Transparency protects the right to know
August 6, 2014
I have a great deal of respect for the members of any school board. They are paid very little and have a huge responsibility to the schools and members of the community. However, it is important to remember that they are in their positions to act in the best interest of the children and, by way of that, oversee the tax dollars of the parents and citizens that elected them to office.
I've been attending meetings of the Nevada County Board of Education (NCBE) for a few months now and can attest to the fact that there are only two NCBE board members of the five that consistently act in the best interests of the children and the taxpayers: Marianne Slade-Troutman and Jack Meeks. The other three seem to be more willing to support a less transparent way of conducting county business.
At the July 9 board meeting, Trustee Tracy Lapierre jubilantly held up a copy of The Union newspaper article on the Penn Valley parent that was fined $200 by a local judge and enthused, "Finally we are making them pay!" The tone of her remark was "us (school boards) against them (the parents and students)." While Ms. Lapierre may sit on the NCBE, she has no idea of the ordeal the parents and students at Pleasant Valley School have been through or the fruitless efforts they have made to resolve their issues with the administration.
When did the school board members go from being advocates of the students, parents and taxpaying citizens of this county to having so aligned themselves with school administrators that the parents and citizens of the county are now their adversaries? How much is this alignment costing our schools in valuable dollars that could otherwise be better spent to serve our students?
How much is this alignment costing our schools in valuable dollars that could otherwise be better spent to serve our students?
Lapierre's reaction to Slade-Troutman's request that, going forward, Superintendent Holly Hermansen provide the board with monthly receipts for charges to county credit cards held by her and her staff was a further demonstration of this adversarial position. Lapierre hotly challenged this request demanding repeatedly to see proof that other superintendents had provided such receipts. Meeks was the only other board member in favor of the request for receipts.
Why couldn't a simple request by a board trustee for receipts be granted by the superintendent? That receipts for credit card expenditures by our elected county superintendent had to be extracted through the use of an attorney and a Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA) request is an insult to the taxpayers of Nevada County and should have been an embarrassment to Ms. Hermansen.
Board Member Jack Meeks made formal motion to require Superintendent Hermansen to provide the board a detailed report of any conference, training or retreat she and/or her staff had attended, including the name, date it was held, dates attended, who attended, what took place at the conference/training/retreat, associated costs and how it benefited the students of Nevada County. Board member Bob Altieri commented that asking for such a report was "micromanaging" the superintendent's office, particularly since expenses had come in under budget. Since he didn't care how the taxpayer money had been spent, he didn't think it was necessary for other board members or interested members of the public to have that information either. Evidently Lapeirre and Trustee Trevor Michael agreed with Altieri, as Meeks's motion was struck down on a 3-2 vote, along the usual lines.
Our county school district has millions of tax dollars at its disposal. Disclosures like the ones requested would reassure the taxpayers of our county and the parents of our students that monies are being spent carefully and with the best interest of the students in mind.
It is only reasonable to expect the county superintendent to give a full and exact line item report of expenses and associated documentation to her board so they have the tools to do their job. A business would certainly require this of its employees.
Such disclosures would also serve to protect the superintendent, administrators and staff by demonstrating that they had been fully transparent in case it was later found that discrepancies exist, as has been the case in the past.
Kudos to Slade-Troutman and Meeks for standing up for what is right, and asking the tough questions.
Ms. Lapierre, Mr. Michael and Mr. Altieri might want to reconsider their position of consistently voting to keep public information from the citizens of Nevada County, as they endorse a cavalier attitude for the public's right to know.
Jan Collins lives in Penn Valley.