Saturday, December 12, 2009

No insurance against politics

It was once said that absolute power corrupts absolutely. It can also be said that absolute power often goes unchallenged, and that is the danger when one party political party dominates a public board.

I won't speculate on why Neshaminy residents voted the way they did in November, but I can tell you that it made me the lone school board member not under control of the Republican party. That lack of political diversity is certainly not good for the district. It doesn't matter which party you're talking about - nothing good comes from single party domination. And it didn't take very long for the politically empowered to prove my point.

At Monday's meeting where our newest board members were sworn in, a last-minute motion was brought before the board to vote for a new health insurance broker. The last time the issue of our insurance broker was considered was during a May 2009 meeting of the Finance & Facilities Committee when four brokers were interviewed. The Committee expressed interest in interviewing three of the brokers a second time, and that was the last time we heard or discussed the matter. Nearly six months went by with no second interviews or further consideration, and all of a sudden our new board is voting on it. But we weren't choosing from among the three finalists from the May 2009 meeting. Only one insurance broker was brought forward for a vote on this night -
The Selzer Company.

Aside from the short notice given, what made me suspicious about this vote was contained in the minutes from the F&F Committee's May 2009 meeting. As you can see at the very bottom of section 1(D) on page 2 where each board member rates their two top candidates, Selzer Company wasn't even the top vote getter:

Based on the statements made by the Committee members, the broker with the greatest support was Gallagher Benefit Services but it is clearly stated that a second round of review was necessary.

Through notes taken by F&F Committee members, I also learned that Selzer did not provide a fee schedule for their services while Gallagher stated their fees and offered to return any commissions earned. And while Gallagher freely stated some of their existing customers, Selzer would only provide such information IF they won the bid.

Despite all this, our new board saw fit to ram through a vote for Selzer. I wonder what made that company so popular that the F&F Committee would inexplicably forgo a second round of review?

There were more partisan political dynamics going on this evening than just the insurance broker issue. Watch the meeting for yourself on cable TV and take note of who spoke during public comment and what was said. All this courtesy of an election that put one party firmly back in charge.

Our school board has made tremendous strides over the past year, and I believe our political balance had much to do with that. I can only hope that the partisan behavior evident at this past meeting was an aberration, and that our Board will continue to serve the entire community rather than political interests.


Levittowner said...

From my experience, a generality can be made about my neighborhood..they don't make informed decisions.

As for certain school board members and playing politics:
If it walks like a duck...

this bird has walked this way before

The frustrating aspect is when it happened before there was absolutely no consequences that I saw. And except for you whistle blowing who else can we count on? It's really a shame.

As an aside..we could probally cut energy costs by using the wind power of a couple of blowhard public commenters. They sure think highly of themselves don't they?

I did get a good laugh over the whole political reference to how we are now going to fix what the previous school board did now that we have a new party in power. I'm glad you made a point about what party was in control last school contract-for the record. Although I'm afraid it falls mostly on deaf voter's ears.

Fight the good fight..but I'm raising my white flag.
Disheartening to say the very least.

KClarinet said...

"I won't speculate on why Neshaminy residents voted the way they did in November..."

Well, how many Neshaminy residents actually voted? There's little doubt in my mind why so many who voted voted as they did. They were the same voters who chose "it's fine the way it is" over replacing the high school (and got, to their consternation in many cases, an $80 million renovation instead). The bigger problem is that so few who have a real stake in having quality schools vote at all year after year.

Gabriel said...

My father was an elected official in our community which was dominated by his party. Should have been easy right? It wasn't because all those power guys who like to pull strings put demands on officials who got hired, which contractors got the jobs, which contracts were approved. If they held a slim majority those people would never have pulled those tricks because there would have been people to stand up to them.

KClarinet and Levittowner each made sad but true comments. People with the most at stake never seem to vote, and those who do vote responsibly often lose hope because of others who only vote their party line.

srodos said...

The three previous posts are absolutely correct. If the parents of the over 8000 students came to the meeting and INDIVIDUALLY made themselves heard,
the response of the Board may shift(hopefully) to the desires of the parents and students.
I was one of the public in attendance at the meeting at which the insurance brokers made their presentations. I have been waiting patiently for the next meeting to occur at which we could have heard the details of the presentations. I still cannot figure out why we pay an an additional fee for work over and above the commission earned by the brokers.
Unfortunately the second meeting was never held.

acs said...

I think it is truly amazing how few people think they have a stake in local elections. If you have any control as a voter it is in things like a school board elections and yet very few get informed or educated about the issues. As for parties I am fairly certain the NSD election was as much about a republican landslide in Middletown than any real issues or candidates. That being said regardless of any party control this board has the hardest job of any NSD board in the past 25 years.

I Must Be Living in Jersey said...

It wasn't just a Middletown Republican landslide ACS, the Republicans had major victories throughout the state and country. Most pundits seem to think it was an Obama backlash but that is no excuse for voters not familiarizing themselves with the local candidates.

You are right that this board has the toughest job of any board in recent history which is all the more reason we need good, qualified board members. After Monday's meeting I'm not confident that we have the right people.

When Mr. O'Connor asked why the insurance matter wasn't addressed in many months and why the whole board wasn't given information about the brokers, Kootseridis said that he didn't have all the answers. That was followed by Boyle saying that June was a busy month. There are at least two pistons not firing in the school board engine!

JS said...

I know most people in politics would tell you to not rock the boat for risk of having yourself ousted the next election.

Here's the thing. I think you have no choice but to be AS VOCAL AS POSSIBLE.

I highly doubt you will be able to get anything passed that those pulling strings don't want passed so I say stay vocal. Point out EVERY inconsistency and issue with how this one party Board is operating.

Those who blindly vote for one party will blindly vote, regardless of what job you do. At least if you point out the railroading and strong handed politics you might cut a few off to your side come the next election.

I can't believe someone would actually claim this new board has to fix what the old board did, when it is still the same party in control.

That's like saying Bush and Cheney saying they had to fix the last four years when getting re-elected in 2004.

It'll be a bumpy ride for a while. I just say you stay vocal and be as loud and obnoxious as you can. You're the lone voice for a lot of us.

William O'Connor said...

I have no problem pointing out procedural issues but it will be meaningless if the public doesn't hold this board accountable. When answers like "it was busy in June" are given as excuses, the public must be willing to show a little righteous indignation. Come to a meeting, stand up during public comment and say that such behavior does not serve the community and therefore is never acceptable.

Remember a couple years ago when the board ignored the recommendations of Administration and gave a job to a different candidate? Public outcry over that manuever made a huge difference in board behavior with subsequent appointments.

Pianomom said...

I know you deserve so much more than this but I'm joining Levittowner in raising my white flag. I thought I had convinced so many of my neighbors to vote and educated them about the candidates, but most of them never voted using some excuse or another every bit as lame as the ones given you by the board members who couldn't defend the insurance broker vote.
I can't understand parents in this district. They volunteer countless hours in their children's schools but they won't take 15 minutes to vote. The ones who do vote just go along with their party because they don't really understand the candidates qualifications.
I know it sounds hypocritical of me to ask you to continue fighting while I give up but I just don't have the strength to care any more.
I'm sorry.

KClarinet said...

To Pianomom,

I think the actual number of parents volunteering all those hours at school is not as large as you may think. I think it's a relatively small number of parent and grandparent volunteers who do so much that it gives an illusion of more widespread involvement. Those people may well have voted (we'll never know), but you'd need to get all the parents of Neshaminy students into the polling places to have a real impact.

William O'Connor said...

Levittowner and Piano Mom - I completely get your frustrations, but never give up hope because this Board can still do good for our students. We must all work to keep the Board focused on doing what is right, and your support will help us to achieve just that.

And speaking of doing what is right, I should have mentioned that not all the Republicans on the board voted for this insurance broker. Our Board Prez Ritchie Webb also opposed the motion, and I should have credited him with that.

acs said...

Pianomom/KC, "I can't understand parents in this district"..."but you'd need to get all the parents of Neshaminy students into the polling places to have a real impact".
Are you assuming that these parents who are taxpayers support our teacher's extraordinary pay or the continued spending of our money no matter the cost? I think you cannot assume most people are happy with taxes and the investments made with those dollars by the School Board.
In any case they are not the predominant voter in elections since 70% of taxpayers do not currently have children in the schools. I think from a voter perspective it is difficult for parent groups to have much of an impact in any election since this is a small and disparate group lacking a common view of education quality and costs. On the other hand, taxpayers in general have a common view of perceived rampant overspending in School Districts. They tend to be older and vote.
Back to the last election there was a lot of collateral damage done to all democrat candidates by voters who perceived rampant spending from DC down to school districts over the past year was that parties fault.

JS said...

ACS I seriously think you over estimate the level of fed-up-ed-ness at the recent school board based on the recent election.

I really think that if you had switched the column Dr. Spitz was in he would have won and his opponent lost.

I really don't think this election had anything to do with voters on a local level wanting to send a message about spending.

This was an election dominated by the turn out of 1 demographic that tends to vote a single party. That's all.

As far as I knew the make up of the Board prior to this election had some of the strongest community support in my recollection. Everyone liked that they were holding the line with contracts and had kept tax raises as low as possible.

As stupid as this sounds you probably could have run Mickey Mouse on the Republican ticket and he would have won this election.

acs said...

JS, I think we agree for the most part. This was certainly not a Democrat incumbent election it was a republican statement.
However I do not agree totally that Middletown voters were not specifically energized to vote specifically for school board candidates. The fact that the contract dispute details were so well know mobilized voters to vote for "hope and change" :).