Thursday, September 20, 2012

RRISD Votes to Stifle Democratic Process

“Shut Up,” they explained.

In a little noticed move last month, the Round Rock School Board quietly approved new board procedures for the district. Typically, governing rules for most boards, both public and private, allow items to be placed on the meeting agenda at the request of two trustees. RRISD however, claims two is not enough to initiate discussion. An agenda request must be approved by a vote of all trustees at an official meeting before the item can be discussed at the next official meeting.

Essentially, even if three board members request an agenda item, the other members of the board can reject discussion of any ‘uncomfortable’ topics at RRISD School Board meetings. In allowing this rule change, Board President Chad Chadwell and his compatriots have significantly damaged the ability of the elected trustees to govern the district. Since members who disagree with each other can easily shut down proposed agenda items, the board’s ability to take action will be seriously compromised. And, of course, if the board is unable to act, the responsibility will fall to, surprise! - RRISD superintendent, Jesus Chavez.

So, just as at the federal level, local government power will be further concentrated into the hands of an unelected bureaucrat. Swell.

It is interesting that this move came so close to the upcoming RRISD Board elections. Incumbent Chad Chadwell has been challenged by Tere McCann for place 2, and there are two candidates vying for the place 7 seat being vacated by Bobby Sieferman. In each case, if the ‘establishment’ loses and the true grassroots candidates win, Chadwell et. al., have already taken preemptive steps to silence those who might question the governance of the district.

And if the elected board members are silenced, so are the voters.

A review of the minutes for RRISD Board meetings over the past year demonstrates that the board actually votes in unison on the vast majority of issues. Only rarely does one see any dissenting votes, which implies that perhaps there are some compelling reasons for occasional nay vote. In the case of these new “silence the opposition” procedure rules, only Terri Romere voted nay.

However shocking, this move to dampen the ability of voters to effect the district shouldn’t come as any surprise to those who’ve been following RRISD events. Not only did administration staff figuratively thumb their noses at parents who took part in the school re-zoning fiasco, the board spent millions on pet projects they knew voters weren’t likely to approve. The decision to super-size one high school was made without any public hearings or input from the community. Also, last month, the board decided to swipe some $25 million from the district’s general funds to build a special high school campus for students at risk of dropping out (currently less than 80 students qualify for the $25 million “Success” campus). Again, no hearings, no public input.
Now, after spending nearly $75 million on pet projects without voter approval, the board is poised to raise property taxes. Furthermore, since the most urgent need in the district is at minimum a new middle school, the ISD is proposing a new bond election for next year. I guess the strategy is to spend extravagantly on anything but essential needs- for those you just hike taxes.

This year’s ISD Board Elections will be held in conjunction with the General Election on November 6. As I mentioned above, the options for Place 2 are incumbent Chad “more-of-the-same” Chadwell and Tere McCann. For Place 7, there is Round Rock Businesswoman and Mom, Pauline Law, and Dell Employee Eric Pav. Law has promised to bring a fiscally conservative viewpoint to the board; Pav has retreated from any public questions about his political philosophy.

Sadly, there are still many individuals who naively believe that school board governance is some kind of philosophical neutral zone. However, I would argue that public schools are THE front line in the battle for the heart and soul of this nation. Some 90% of American children are under the control of the local school. We had better start paying serious attention to what these school districts are doing, because our future depends on it.

Vote November 6, 2012.

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