One of the pitfalls of being a shift worker is the limits it places on being present for some of the activities that the seeming majority of civilized society seems to take for granted. Take, for instance, the ability to more actively participate in what I have on occasion referred to as the paradoxical charm of government of, by, and for the people.
I’m referring specifically to the ability to attend government meetings. While it’s true that our system allows for all citizens to have access to the process of governance via our elected representatives, there really isn’t a replacement for showing up in person and witnessing the process unfold. This is especially true when a significant portion of citizens have issues with the manner in which they are being represented – the “paradoxical charm” part of the equation.
For a truly impressive example of this, check out what’s been going on at the Baldwin-Whitehall School District in the south hills of suburban Pittsburgh. This since an attempt last November by that district’s board to hire a sitting board member to a newly created administrative position, only to swear him back onto the board two weeks later in the wake of a significant public outcry that led to his resignation from the new, cushy job – which paid $120,000 a year.
That outcry has continued into this year, with standing-room only crowds at board meetings that have resulted in some creative and controversial approaches to ‘accommodating’ the throng. The district has taken to live stream meetings on their website – something that would have probably been laughed at until people started acting up.
This sudden mobilization of Baldwin-Whitehall taxpayers has been bolstered by a comprehensive web presence for what is now known as BW Action. Those spearheading the effort to obtain answers, as well as the resignation of at least one board member, have a well-updated source of current news and events, as well as a statement of goals and objectives that identifies what the group wants to accomplish, and how they want to get there.
All of this has not been lost on the administration of the Quaker Valley School District, which has experienced an increased amount of taxpayer discontent in recent years. QV is in the process of revising its policy on public comment, considering a 5-minute time limit as part of the proposal. The board’s policy committee was scheduled to discuss the proposed changes at their February 11 regular work session.
Board member Gianni Floro was quoted by the Sewickley Herald that “you can say volumes in five minutes”. He’s a lawyer – I’ll bet he can. Superintendent Joseph Clapper was quoted as offering the following as well:
“Certainly, we’re not opposed to participation of the public, but it should be always appropriate and hopefully meaningful.”
Part of me understands what he’s saying – truly, I do. But part of me also says that a school official’s ability to tell me what’s appropriate and meaningful ended when Superintendent Kite and Principal Cortese handed me my QV diploma all those years ago.
The Herald story cited other comments from board members that seemed more conciliatory in nature, and offered some common sense examples of guidelines on public discourse that exist in other districts.
I’m hopeful that the Board will arrive at a solution that allows for maintaining decorum while respecting the rights of all citizens, regardless of their ability to speak in public with confidence and/or brevity.
One saving grace that helps someone who can’t go to meetings is the ready availability of government documents and other information online. The Quaker Valley website has lots of good information and details that may otherwise go unnoticed – these are often contained in the agendas and minutes of public meetings.
When it was reported in last week’s Herald that the Board approved the purchase of new artificial turf at Chuck Knox Stadium, I was both excited about the upcoming changes and interested in what kind of turf they had purchased.
This was especially considering that one board member voted against it, over the potential for additional, unpredictable costs that hadn’t been addressed to her satisfaction. Marianne Wagner campaigned as a fiscal watchdog, and she seems to be living up to that so far.
Regardless of whether it may cost more later to deal with drainage issues, there is no doubt that the turf needs replaced. Despite careful maintenance, the surface is starting to resemble that outdoor carpet on the concrete patio of the house you or your parents might have owned in the 70’s – where you know it looks like crap, but are just trying to squeeze another summer out of it. Never mind what it must be like to try to play a sport on it.
Review of the January 28 Board agenda, combined with an answer from QV Communications Director Tina Vojtko, revealed that the new surface will be installed by Shaw Sports Turf, a division of Shaw Industries, described online as “the world’s largest carpet manufacturer and leading floor covering provider with more than $4 billion in annual sales and approximately 24,000 associates worldwide.”
Shaw Industries is owned by billionaire Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway group, and already has a significant local presence, operating a distribution warehouse for its flooring products in the Leetsdale Industrial Park.
The turf to be installed is Shaw’s Legion 41 “turf system”, which incorporates 2-inch high “grass” fibers made from a combination of two different plastics. The turf is supported by an infill material of rubber and sand, providing “a firm surface for predictable, consistent ball roll and increased player performance“. All of this is supported by three layers of backing, one with weep holes designed to facilitate moisture drainage into whatever drain system is in place.
There are numerous online media releases about the installation of Shaw products around the country, with very little if any online posts regarding complaints or problems. One item that I have personal familiarity with is the potential for high field temperatures in summer weather – temperatures of similar turf systems in the high desert of western Colorado have approached 180 degrees in mid-August. Hopefully this will not present a problem for participants or citizens, who will no doubt be clamoring to try out the new field when it finally gets put in.
One other noteworthy news item is the announced retirement of QV Superintendent Dr. Joseph Clapper. His will be a difficult replacement – by all accounts he has been an excellent leader and administrator, through some difficult projects and situations, right up to the controversy in Leetsdale regarding the purchase of adjacent property for traffic and/or other improvements at the High School. In that instance, the district’s approach to dealing with the residents was fraught with ineffective communication strategies, as well as a lack of transparency. Regardless of the eventual outcome, Dr. Clapper’s impact on QV’s continued performance and reputation has undoubtedly been positive.
As it happens, the agenda for the Board’s monthly legislative meetings includes a summary of the Personnel Committee’s report. This includes personnel activity that requires board approval, including resignations, retirements, and the hiring of new personnel.
The agenda for the meeting of January 28 (the minutes have yet to be posted) showed that the district’s School Resource Officer, Robert Wright, also intends to retire after the end of the school year in June. Asked about the future of that position, Tina Vojtko replied:
…the administration is recommending that the position be filled – pending budget approval in May or June. We hope to fill the position prior to the start of the 2014-15 school year.
I’m working on a more comprehensive post about school safety and security, so I won’t dive into the topic too much here. I hope that whomever seeks, and is ultimately selected for the position has enough of an understanding of the local public safety system (Officer Wright is also a part-time Sewickley officer) to continue the positive aspects of coordination and interaction with local public safety assets.
This doesn’t mean that there isn’t room for improvement. More about that later.
Best wishes to both Dr. Clapper and Officer Wright in their future endeavors.