Two weeks ago I wrote a letter to the editor outlining school board and superintendent transparency concerns. In the district’s response, Dr. Libbie Conner characterized several of my comments as “inaccuracies.” Understanding that, I felt it was important for residents to understand there weren’t inaccuracies and more importantly articulate why the school board and Conner’s response doesn’t even address the concerns outlined in my initial letter.
First, I don’t believe my letter ever indicated that the board and Conner hadn’t taken steps to understand the public’s view on some of issues before the district. In fact, they have made it a priority to ensure the public was engaged in this process. They did this by posting several notices in the papers and on the district website for topics like “One High School or Two” and most recently on the topic of the balanced calendar. As Conner indicated, the district has even presented the results to the public.
Unfortunately, when the school board met to talk about what they actually wanted to do or recommend given all this information on Sept. 7, they chose to behave differently. As I indicated, they decided to do only what was necessary to meet the Indiana Open Door Law minimums. So while Conner indicates it was “properly advertised,” I think this different behavior is an important distinction. So my initial question remains valid – Were you aware of this school board meeting and what they were discussing on Sept. 7? I still assume your response is No. Why was there a different level of desired public input for this important meeting?
Second, my letter voiced concern about the district “rubber stamping” decisions in their public meeting. Again, I agree the district wants public opinion on these topics but my concern is the lack of transparency or public opinion about what the board will do/recommend with this information before they approve it. Conner’s comment that I saw the draft strategic plan at the Community Advisory Committee is accurate. Unfortunately, she omitted some important aspects of this meeting that validate my concerns. She didn’t mention that there was no “advising” during this meeting. The board recommendation was completed and ready for vote. When I asked if the district would post the draft recommendation on the website prior to board’s approval for resident to see, she declined. This is the lack of information, transparency I believe needs to be addressed.
Third, Conner recommended in her response that residents review the agenda/minutes from these sessions on the website to be informed. I encourage you to do just. Unfortunately, I think you’ll find they lack any real substance of information. In fact the strategic plan wasn’t even available to residents until several days after they approved it and the minutes from the July 26 session Conner mentioned aren’t even posted.
My decision to write a letter and be this engaged on this topic wasn’t taken lightly. As a father of kids in the district, a taxpayer and a resident, I’ve asked the board what all of these recommendations in their approved plan will cost. They haven’t provided it. You’ve probably seen estimates for some of initiatives (roughly $36 million) but have you seen the entire recommendation? I realize they may in fact be estimates and many will require additional approvals in the process, but the residents of Noblesville should understand what lies ahead. We should be told what this board’s recommendations could cost taxpayers. It may be frightening given the needs outlined but a good strategic plan includes this information. More importantly, residents deserve answers from the board to questions like: How the board will manage these approved recommendations in light of the operating referendum going away? Are you making spending decisions today that limit our trade-off ability if we have to build a new middle/elementary in three years? Transparency on how/why they made these decisions and their implications are absent. That’s how we hold them accountable and judge how well of a job they are doing. That’s the transparency in decision making I’m asking for. I believe it’s a reasonable request.