Transparency at Corbett School District
Transparency has been a much talked about issue for voters in Corbett in regards to the School Board over the past 8 years. It has been used as a platform in at least three recent elections as new candidates come forward to challenge the long time CSD board members. Read here for an explanation of the two “sides” to the CSD issue.
School Board Meeting Agendas and Minutes
School board agendas are historically not complete or ready for board members ( let alone the community ) until many times the day of the meeting. New agendas with changes and additional information are presented to board members at the board meetings and board members have gone on record, including recent board Chair Mark Hyzer, requesting that these agendas be available in time for adequate review by the board prior to meetings. School board meeting minutes in Corbett have routinely taken months to post to the district web site after each meeting. For those not able to make meetings but that try to follow along, this has been frustrating.
Any referenced addendum, document, submitted letters from parents etc. are not available unless you make a formal request for public documents from the district and the district will charge you per page. The Deputy Clerk and the Superintendent have ignored requests to have meetings officially recorded and transcribed. ( At the 4/17/13 board meeting the Superintendent complained how time consuming it was to get minutes/handouts etc. scanned and posted after questions were sent to him about the missing minutes on the district web site. )
Personally I have emails going back several years asking the board and the Superintendent directly, about board minutes not being posted. More than one community member has offered time/funding to help with this. ( A simple $200 purchase of an all in one printer that scans documents to pdf is really all this would take. )
Since the board/Superintendent have not approved recording the meetings themselves – there are now at least a couple people recording these board meetings and sharing them with this site, so that there is an actual record of what is said. ( After reviewing these recordings of our board meetings, and then comparing these to the minutes that are going on the record, there is clear “editorializing”. )..
Only Good News
Many documents submitted for the record, or even spoken to during public comment periods, are not mentioned in board minutes. In other words, someone wouldn’t know to request them, because they are not mentioned, or not clearly, in the official minutes. This has been improved slightly over the past 2 years.
My husband and I have sent letters to the school board sharing our concerns and asking questions over the years. I have specifically requested our information be part of the public record. Not only have we never received a response from the School Board to any of the issues, questions or letters …. most were never added to public record. After realizing the board was being directed by the Superintendent not to respond to this information, I then decided to start this web site to ensure there was one place that documented what has happened in Corbett with regards to the School District. – M. Schmidt
Another example of controlling the ‘story’ in Corbett Schools was when the petition to Keep Corbett Schools Small was presented in January 2011. It is mentioned in such a way that anyone reading the minutes would not understand that a petition was submitted.
Community members who stand to voice their opinions may have their names mentioned, but their comments are rarely added to the record. On the other hand, the board meeting minutes systematically list those coming forward to speak highly of the school and their accomplishments, in much more detail. ( Including a campaign to bring back “graduates” to praise the changes at Corbett and testify to the board to stay the course. )* There is nothing wrong with good news. What is wrong though, is ignoring ( leaving out of the public record ) and not responding to those concerns or feelings of community members that also take the time to come forward. This can’t be simply oversight as the below example demonstrates quite clearly.
When this issue of not including documents to the public record has been pointed out, CSD maintains that it has been an issue of funding and manpower to accomplish these tasks in a timely manner. While several community members have offered to come in to help scan these documents, to aide in the transparency issues CSD faces, that help has never been invited in and the documents remain out of sight.
Or “only for some” resources?
When a couple teachers at CSD organized a letter writing campaign in support of Superintendent Trani and presented these letters for the December 2011 board meeting, CSD was somehow able to find the “resources” to post an 85 page pdf document on their web site almost immediately.
This 85 page document included all letters and documents from the meeting in December 2011. Actually, more accurately, it included all letters of support, of which the large majority are from teachers or teachers’ friends and family but the few letters that were not as positive in light, that were also submitted for the record in December, were oddly missing from the packet for download. (CSD must have run out of resources.) The loyalty and adoration the staff obviously feels for their employment and superintendent is wonderful but it does give CSD the appearance of “stacking the deck” when it comes to having the “resources” to post positive letters but no time or “resources” for other opinions.
* There was not a public invitation to the community at large about sending in opinions about the school, school board or Mr. Trani etc. Instead, those “in the know” or “on staff” were invited to send letters of support and these are the letters that CSD posted in record time.
People that do try to give CSD the benefit of the doubt ( or even those that continue to commit their unwavering support ) should be fair minded enough to recognize this is NOT the best example of how a school district behaves. Others will say it is a perfect example of how OURS does.
* UPDATE/2013: I was very happy to hear that Director Calcagno’s recommendations for “BOARD BOOKS” was approved at the April 2013 board meeting. This will go a long way to help improve transparency in the district. This system will help compile and distribute meeting notices electronically and create a searchable web-based archive. This can be a positive step towards involving more than the handful of audience members that typically attend board meetings. I think this will also help our voters make more informed decisions on what is actually happening in our district and how our board members are actually representing ( or not ) their constituents.