Act I Exceptions…Shared Knowledge

I knew it would happen.  I’ve left some information out of my previous discussion on Act I.  Specifically, there are exceptions to the rule (or why else would it be a rule, right?).

Here’s what I believe I know.  (And please don’t shoot me if I’m still wrong on some of this.  I’m learning and the legislative language can be rather dense.  Helpers are welcome to comment.)

First, start here at the PSBA website.  This site was written before the passage of Act I, so ignore the link to PDE and head to the “new” PDE website on Act I Exceptions.  Don’t bother searching for our base index value, it’s 2.9% in 2010-2011.  (For succeeding years, look here.)

Based on my own read, districts may apply for exceptions to Act I (and thus do not have to seek a referendum) when expenses rise significantly for the following purposes:

1. Debt service related to school construction
2. Special education
3. School improvement programs related to the Federal No Child Left Behind program
4. Fast growing student populations
5. Failure of the sum of certain local and state revenues to keep pace with the base index
6. Health care expenses for contracts in place when Act I was adopted (no longer applies)
7. Retirement expenses (e.g., gigantic PSERS rate increases that are already starting to come)

Districts are NOT required to utilize all of the value of the approved exceptions so please don’t be shocked by news reports that say taxes ARE going up by some huge amount — they may not be and I will certainly work hard to avoid it.  Provided a district fills out their paperwork correctly, I would expect approval of the exception requests since the criteria are pretty straight forward.  The application forms are even online at the PDE site above.

One gotcha…If a district requests exceptions and also requires a referendum, and then that referendum is turned down at the May primary, the district loses the exceptions AND must stay within the base index.  Thus, it should be obvious that a district will stay within its approved exceptions and avoid a referendum at the very least, unless there are truly dire circumstances. 

Again, districts do not have to use all of the value of their exceptions, so the work of boards is not done simply by applying for exceptions.  Because budgets are rarely finalized when the exception applications are due, districts are derelict if they don’t at least apply for valid exceptions, even if they don’t ultimately use them.

So, I just wanted to make sure I was doing my best to share my learning, to be open about having left out a point, and to make this an opportunity for others to comment if they believe they have a better handle on this complicated mess than I do.

One other thing I’ve learned…to LISTEN carefully to our district business manager.  They know this stuff really well and will guide us.  On this, you will just need to trust me.

Getting Involved…Through Committees

I was lucky.  I knew this before I was appointed to the school board, but still there are many who don’t know, so I’m going to do my best to help remedy things based on what I know and have learned.  In Cheltenham, deliberation and discussion largely happens in our committee meetings where recommendations are made to the formal legislative meeting (the televised one) where formal decisions are adopted.  The major committees are: Business Affairs (major contracts and financial management), Facilities (construction and maintenance), Policy, and, generally the most popular, Educational Affairs.  Dates, times, and agendas are posted on the District website.

I want you to know this because I want members of our community to know how our board operates.  This practice is not unique or even unusual.  It is how an effective board works.  It also allows board members that additional moment to consider their position, seek wisdom or higher authority, or to allow for additional information to be prepared.

I also want you to know so that you are not surprised that our legislative meetings, aside from the benefit of making certain announcements for the community over a more widely viewed medium, can be rather boring or brief at times.  The brevity is not an attempt to avoid the Sunshine Law.  The sun has already shone, sometimes brightly, on these discussions — in the committees.

The Board has made it clear that the path to a board agenda is through multiple routes starting with school staff and administration or through the board secretary, but in almost all circumstances, discussion and deliberation take place outside of the main legislative meeting, and this is where community involvement can have its most significant impact.

Committee meetings are open to the public and are publicized.  The public is invited to speak, responsibly and respectfully, by the committee chairs, questions are discussed, and minutes are taken.  As required, recommendations are made to the full legislative meeting.

These are “committees of the whole”, meaning all board members are members of all committees, so there is rarely need for further discussion at the legislative meetings and, on occasion, straw polls are taken to ascertain the “mind” of the board (see my previous post on this one).  These are not the formal decisions, but help the chairs to understand and lead discussions effectively.

I encourage and invite the community to attend these meetings, to listen to deliberations, and to make their voices heard.  It’s the best and most effective route toward participation in the process of making our district the best it can be.

Why Share My Learning

In my application for this Board position, I noted that I had a strong interest in a topic called, broadly, Knowledge Management. While we may have entered a “digital” or “Internet” age, what we really have entered is a “knowledge sharing” age facilitated by our new digital suite of tools.  Though having enjoyed many years of learning, most of what I know I learned from others who were willing to share, without much compensation, just for the love of it.

As a result, unless one happens to be in a field where researching new ideas in deep technical subjects is part of the job, most of us have a thin shell of individually unique knowledge wrapped around a large volume of core knowledge built with the help of our genetic background, our parents, teachers, friends, and coworkers, not to mention the many authors and speakers whom we’ll never know, followed in a long succession of folks behind them.

This is not some incredibly new insight.  It is not original and what follows isn’t either, but it will explain at bit more why I am writing this blog.

We cannot assume that what we know is somehow ours alone to have and hold.  Because we have largely built our lives and ourselves on the shoulders of those who came before us, we have an obligation to be a foundation for others in their process of building on the collective knowledge of society.

This is not to say that we cannot profit from our efforts to leverage knowledge, as many do, but when the subject IS knowledge and, in this case, education, I feel a strong obligation to share with others so that they can learn from what I learn.

Knowledge Management is about collecting, organizing, sharing, and otherwise making more broadly useful the knowledge that each of us has and that we can contribute to a larger goal.  Digital technologies, such as blogs, only facilitate the process; they are not the process.

The curious part of this is that we often do not share our knowledge because we believe it’s somehow our secret sauce, our legacy, our stock in trade, whatever — but some of the most influential people freely share their knowledge with others in the hope that they can raise the level of discussion and progress.  I’d bet few Nobel Prize winners are millionaires, yet collectively they have contributed monumentally to the knowledge and wealth of society, and they have enabled much of the world we know now or will know.  They may not be wealthy, but they DO share their wealth with all of us.

I will never be a Nobel Prize winner, but I hope I am doing my part in building them and other leaders who may someday come to the same realization — that knowledge is most valuable when shared.

So that’s a bit more about why I write this blog.  To close I’ll note that EduBlog Awards publishes an annual list of top-rated bloggers in multiple categories of educational blogging, but guess which category of blogging is missing?  Visit and see.

A Board As… A Tree

.tweeterHover { color:#2276BB !important; font-size: 12px; }.tweeterHover a:link { color:#2276BB !important; text-decoration:none !important; }.tweeterHover a:visited { color:#2276BB !important; text-decoration:none !important; }.tweeterHover a:hover { color:#2276BB !important; text-decoration:underline !important; }.tweeterHover a:active { color:#2276BB !important; text-decoration:none !important; }.tweeterHover { margin: 0; padding: 0; border: 0; font-size: 100%; line-height: 1; list-style: none; }.tweeterHover { font: 12px ‘Lucida Grande’, Verdana, Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; }It is rare to see board members speak publicly and even rarer that they put their words on paper (electronic even), but when I saw this article, one idea (among many, it’s a good article) tickled my philosophers bone, so forgive me for waxing a bit here.  I freely disclaim being an gray-haired egg-head, so every now and then I just have to show my stripes a bit.

In getting my arms around this job, I’ve been thinking a lot about what a board is and I’ve come to the rough conclusion that a school board is more of an idea than a thing.  A board is not its individual members and it is certainly not an unchanging thing.  Indeed, the board is only what it is at the moment that it acts or makes a formal decision on a particular matter and can be very different both before and after that moment, since the make-up of the “mind” of the board can change over time.  This is a fascinating idea and one, I suppose, that is true of any policy body made up of more than one individual.

About all I can say is that a board is what a board does (Thankyou, Forest Gump!) and, more specifically, that a board is strategic if it acts strategically, that it is concerned if it acts concerned, and so on.  Further, since a board is not what its individual members are, we have to think as a community about what we want our board to be, based on what we want it to do.  This is a very functional approach, but I can’t think of a better alternative approach.

Here’s one implication.  While a board may be made up of nine members, it is wrong to feel that any individual represents the board or, when being addressed, that the comments are being addressed to any individual.  This may be a hard concept for most who see the board as having a set of faces, but one way to avoid feeling overly passionate about a board’s actions (or lack thereof) is to simply talk about what a board IS doing and what it OUGHT to do, based on some rationale.  To me, this is why it is so incumbent on a public board to be as transparent and communicative as possible, i.e., so that others can know what is in the mind of the board, however fleetingly or fickle.

Perhaps this idea of a board could being something like an object, a gavel perhaps, or a small tree, sitting in the middle of the room and that everyone can see and discuss, but it is not a thing that can express its opinions or be seen to be affected by any discussions until it acts in a particular way.

An interesting idea…or maybe not.  They are my stripes.

Whence the School Board?

.tweeterHover { color:#2276BB !important; font-size: 12px; }.tweeterHover a:link { color:#2276BB !important; text-decoration:none !important; }.tweeterHover a:visited { color:#2276BB !important; text-decoration:none !important; }.tweeterHover a:hover { color:#2276BB !important; text-decoration:underline !important; }.tweeterHover a:active { color:#2276BB !important; text-decoration:none !important; }.tweeterHover { margin: 0; padding: 0; border: 0; font-size: 100%; line-height: 1; list-style: none; }.tweeterHover { font: 12px ‘Lucida Grande’, Verdana, Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; }

.tweeterHover { color:#2276BB !important; font-size: 12px; }.tweeterHover a:link { color:#2276BB !important; text-decoration:none !important; }.tweeterHover a:visited { color:#2276BB !important; text-decoration:none !important; }.tweeterHover a:hover { color:#2276BB !important; text-decoration:underline !important; }.tweeterHover a:active { color:#2276BB !important; text-decoration:none !important; }.tweeterHover { margin: 0; padding: 0; border: 0; font-size: 100%; line-height: 1; list-style: none; }.tweeterHover { font: 12px ‘Lucida Grande’, Verdana, Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; }This one is way out of left field, but it didn’t take me long to realize that there’s a significant change coming.  You don’t have to watch the actions of Secretary Arne Duncan for long to start to wonder this question.

With all of the external pressures and increasing controls, fully ranging from inputs to outputs, revenues to graduation testing, is there a need for the local, lay school board anymore?  So much of what a school board used to manage and maintain has been removed by states and, vicariously through states, the federal government via direct legislation or other mandates tied to revenues.  Are we living under a false sense that boards ARE in control today?  Could the consolidation of boards be a good thing as the pool of volunteer, educationally-minded, business-experienced, and politically-interested community leaders shrinks further. 

Could boards be replaced with a new system implementing a national standard using national taxes funneled through states (a la ARRA) guarantee equality of access (like the new health care system) better than today’s system of thousands of quasi-independent bodies each interpreting the rules differently. 

But what of states rights or the opinions of local communities?  How will communities exercise their freedoms, if there ever were any?

Hard questions, but technology fully supports a more unified system.  And yet, because we can, do we — should we?

[This is a repost from an entry on School Board 2.0.]