletic organizations with the non-resident fees? Why not charge ALL non-residents the same fees to use the facilities?

c. How was the $100/quarter fee determined? (note that in Mr. Brown’s original e-mail, the fee was $150/quarter. He changed it when reading it at the meeting (see the June 26 video). Why?)

d. Why do only k-12 youth count in the 90% district residency requirement for youth sports programs only? Some programs can have pre-school members. Why don’t they count?

3. Why do you think Carlynton programs will benefit by excluding non-residents?


Better yet I challenge each director to provide a written answer to these and any other questions put forth by residents, so that all residents can know first hand exactly what each director thinks.

As far as there being more to this issue, with respect to the facilities policy, I do believe there is more to the issue than the directors have publicly stated. Since, however, I cannot provide video or other primary sources to justify/support my beliefs, I cannot share that with you. Perhaps you will have more success at getting information from the directors about what their real motivations are in passing this new policy, and especially why they did it in the way that they did.

Thanks again for your willingness to voice your opinion publicly. The freedom to speak out on an issue and openly debate a topic is the hallmark of a democratic society and a great lesson for our children to learn!

I look forward to your responses.

Links to documents and other sources:
* http://fixpa.wikia.com/wiki/Carlynton_Facilities_Videos

**
http://fixpa.wikia.com/wiki/Csd_facilities-letter-Maryfrances

***
http://fixpa.wikia.com/wiki/School_sports-Carlynton-Maryfrancis

****
http://fixpa.wikia.com/wiki/Carlynton_Facilities_-_A_New_Proposal

*****
http://www.aiu3.net/

Informed Citizen 15106 said...

Mr. Rauterkus:

I have to agree with Mr. Bentley. We seek open and respectful dialogue, regardless of our differing viewpoints.

In the future, I will delete any post that is offensive in nature and not respectful.

Francesmary Modugno

Informed Citizen 15106 said...

Mr. Bentley:

With respect to the 10 hours notice issue, as stated in my previous post, I never said that the issue came up only in the previous 10 hours. That is an misrepresentation of my statement. I stated what was indicated by the directors at the board meeting: Mr. Brown only informed them of his intent to make a motion that morning (which if you calculate back from the start of their meeting would have been about 10 hours). I could have been more precise and said "that morning" so I apologize for the confusion.

Let me give you a little more history on this issue. I spoke with Dr. Panza numerous times from April through June and he assured me that until the directors had a draft policy to review, there would be no vote on this issue. When a draft was sent to the directors, the public would be given access to it to review.

I called the superintendent's office on Friday June 20 to request access to any documents sent to the directors relating to the facilities policy. I was told there was a document but the law did not require that it be provided to me.

I was later told by one of the directors that the document that was circulated was a survey being conducted by Dr. Panza in order to solicit feedback from the directors as to what they wanted to see in a policy. The directors had given Dr. Panza a directive to draft a policy for their consideration.

So, Mr. Brown's motion and the directors who voted in favor of it, chose to ignore their own directive to Dr. Panza and simply move the to adopt a policy that Mr. Brown drafted and didn't circulate until the morning of the meeting.

I find that strange. I would like to know from Mr. Brown why he overrode the board's directive to Dr. Panza and drafted a policy himself? I would like to know from the other directors who voted in favor of this policy why they also chose to ignore their directive to Dr. Panza.