Sunday, December 16, 2012

Management Board of EPISD – Why This Must Be Fought

Lets start with some realities. From day one of this scandal, the school board didn't act boldly or quickly enough. Maybe it was the shock of what was coming out despite the fact that the very organization that appointed a Board of Management failed EPISD twice by giving them a clean bill of health, or maybe it was an over-abundance of caution and wanting to be deliberative in their actions.

It could have been a lot of things, but lets all acknowledge one important fact. The EPISD school board messed up.

Reality Check

Lets also acknowledge that the EPISD Trustees SHOULD have apologized. It was only out of pure arrogance that it wasn't done. I'm looking at you David Dodge. I don't care if you are a Master Trustee, you should master the art of acknowledging a mistake then then work like hell to fix it.

None of that was done.

They started taking decisive action later, far in advance of the Education Commissioner's appointment.

But the reality is this - the EPISD Board of Trustees were dead meat in the May election. 4 of the 7 Board Members were up for re-election. Thats a majority of the board and all 4 were all going to get beat and get beat badly. 

Hell, for all we know, they may not have even chosen to run for re-election. The community was going to fire them, no doubt about it.

Questions for the Class

I don't think I'm fully up-to-speed with the EPISD management board but I have a few questions to throw out there for the class.

First question, how long are they going to be in place? Since this stuff still has to get approved by the Department of Justice I assume that is going to take a couple of months at a minimum. Assuming its not contested. If its contested, I'm assuming it might take a little longer. So that would put us around March time frame before its approved by DOJ at the earliest.

The election to replace 4 of the 7 members of the EPISD board is in May. Second Question, is that still on or are these people going to serve longer? All four members of the board that were set to be on the ballot were going to lose, so a voting majority of the board was going to be replaced by voters in May anyway. Third question, so are we still having an election or not?

If not, then I think we have a major problem on our hands and this is where the media steps in.

#MediaWin, #MediaFail

Without a doubt the media have played a role in the EPISD cheating scandal. Not just a role, a HUGE role. Had it not been for the media, and specifically the El Paso Times, major parts of this story would never have been revealed to the community.

For that, they should take a much deserved bow for doing their job right.

But here is where I think there is a media fail. I don't think I've seen it discussed anywhere, but the fact is we live in a representative democracy. No matter who we vote in to the EPISD Board of Trustees, even if its City Rep Susie Byrd, they won't have any real power. The election will be meaningless.

And another thing, I haven't seen any critical analysis of what the implications of the Board of Managers are.

FACT: An out-of-town Republican appointee created a Board of Managers. We live in a state that seems to cherish the idea of local control but we get someone who doesn't live in El Paso who was appointed by a Republican Governor who doesn't know El Paso, choose people to manage the board that WE THE PEOPLE are supposed to elect? And there's no critical analysis of this?

The Education Commissioner is not directly accountable to the people of Texas. Much less to the people of El Paso. Yet he is able to make a decision and no-one stands to ask the tough questions about this?

And what happens if they are still in place come election time? What happens to the people the community decides they want on the Board of Trustees? Do the knew Trustees become just titular? Will tax payers have to foot the bill for a special election at some point? Are their terms going to be staggered?

How does all of that stuff work?

Anyone know?

The Big Question

The biggest question that no one in the media seems ready to ask is, why do we need a Board of Managers in the first place? Why the sudden urgency? What facts and/or circumstances have changed that make that necessary?

Once a Conservator is in place, she can undo anything from the Board she so chooses. So why the need to put in a Board of Managers? Why hasn't this been examined? These are reasonable questions the media should be asking.

Is the Board of Managers Reflective of the District?

A big problem with an out-of-towner who doesn't know El Paso appointing a Board of Managers for this community is the fact that they don't have a frame of reference for the make-up and dynamic of this community.

Instead of representation determined by the parents, stake-holders, and voters of the community, we have a group of people forced upon us that may or may not reflect the district they are about to be in charge of.

I'm not saying any one of the appointees are bad people or shouldn't be on the board. Well, honestly I question one of them, but I'll get to him later. But what I am saying is that I don't feel the Board of Managers reflects what the district looks like and I certainly don't feel the media is doing enough to challenge that make-up. The community relies on journalists to ask the tough questions and thoroughly flesh-out what is being done.

FACT – Three of the five people appointed come from affluent parts of El Paso, the westside and Memorial Park area. Again, they are not bad people. They are not bad people because they are affluent. But 3/5 of EPISD's school childrendon't live in their type of world. Though I hope 100% of them aspire to.

Where is representation for people from Segundo Barrio and other parts of the district? I don't think this was done purposely by the Commissioner, but its a big problem with having an out-of-towner appoint people and not have the community decide.

Have you heard a peep about this in coverage of this issue? Neither have I.

Going from 7 elected members of the board to 5 appointed members is by definition, a watering-down of the people's voice.

Community Voices on the Board of Managers

I went to the last EPISD Board meeting because I was pepo and wanted to see how things were going to play out. I doubt I'll ever go again. It lasted until the next morning. Literally.

The Board spent most of the meeting taking shots at the media and the El Paso Times in particular. The Board needs to understand that having a contentious relationship with the media is not in their best interest. They are going to have to wrap their head around the fact that the public does have the right to know about things and the media is supposed to ask critical questions.

Do I think the whole story is being told? No, I don't. I saw at least two big positive stories that are absolutely newsworthy but there was little or no coverage of it.

But I don't think the media is the devil either.

I found the public comment portion of the meeting the most interesting, and not just because there was some weird moment when someone went to the mic and spoke about something I didn't understand but declared she was a Buddhist.

There was only ONE person who spoke up during public comment that expressed support for the Perry-appointed Commissioner of Education's actions.

Just one. Only one.

City Rep Susie Byrd.

As you can hear in the audio clip below, Representative Byrd asked that the Board “accept with grace and without complaint the TEA's dissolution of the Board and replacement of the Board by a Conservator and the Board of Managers...”

The other speakers, were all in favor of the Board of Trustees to fight the appointment of the Board of Managers. I think thats pretty telling because there was an email sent out by Representative Byrd to get people that were like-minded to show up to the meeting and yet she was the only one who spoke in favor of the Board of Managers.

I tried to get interviews with a few of them but was only able to catch one before he left, Antonio Williams. Yes, his mother is EPISD Board President Isela Castanon-Williams, but he raises interesting points as you can see in this video.

So I don't think this issue is about supporting or not supporting the members of the EPISD Board of Trustees. They messed up. No one is defending them.

This is about supporting, or not supporting, our local ability to choose our leadership. I firmly believe this is a choice that should be left to El Pasoans. If the exact same people want to run for school board, then so be it. If they win, more power to them. They will be there because the PEOPLE of El Paso, not some Rick Perry-appointed out-of-towner chose them.

They will have the consent of the people.

Let El Pasoans choose who represents them.

(Its not always easy being me when I write stuff like this. I have personal and professional relationships, or potential relationships, with multiple people on both sides of this issue. I fully realize that when I write stuff like this its going to piss off some of them. But as I say all the time, "its politics, its not personal". But just like you, sometimes you agree with your friends, sometimes you think they're idiots. I can't let my relationship with any of them, Susie, Antonio, Vince, or anyone else stop me from giving my opinion. If that bothers you, then you shouldn't read my blog. I've also said that a million times. If you want journalism, go to a legitimate news site, which this is not, again something I've said a million times. Giving my opinion is just what I do. To paraphrase Muhammad Ali, birds fly, grass grows, I blog.)


Anonymous said...

Hypocrisy: Talking about "We,the people"

Talking about "all discussion taking place in the open" yet defending appointment of the managers w/o that transparency

Talking about "defending our right to vote"...

Hypocrisy......All of it!

Shawn said...

While I understand your position, for parents in EPISD there is no way to RECALL any of these trustees, unlike city council. (This is something that must be fixed in the future.) The board has been slow to act and it was only after the TEA and the commissioner stepped in did they do anything (Garcia was arrested in August 2011). There are many in the communities that have tried to get their attention but Trustees were unavailable and inaccessible. They are not willing to take any responsibility for what has happened…….it is too little, too late and I don't want them wasting any more of my tax dollars. (I applaud Rocio Benedicto for her public apology, unfortunately it came too late.) I and many other parents are grateful that the commissioner has stepped in and is doing something. The lack of effort by the board is exactly why "Reform EPISD" was created.
Regarding the Board of Managers, it is an incomplete group. There is still one more position on the board that has not been announced by the commissioner. While I understand your concern regarding fair representation, I believe that those who have been put in place will be mindful to represent all students regardless of where they currently reside. We need to restore trust and move forward and I believe the only way we can do that is with the board of managers.

I have contacted my trustee, Patty Hughes, via email and phone regarding this situation and have yet to hear back, which seems to be a common theme with these trustees. David Dodge has a filter set up so that you can’t email him directly.
There are also military students that have been affected by this scandal. They are not willing to come forward and share their names and situations because of positions but they are impacted just the same. Some of them have no idea this scandal is the reason why it is difficult when they move to another district. The district has not even addressed this concern.
As a parent and interested party I would have been at that meeting to give my opinion as to why they shouldn't fight the commissioners’ decision but I have kids to pick up from school…….the board is great at setting a time that is NOT convenient for parents to participate and not listening to the will of the people. They need to step down and allow the district to move forward. Everyone should be looking at the best interest of the students, not what is best for the Trustee.