Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Now THERE'S a paperweight!

Every School District has a set of policies which are approved by the Board. Every employee of the District must follow the policies, which are based on law, and are further based on a series of sample policies drafted by the professional organization for School Boards. In California, the organization is the California School Boards Association (CSBA).

Double sided, our policy manual takes up three four inch binders (although the last binder is not full).

Since March I have been on the Policy Committee--it is our job to review our policies for accordance with the approved samples. a good portion of our policies were last reviewed in 1989.

Let that sink in for a minute. 1989.

Do you think that maybe some laws have changed?

The Policy Committee decided to take on the task of addressing the largest section of the manual, the section which relates, not surprisingly, to Student policies. (Attendance, Promotion, Discipline, Health Screening, etc. Instruction is the second largest section of the manual.)

I don't have the time to go into a major bitch kitty rant here, but I've been The Only Person to work on this project. So freaking frustrating.

So today, I've printed out all the work I did, and I'm heading down to the Superintendent's office, where we will sort the policies into those we can send directly to the Board, and the ones which need further staff review. I know that every time I open up the files on the computer it is clear that I have done a ton of work. But it's not until you print everything out, every policy reviewed for accordance, every policy edited with strikeouts for deletions and bold for additions, every policy attached to a cover memo detailing the changes, that it all sinks in.

One hour to print, six inches of paper, and I probably have anther ten policies to add in.

No wonder I've been so pissed at the other Board Member on the Policy Committee who keeps saying she'll work from the end of the section and meet me in the middle. Ha!

Oh well. There's an unwritten rule in committee work that whoever does the work dominates the committee. Well, I guess by default that's me.

Anyone have any suggestions for sneaky additions I can throw in, since it's totally clear that I'm the only one who's ever going to read these things before the Board adopts them?

(OK, kidding. Kidding.)

(Kind of.)

Sunday, November 26, 2006

What are we hiding?

Doing some window shopping at equine.com. Not in the market, believe me, but every once in a while I check Arabian prices to see how far the bubble has burst.

Sometimes the ads are just pitiful, like this one for a five year old untrained Stallion with an incomplete pedigree attached.

"Beau" is spunky with Parelli training. Has awesome movements, a quick study and very tolerant to "human error". Selling Ranch - Everything goes. Make us an offer we can't refuse. We may even take payments. $5,000.00

Are they completely insane?

No, probably just desperate. But $5,000.00? Holy cannoli. Offer eight hundred to one thousand and beat the meat market if you're desperate to sell. Also, um, if you're selling him as a breeding prospect, could you make him look a) well built and b) attractive? Forgot to add--his name is Dances with Wind. His brother, also in the clearance bin, is Dances with Thunder. Yeesh.

OK, so those ads are very common, and it's like shooting fish in a barrel to point out all the backyard errors. But then I came across this one. Oy yoi yoi.

Magnum Psyche Daughter
Maggie is truely beautiful, and a dream to live with. She is a push button halter horse with lovely motion and you just cant help but love to look at her. Awesome manners! Sweepstakes entered. Sells in foal to A-Jakarta for a spring 2007 foal.
In the details section of the ad she is listed as in the "Halter champion discipline"--unclear whether that means she could compete for halter championship or if she has already won one. Her sale price (Good God!) is $25,000.00.

I'll show you her pics in a second, but let me explain who Magnum Psyche is and how a horse could be sold on his name alone.

Magnum Psyche made an enormous splash on the show scene in the late nineties--in halter only. He was shown by two brothers who dominated every single show they entered. Magnum Psyche was also famous for having had plastic surgery on his throat, which should have disqualified him from competition, and then coming back into the show ring looking really bizarre. (Well, he looked a little bizarre beforehand too.)

My friend uncharitably, but accurately, describes this pose as the "startled goose look." To me he looks as if he's a plastic toy horse that someone has melted and then streeeetttched along the back and also where the head attaches to the body. Halter Arabians tend to have very straight toplines (between the neck and the tail) and very straight hind legs (Magnum's look OK, but they could be a lot shorter and beefier). His neck is just flat out weird. I'm sorry, but it is. And it contributed to a trend in Arabian breeding which is most unfortunate. I really dislike it.

Oh. By the way. Remember Michael Brown of Katrina fame? This was the horse, and these were the trainers/owners he was brought in to slap around when he was made head of Judges and Stewards for IAHA (International Arabian Horse Association). He was brought in *because* he had no connection to Arabians in the show ring, and he tried to get these owners banned for showing a surgically altered horse. The judges rioted against him, everyone sued the organization and him personally, and then he left, and the IAHA folded. During Brown's tenure, Magnum went to Argentina to show, but apparently he's back to the US. Let's take one more look at Magnum Psyche, just for perversity. This one's from 2003:

Yuck. Seriously, how does he breathe through that tiny throat? Furthermore his ears are minuscule. He's the Michael Jackson of the Arabian show world.

OK, so if you're really into fashionable showing, Magnum Psyche represents an ideal "type". He's known as being "typey."* So, while he's controversial, his get and grand-get are not. EXCEPT, and here's the problem with this scheme, there are a lot of Magnum Psyche children. Can ALL of them win the Nationals in Halter competition? Every year? Something like 300 have competed successfully. And he's still producing. Hmmm. Somewhat resembles a pyramid scheme if you ask me.

So if you go online and search horse ads, you find a lot like dear old Maggie. Remember Maggie? The one I said I'd show you pictures of before I went off on this long-assed tangent?

OK, here's one from the ad taken by a well-known professional photographer (I recognize the signature). She was probably a two year old, still in training at her Daddy's barn. (I hate these head on shots. They make the neck look crazily long and straight, even if they're not. These are not gun dogs or giraffes, people. They are riding horses. I've been brained by the back of a horse's head before. Don't like to be reminded, thanks.) This was probably part of a larger advertising campaign for Midwest Arabians, not a portrait of this mare in particular.

She looks sweet, but I can't tell a damn thing about her as a riding horse, or even as a halter horse. Her chest looks narrow, but if she's quite young, that wouldn't matter. She's up to her knees in flowers, so I can't tell if her legs are straight and clear and whether her cannon bone (lower leg) is thick and short. Also, it's probably a camera angle, but her back leg where the gaskin (upper hind) goes into the hock (back knee) looks like it's at a weird angle. Maybe her toe is pointed out? Anyway, nothing egregious, but I can learn nothing from this photo other than the barn had enough money to hire Sparagowski and that the horse is chestnut.

So. Let's see what other pictures the sellers include. This is where I start laughing:

You have all that lovely fenceline and you set her up UNDER A TREE??? (Thanks for grooming her though. She does look healthy and lovely.) But um, what's going on with her back end?

Her front legs are straight; they look decent where they aren't hidden by flowers. But you've got her "parked out" in this shot, with her hind legs angled behind her rather than under her. When "parked out" the hips drop, which can make the back look as if it dips. Carriage horses "park out" and have a straight topline because they tend to have big butts.** This mare don't have one.

Oh. Look. The seller put another photo in the ad:

You moved her out from the tree shadows and plonked her in a clump of flowers so that I STILL cannot see her hind legs. Um. Guys? Are you hiding something? Because, um, you know, for $25,000 I'd like to see the mare's legs.

She's not a bad looking horse, but she's definitely of a style that I don't like. (Arabian sport horse enthusiasts uncharitably call it the "sausage on toothpicks" body. She doesn't quite deserve that, but her neck in this second pose does not flow smoothly into her shoulders, her shoulder is small and upright, her back is a touch long, and her butt needs to be bigger. Overall, especially with the small shoulder and the poorly angled hind end, she'd be a sewing machine to ride. But I've definitely seen worse.

I just can't get past the idea that for a sale price of $25, 000 the owners could have spent the time to take proper pictures of her. Considering who her father is, and his troubled past, I wouldn't ever put up photos of a dark horse under a tree.

I kind of feel bad for Maggie's owners--they know not what they do, I think. But if they DO know what they are doing, posing her under a tree to lure in someone all bedazzled by the Magnum Psyche name, then a pox upon them.

Anyway, I enjoyed the chuckle just the same. Here's a pic from when she was a baby. Here's a pic where you can't see her entire hind end, and here's another where you can't see her legs. Want to spend a cool 25K on her. Do ya? Huh?


* This mare Namusca, is supposed to be typey too. I'd put her picture up, but it causes legal problems for people who use her image and then point out that she has a deformity known as "monkey jaw". You judge if she's an excellent example of horseflesh and should be used for a breeding program. I wouldn't euthanize her if she showed up, but I'd certainly never advertise her as "one of the most exotic Arabian mares of all time" as Midwest Arabians does.

** Here's a picture of a champion Morgan horse, HVK Radiant Flaire, "parked out".

And here's a picture of a different Morgan, Santa Fe Renegade, also a champion, showing the great big butt that you need to have in order to achieve a level topline if you were to show him "parked out". By the way. He's extra yummy. Check out how every contour flows into the next. Mmm. Check out his site above for some other lovely pics. (And there are Arabians who have this type of conformation--they're just not winning halter classes anymore.)

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Just being a jerk over here. Don't mind me.

Considering that this blog is mostly a place where I come to rant, and then go to check out what cool things my blogging friends are doing, and then retreat back to my computer to do a little writing, I have to make an obnoxious rant today. If you are enjoying Thanksgiving with your families, please go away. You can come back and visit over the weekend when I'm feeling better.

It's 3 in the morning on Thanksgiving Day and I can't sleep. I tried alcohol. Nothing. I watched boring TV and slept on the couch. My grinding teeth woke me up.

I think I can say fairly honestly without fear of repurcussion (What would that be? A band of torch-wielding locals?) that I hate the holiday of Thanksgiving. I get anxious and crabby and dictatorial. And then I'm supposed to invite people into my house to sit around for hours on end, when all I really want to do is be in a dark room all by myself with slice of pumpkin pie and a cup of tea. I'm not a social person, really.

I'd like to blame this all on my family, if I could, and that might make a certain amount of sense, this being a family holiday and all. In fact, my crazy family dealt with Thanksgiving in the craziest of manners. The fact that my mother, my aunt, and my grandmother could never give up control of the holiday to a rival meant that for about ten years we actually celebrated three consecutive Thanksgivings.

Thanksgiving Day was at my grandmother's house, although my mother insisted on bringing the turkey. Then, on Friday, we had a complete repeat of Thanksgiving at our house, and my mom made the turkey. This was ostensibly so that my mom could have turkey leftovers, because she usually had gotten into some big fight with my grandmother late on Thursday evening and had stormed out of the house, dragging us behind her, without taking anything. Somehow, Friday morning, there was another thawed turkey in the oven, along with all the fixings, and by Friday afternoon we were eating another dinner. My mother would compare every dish to the previous night's dinner--her's were always better. (Including the second turkey. Yeah, I dunno. Did she buy it because it was on sale? Had she planned on fighting with Grandma?)

Then on Saturday, we went over to my uncle and aunt's house--usually they celebrated Thanksgiving with her relatives in Connecticut. Saturday was an evening dessert-only affair, but every year both my grandmother and my mother each brought an entire dinner to my uncle's so that he wouldn't have missed anything. Apparently the relatives in Connecticut couldn't equal the turkey-cooking abilities of the Massachusetts relatives.

OK, all that is crazy-making. And it would be convenient to simply blame today's anxiety and discomfort on the certifiably wacko relatives. But really, it's not that. If it were totally up to me, I'd not bother to celebrate Thanksgiving for a few years until I felt the loss, and decided to start it up again. But, having kids, that's just not going to happen.

Thanksgiving is for me the beginning of the holiday weepies.

I used to hate the "Let's be thankful" speech that started the meal, but now I miss it. I'm not sure why all these people are sitting around my table without it. Thanksgiving itself kicks off a season which doesn't really work for me.

It's the beginning of that feeling that I should be doing more celebratory *stuff* (Bake cookies! Write to Santa! Heat Cider!) for my kids so that they will have magical holidays while being angry that it falls to me to do more. It's the beginning of the season of listening to music that is painful to hear. Music I used to enjoy singing but now makes my throat close against the embarrassment of tears. It's the beginning of a season of cold floors and shivering shoulders. It's not the same as winter snows--I'm not making myself out to be a California baby--but stumbling around in a cold kitchen, or eating meals at the table with my feet hovering just above the floor so that the soles don't freeze feels like Thanksgiving to me. It's the beginning of a long anniversary of mourning the deaths of people who used to hug me. It's the beginning of hating that I'm always ruining my holidays by thinking of them. It's the beginning of realizing that I don't know how to celebrate holidays without thinking of them. They're my only role models for loving behavior. It's the beginning of feeling extraordinarily alone.

I don't mind being alone, in fact, I hunger for it a lot of the time, living as I do in the public eye, mostly accompanied by three kids. What I dislike is feeling alone and separate while being forced to be in a group of people with whom I'm supposed to interact. I don't like watching myself from the ceiling.

I don't know where I'm going with all of this. Except that I just needed to say "out loud" somewhere that I really dislike this holiday. I used to like going to Grandma's house to see the relatives, sneak some chocolate from Nana's chocolate box which was ONLY for after dinner, play with the dogs, and watch Wizard of Oz. But that hasn't happened in a long time, decades. And since all of that ended, I've been going along with the parade, but I haven't liked it. Now, I actively hate this holiday. I truly do. And I'm stuck with it for years to come. Ugh.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Happy Turkey Day

Happy Thanksgiving!


I'm trying to remember to enjoy this holiday. But with all the vacuuming it requires I'm slipping towards grumbling.

I'm trying to remember if I've enjoyed this holiday at all since about 1991 or 1992. That excercise got truly depressing, so I gave it up. But it leaves the lurking question: What would make this day work?

Monday, November 20, 2006

SBD--Enjoying the stuff, dammit.

I talk a lot about my kids. They are an intriguing bunch, at least to me. My eldest daughter is what we might call an "old soul". Very, very smart (an A student, well except for that B in P. E.), and very, very articulate.

She hates Sixth Grade English. Hates it.

Oh, how this pains me.

She is stuck in one of those didactic hells we all find ourselves in from time to time; her teacher has a specific way of teaching her class and she will not be flexible in any way.

The textbook with reading samples and discussion questions is NOT to be read during free reading period. Grammar will be taught from pre-approved worksheets, NOT using examples drawn from the sample text. (Therefore my daughter has no clue how to USE any of the grammar she's learned.) After reading the assigned short book at home, the class will, after being called on individually, re-read the entire book aloud. All students will pay attention. Reading for enjoyment or reading ahead is strictly discouraged at all times.

So right now, the class is reading I Know Where the Red Fern Grows, which my daughter finished well before Halloween. Every day she goes to class (it's now mid-November) and listens as her classmates plod through it, paragraph by paragraph, rereading it out loud. She's not allowed to draw while she listens, she's not allowed to take notes while she listens: essentially, she's learning to hate this book.

I'm dying with her.

I LOVED my English classes. OK, I was for the most part blessed with excellent English teachers. But, you know, even I had to do mildly boring things. At one point in Sixth Grade we had to memorize a list of prepositions in alphabetical order. I remember it started with "Aboard, about, above, across..." and then I forget the rest. But that aside, we read some great stuff in Sixth Grade:

Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton (Which I hated until I got to the end. Eww. Freaky.)
"A Rose for Emily" by William Faulkner (Eww. Freaky.)
To Kill a Mockingird by Harper Lee (Which still makes me cry.)
"The Story of an Hour" by Kate Chopin (Which I adore.)
"The Yellow Wallpaper" by Charlotte Perkins Gilman (Which to this day still gives me nightmares.)
The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway (The first of five class readings for this. I never grew to like it.)
"Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?" by Joyce Carol Oates (Devil?)
"The Dead" by James Joyce (which I didn't like at all until I read the entire Dubliners.)
"The A & P" by John Updike (Which I still don't like.)

So here's the thing, some of those I didn't really enjoy, but I learned how to appreciate the art within them. The ones I loved, well, I still love them. And beyond the idea that we have to read only the things that we lurve, I learned how to search for symbols, themes, foreshadowing, unreliable narrators, points of view, details, and controversies. I learned how to compare them, how to write about them, how to build a character sketch from the text, and how to dissect a text to support my point of view. And I did all that well before High School or even college.

I remember LOVING to search for symbols. Oh! A window! What could THAT mean? Oh! A flower! Innocence? Death? Romance? Which is it? And sometimes in my adolescent enthusiasm, I would go way too far, wringing meaning out of every description, trying to turn every scene into some greater allegory. (If Flowers Mean Something, then the vase must mean something, and the table, and the hallway, and the door at the end.) It took a bit of work by my Ninth Grade teacher to convince me to tone it down a touch. But hey, I was engaged. I was excited. I was eager to not only read, but to re-read, and to re-read again, trying to work out the structure of the story, the motive of the narrator.

My daughter's learning how to be a passive reader and how to build a diorama based only on the characters in the book. Oh, there's a good skill to have. Because so diorama-building is so ubiquitous in adult life. Wouldn't want to build up critical thinking skills, or, god forbid, writing skills.

So, this weekend, I started my daughter on a home course of Litera-toor.

I downloaded from the web four short stories: "The Gift of the Magi" by O. Henry, "A Rose for Emily" by William Faulkner, "A Good Man is Hard to Find" by Flannery O'Connor, and "The Story of an Hour" by Kate Chopin.

I wrote out some questions for her: Is there a moral to this story? When did you first suspect that this story wouldn't end the way you anticipated? Who is the narrator? Does the narrator like the characters? Does the author like the characters? Tell me about a theme, or a series of images in the story that you think the author included for some reason.

She read the stories, and we sat together to talk about the questions. I didn't ask her to write anything (yet).

And we genuinely enjoyed ourselves. Shocking, I know. Because, according to the educators, this shouldn't be at all fun. Every drop of enjoyment or discussion should be wrung from young students' minds.

Here are some of my daughter's interpretations:

The heroine in "The Gift of the Magi" is an idiot. She cries and sobs too much. Jim's OK, but he's kind of flat. And the last paragraph is very confusing. We think there's a moral, but O. Henry's writing is so dense at the end that it's hard to get to his meaning.

"A Rose for Emily" is creepy but beautiful. You need to read it about four times to get a sense of what happens when. A time line could help. The scariest line in the story is when Homer is described as being "in the attitude of an embrace." Ew.

"A Good Man is Hard to Find" is funny, but it's disturbing that it's funny. We shouldn't be laughing at the grandmother. The title means a lot of different things, depending on who's saying it.

"The Story of an Hour" is just so sad. The twist is meant to be ironic and show us something about the way men treat women, but really, it's just so sad. Too sad to even talk about even.

There now, that wasn't so hard. I find it hysterical that she has so little patience for Della, the heroine in "The Gift of the Magi." My daughter don't like no sniffling women. And I didn't expect her to be so troubled by "The Story of an Hour."

So we've decided that we're going to do this every week. I'm going to try to pull together ones which link together in some way. I'm thinking of doing angels and devils next. "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?" is an obvious one, and maybe "The Minister's Black Veil", and I'm trying to remember the name of the Mark Twain story about the little boy who breathes life into little mud people and then stomps on them--after all, they're his creations to do with what he will. I'd also like her to read some Ring Lardner, and Guy de Maupassant, and Edgar Allen Poe, and Saki, and everybody else I can think of.

Why are we so dedicated to wringing the life out of books? Why are we so dedicated to believing that a work such as Romeo and Juliet (which I read in Seventh Grade) is only a High School text because it was written by, shhhhhh, silence please, Shakespeare? Why do we do this to kids? Why do we refuse to teach them how to write? Why do we refuse to teach them how to read for context and subtle meanings? It's as if only knowing the plot is good enough.

Why do we teach the good readers, the smart readers, the articulate readers, how to hate reading?

Saturday, November 18, 2006

For Marianne--eduational budgets

Marianne MCA's been asking me some good questions in comments. This one was hard to answer quickly.

...I'm now confused about money. Hadn't thought about it before, but I've no idea how anything is funded in the US. Is there a federal budget for education (is federal even the word I want?), or does each state levy taxes for education, or is the money raised even more locally than that?
It depends. God, I hate that answer.

The Federal Government has various programs that it administers for all schools across the country. Some examples are: providing low cost lunches to needy school children, educating migrant worker children and providing extra reading support to low income children. Those come in under various Title names. (Title II, for example is for education of low-income children.) You apply for the funds based on your district's demographics, and you receive a specific amount of money which you can only spend on that program. Every five years, I think, there's a compliance review. We call those funds "Restricted Funds" because there's no flexibility in how they can be spent. I think about 5% of our budget comes from the Federal Government and all of it is, by definition, Restricted.

Hey, so the next time you hear the president talking about how much he's spending on education, remember how much of THAT goes into a dollars-spent-per-student calculation at the local level. Pennies. Depending on the child, at least in my district, usually nothing. Then there's **shudder** No Child Left Behind, NCLB, which we pronounce "Nickleby".

Each State then collects property taxes or other local taxes (tobacco taxes, and we get lottery money for textbooks). Each state is different in how they divvy it up from there. Some tax revenues are Restricted as well. For example, in California we have an anti-tobacco education tax levied on each pack of cigarettes sold. Educators LOVE acronyms; this is the TUPE (TOO-pee) fund, which stands for Tobacco-Use Prevention Education. If you do a "Healthy Kids Survey" of your student body, and apply for the funding, then you can get money which you can only spend on anti-drug education, anti-bullying education, and I think there's some money in there about violence too. But, again, it's Restricted.

Some states divvy money both through grants (like TUPE) and through general allocations which are made at the District or City level.

California is frustrating in that it is bound by the terms of an equal access lawsuit from 1972, Serrano v. Priest, and by Proposition 13 from 1978. I won't go into the details why, but both of those together place restrictions on the State and on the Counties. Basically, the State pools all the property taxes gathered throughout the state, and then redistributes all the tax revenue to the individual school districts according to a formula calculated in 1972. The formula can only be changed by an act of the legislature. (Which will never happen, not until all the districts throughout the state gang up on San Diego and LosAngeles. Don't hold your breath.) Prop 13 also dictates that no more than a certain percentage of all property taxes can be sent on to schools. We call this group of monies the "Revenue Limit."

Then local donations, like developer's fees or donations from local educational foundations, can overlay the State funds.

To give you an idea of how this works, here are some numbers from our most recent budget report:

Revenue Limit (from property taxes) makes up about 77% of our revenue
Further State Grants make up almost about 13%
Local donations make up about 7%
Federal monies make up 3%

About 28% of those monies are Restricted. 72% is Unrestricted, however, we cannot spend all of that because not all of the Restricted Mandates (laws which we have to follow) have funding attached to them. Hence, the term, "Unfunded Mandate." 72% = about 22 million, but we have to transfer about 4 million of that over to the Restricted side every year to pay for the programs which do not have adequate funding.
So. If you hit a budget crisis, you really only have control over about 70% of the budget, and you cannot increase revenue by raising taxes. In the 1970's my town had no new development and was less than half its current size. We now have 800K to 900K McMansions and our demographics have completely changed, but we are trying to run an excellent program on a 1972 model. The Federal involvement is so slim as to be laughable. Famously, three districts in Connecticut opted out of NCLB and refused to receive any Federal funding rather than spend any of their own money to support an unfunded mandate. This has now led to the entire State suing the Department of Education.

There's lots of other detailed issues involved in the entire topic of education funding, but the take away lesson is that unless you live in New England or New York, New Jersey, Maryland, or parts of Ohio and Pennsylvania, the educational system is essentially spinning its wheels, saying it will do more with less, but consistently refusing to give the local educators the tools or the money they need to educate students.

Did that answer your question, Marianne?

Friday, November 17, 2006

Friday update

More political stuff--although this is ALL GOOD, I swear!

Hold on to that thought, because I'm usually bitching up a storm here about how awful it is to be on the School Board. But not today. (I know. I am amazed as well.)

Here's a quick timeline:

2001: Chief Business Officer retires with a huge retirement bonus approved by the board for his many years of labor.

2002: a new Business Officer (CBO) is hired and discovers that we are $1.1 million in the hole but that without a legally mandated 3% cash reserve, we are in danger of being taken over by the state. Grand Jury investigates but determines that only incompetence led to the error, not embezzlement. The Superintendent announces her retirement at the end of the year.

2002-2003: The Board panics and starts cutting counselors, office staff, and tries to lay off teachers by increasing class sizes. Suisan gets mad.

November 2003: Suisan wins a seat on the School Board, coming in first in the election for two vacant seats. Suisan along with a polished former Vice-Mayor make up the minority. A new Superintendent is hired.

2003-2004: More cuts and dire predictions. We close an elementary school as a budget fix, with no guarantee that it will save us money. A faction of the community starts supporting only the CBO and her dire predictions. Any time the Board asks for details on her assumptions we are yelled at by parents for undermining "the finest woman I know." The CBO starts crying at meetings if her numbers are questioned. Suisan is very disgusted.

During this year, Suisan, Dear Butcher, and a chef-friend of ours start investigating the Cafeteria Fund. It is in deep debt, and the County demands that we transfer $700,000 from the General Fund every year for five years until the debt is paid off. What's the source of the debt? How can the Cafeteria program be more efficient? Can we sell off equipment? Can we renegotiate the amounts of the yearly transfers to spread it out?

2004-2005 More cuts and dire predictions, although we are beginning to slowly grow a reserve, just not enough of one yet. By January of 2005 the Board President, without authority from the balance of the Board, has told the Superintendent three times that the Board is just about to fire her. She gets the hint and announces her retirement. Suisan is quite sad at this development--I enjoyed working with her. Negotiations are so toxic with the teachers that we "go to impasse" which is the stage just before the teachers are legally allowed to go on strike. Goody. What could be better?

January 2005: We discover that the cafeteria operates completely in the black. The debt is only on paper. (long story.) We ask the CBO to ask the County to waive the debt.

April 2005: Crazy assed parents trained in "organizational psychology" host a two day Change Management Conference. What a freaking disaster. (Here's an early clue--all the Assistant Superintendents and Directors were pressured to attend, as were Board Members, the Police and Fire Chief, Councilmembers, and the Mayor, but the Superintendent was specifically not invited. Ummm.) Initially I refused to attend, but later decided I had to attend so that I would at least have a basis from which to criticize the results, if the conference fulfilled my gloomy expectations. Actually, this entire conference could be its own post, so I'll try to cut it short.

And at the end of the conference, our "Shared Values" were posted along one wall of the cafeteria. Not a SINGLE value, not a single one, had ANYTHING to do with education. The highest priority the conference reported out was that there should no longer be any more 3-2 votes on the School Board. Two freaking days worth of work so that the parents could tell me to switch my votes to align with the majority? The ones who were driving negotiations to impasse? The ones who REFUSED to talk about education? The ones who cried at meetings? (Yes, the one next to me started taking lessons from the CBO.) Watch smoke come out of Suisan's ears.

May 2005: The Board President holds an emergency special closed session meeting to say that the Superintendent search process is halfway completed, and that no viable candidates are showing up. Therefore, we need to immediately, tonight, promote the CBO to Superintendent-Elect (there isn't such a position) before she runs off and takes another job as a CBO in another district.

I made the biggest error ever, and agreed to vote for the damned thing. It was stupid, but I also knew that voting against it (3-2) wouldn't stop it. I still kick myself for caving on this one.

June 2005: The County Office of Education informs us that we cannot hire the CBO because she doesn't have a teaching credential--we can vote to waive the teaching credential requirement in open session, and then we have to revote for her appointment in open session, because voting for her in closed session without previously waiving the requirement is illegal. State law allows us to remedy the flaw by acting in open session. Oh goody. So at that time, I had my wits about me and voted against the whole shebang.

Budget of 2005 closes out with about a 1% reserve, but since we are trying to build the reserve, we are confusingly enough pulling money out of our "General Fund" to build up the "Reserve Fund", so we actually end the year with a negative balance overall but a 1% reserve. Yeah, I still don't get it completely. Multi-year projections indicate that by 2006-2007 we will be $2 million in the hole, and by 2007-2008 we will be $5 million in the hole. Parents are screaming bloody murder: We have to cut more! Break the unions! Reduce their benefits!

Spring 2005: The county comes to the School Board meeting to discuss our budget. In their report is their ongoing concern about the cafeteria fund. Turns out that no one has ever explained the source of the debt and that the CBO (now Superintendent) has never requested a renegotiation. She refuses to do so now. (long story.)

Fall of 2005: a School Board election wherein not only is the Former Vice-Mayor overwhelmingly re-elected, but also two other "good folks." We now have a 4-1 majority and the Vice-mayor guy is now the Board President. Things get ugly. We start demanding detailed analysis of the budget--I ask for three months for a report detailing Cafeteria Fund transfers after the Sup asks for a $180,000 transfer *into* cafeteria to pay salaries. (I thought it was operationally solvent. It is, but they need the money. Wha?) I never get the report. I asked four times and the Board President asked three times. Nothing.

2005-2006: Nasty nasty and more nasty. Rumors, investigations, people leaving the District right and left. We find $700,000 in overbudgeting for salaries. We find an additional $1 million in various funds throughout the budget which are transferred to the General Fund. We give all employees a big retroactive raise based on the monies in the General Fund and a larger one based on expected monies coming from the State for 2006-2007. The Sup starts relying on text messages on her cell phone to answer questions during meetings. Parents are still screaming: Don't give raises! Break the unions!

Summer of 2006: The Board buys out the Sup's contract. We discover that she had been on the paper screening committee during the Superintendent's search, and had belittled every candidate to the committee. When we then appointed her, the County actually ran an investigation to determine if she had broken the law through conflict of interest, but they never informed the board about the investigation until AFTER we bought her out. Hey. Thanks guys. A Board member resigns. We hire an elementary school principal to be our interim Superintendent.

Last night: A report on the 2005-2006 budget now that the CBO has closed the books for that year.

  1. We started 2005 with a $1 million positive balance and a 3% reserve. We ended the year with a $4.8 Million positive balance and a 3% reserve. Wha?
  2. CBO adds the cash value of the cafeteria's inventory to its balance, which we should have been doing all along, transfers out the controversial and unnecessary $180,000 transfer, and determines that this fund has an almost $180,000 positive ending balance.
  3. Along with lots of money coming in from the state for this year (the Guvernator wanted to be re-elected), we currently have a 12% reserve and are projected to end the year with about a 13% reserve.
Holy Hell. 3.8 million dollar swing in ONE YEAR? 12 to 13% reserves?

CBO says that at least 3 million of that was in the budget the entire time. She found most of it when she put in the retroactive portion of the raise and found that some funds which were supposed to zero out actually grew. She had to take apart the entire budget line by line and put it back together again to find it all.

I cannot believe I have gone through all of this. Our current CBO won't say so, but she's coming really close to saying that money was intentionally hid throughout the budget. She said last night on TV, "I'm terribly sorry that the District had to go through all of this in the past few years. This shouldn't happen in any District."

Our student board member accused us of defaming the character of the former Sup, when she wasn't here to defend herself. (Well, YEAH.) He left the meeting.

I'm looking back now over everything I've gone through.

I feel sort of numb, actually.

I've got a huge sense of relief that I was on the right side the whole time, that the questions we brought forward were correct. I'm happy that we have hard data in the budget now to support our assertions rather than a persistent sense that I've been lied to again and again.

On the other hand, it's been so damn difficult to ride this wave that I'm not quite sure I know now what to do or what to feel. I think we did have some budget crisis in 2001 or 2002, but if there was $3.8 million in the budget as of 2005, I'm assuming that a lot of the cuts we made in 2003 and 2004 were completely unnecessary. That scares me somewhat. Was it only to break a teacher's union? (Windmills, anyone?) I can't quite get my head around the reason for it, to be honest.

I think I need more coffee.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Thursday Thirteen

Thirteen things I need to do on the School Board

This may be just too damn personal to mean anything, but I've been more and more aware of all the things I want to get done, and how little time I have left to get any of them accomplished.

My term ends next November. If I run for re-election (someone hit me over the head RIGHT NOW!), I need to have some things checked off before I roll out a campaign mid-summer. So this becomes an exercise in determining, "Is this at all reasonable?"

  1. Get the other two hundred (200!) individual Board Policies and Administrative Regulations out of the cycle of review in the Policy Subcommittee so that the Board can approve the entire "Students" section of the policy manual. (Project was slated to take three months. We're coming up on a year.) Main frustration: I'm the one who edited all the policies and compared them to the old policies. I've spent more than 150 hours on this, just on the formatting alone. No one else who is supposed to review them after me will freaking read them. let alone move them out of committee.
  2. Start work on the Board Bylaws. The board has a cohesive majority. Want to change the philosophies of the District? Change the Board Bylaws. The rest of the Board won't discuss them until the Policy Committee (with me as the only working member) brings them sample policies to discuss.
  3. Get a working vocational program, one that leads to actual careers and doesn't only rely upon autobody techniques, at both High Schools. (Turns out the local Building Trades Unions already HAVE an excellent program in four other districts in the County. Hello! Me too! Me too!)
  4. Ensure that the Gifted and Talented Education program (GATE) is actually teaching gifted and talented kids coursework at a gifted and talented level. The program is described as being *integrated* into each child's school day, and each child is supposed to have an Individual Learning Plan (ILP) targeted to that child's unique learning style, interests, and needs. Currently there's a geotracking club after school on Fridays. (Hello! GATE coordinator! The State will take our money away. Hello!)
  5. Hire some IT people who freaking know how to run a computer and know how to maintain a server. You would not believe the stories coming out of the schools regarding our technology department. (We just a modernization construction project at the Middle School, financed by State funds. Each classroom has a new docking station for a teacher's laptop. The docking stations were Board-approved so that each teacher could take all information on the desktop--grades, classwork, etc.--home at night. Technology has no idea how to interface the docking stations with the desktops. The Director of Technology has recommended that teachers simply download all pertinent information from the desktop to to a disk. ::headdesk::) (Hello! State will ask for reimbursement of Bond Moneys if the project is audited! Hello!)
  6. Make sure all homes in Benicia are receiving the public access cable channel. Because some members of the public aren't. ::headdesk::
  7. Investigate transitioning from a half-day Kindergarten to a full-day Kindergarten.
  8. Determine how our students do once they graduate from our system.
  9. Develop a Mission Statement which isn't just gobbledygook.
  10. Develop a Strategic Plan to implement the Mission Statement.
  11. Develop workable Core Values for the District so that everytime a group wants attention or money we aren't all spinning our wheels saying, "I dunno. Is that what this District does?"
  12. Get Something done. Really. Accomplish something tangible other than rehiring people we encouraged to retire three years ago.
  13. Shut down the toxic anonymous website which pretends it's a newspaper but which has not a single reporter, editor, or message board monitor. Currently serves as a "slam site" for the Middle School and a screechfest for adults acting like children.
In regards to 12--here's a sticky wicket:

A number of years ago the Board (not while I was on it, but just prior) made it clear that they were going to cut all sorts of support staff, or at least reduce their hours. Seeing the handwriting on the wall, a number of our excellent longterm staff opted to retire, although they didn't want to leave. They received an early retirement bonus, and the next year some of those positions were eliminated entirely.

So, now we're back on solid ground, and we are reinstating those positions. Those people would like to come out of retirement, but we've already paid into a State-run annuity to cover the bonus.

The State says, "Have the person receiving the bonus pay the State back all of their bonus money before they come back to work." Yeah, but some of those families totally cannot afford that kind of lump sum hit. And the District wants them back, but we can't afford to cover the payback for the large number of employees who wish to return either.

So we're in negotiations with the State. Everything always defaults to negotiations. Long way to get anything done, but hey, it's better than fighting.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Ask Jeeves, excuse me, Reeves: A Series

Some time ago I read two books by Karen Hawkins. They've been sitting on the bedside table since, eh, June? I do like to stay on top of things. Ahem.

The first one is Her Master and Commander. I'll admit straight up that I bought it solely for the cover. It was when I was waiting for Pirates of the Caribbean to come out, and a guy on a ship with a Seinfeld puffy shirt appealed. I still like the cover.

I also got the sequel, Her Officer and Gentleman. Hey, this one's got a nice cover too if you're into highwaymen and dark horses and swashbuckling guys. Know anyone like that?

My daughter actually read Her Master and Commander first, on a road trip to Disneyland with her father. Her father was mucho disturbed by the title by the way.

Oh, an aside about the titles. Um, cute, um, I think. Either cute or Reeeeeeely annoying. I can't tell yet.

The heroes of the two books are brothers, separated early in life, who are the illegitimate sons of a crusty old Earl. (Duke? Don't have the books right in front of me. Sorry.) One ends up as a Naval Officer in the Napoleonic War, one ends up as a Highwayman. As the Earl/Duke lies dying (lays dying?) he decides to leave his estate to the sons, on the condition that his Butler, Reeves, can find them, and on the further condition that they demonstrate polished manners necessary to convince a cabinet of the Earl's cronies that they are worthy of inheriting. Earl dies. Cough.

Turns out Reeves knows exactly where they are and how to smooth their rough edges. (Suisan's starting to get mildly annoyed about the convenience of the plotting here, but agrees to overlook it in the interest of hiding under the covers to avoid her political, legal, and personal troubles which popped up during the summer.) The first book is rather charming. Although the cover has little to do with the story at hand. Naval guy is crippled and is currently housing his loyal and mostly injured crew in a cottage by the sea. His next door neighbor, a fine young lass, ends up being hired by Reeves to tutor the crippled sailor. Not a terrible read, but not great either.

The second book, Her Officer and Gentleman, has very little going for it at all. First, there IS NO OFFICER in the book. For all the movie titles in all of IMDB, why this one? Why? Master and Commander is at least a movie about a Commander of a ship. Karen Hawkin's book doesn't even have a tie-in to the military. This made me slightly nuts.

Reeves is trying hard here to get Highwayman to give up his dangerous life (Her Year of Living Dangerously?) so that he can be properly groomed for the succession. And uh, that's about it. Reeves talks a lot about a bright pink waistcoat he'd like to get his black-clad hero into, and there's a girl involved. I'm not trying to be facetious, but really, that's all that I remember from the book. Other than being annoyed at the cover (no nighttime raids without shirts) and at the title.

So, um, I think the lesson here is that when you go out of your way to buy books for reasons other than really wanting to read the stories within the books you don't end up all that satisfied at the end of the day. Essentially I bought these because they were a series and because I liked the cover of the first book. (I think Amazon recommended the first title to me--not sure I would have known it existed otherwise.)

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

New Look, New Issues

So I switched to Blogger Beta, and now all my previously identified anonymous posts just show up as "Anonymous". Damn, that's annoying. Most of Meljean's witty commentary is now uncredited. Drat.

Those of you w/o google or blogger accounts I think have to use the "Other" option to get your name on the comment.

Oh Damn. I think this means that I've lost any proof that at one time Laura Kinsale showed up, commented, and signed her name. My brush with fame! Sobbing.

Monday, November 13, 2006

An Epilogue

I just discovered an epilogue to a story from my husband's and my real life. I don't usually like epilogues.

Dear Butcher and I met in the circus. He was working Ring Crew; I was working for the circus's company equestrienne. She hated the Ring Crew, and they equally despised her, but that's another story for another day.

Generally circuses have about four main crews, but some larger circuses have more. Tent Crew is in charge of the tent. House Crew is in charge of the "House", i.e., ticket sales, hiring of daily ushers, crowd control during the performance. Ring Crew (or Prop Crew) is in charge of the condition of the ring and all performer's props. And the Butchers sell you popcorn and balloons out front. (Then there's Clown Alley, electricians, maintenance, sound, band, Front Office, and a few other sundry groups. But none of these are as important as the four crews.)

Ring Crew are the guys you see during the show who tear down the trapeze, roll in the carpet, roll out the carpet, and roll in the elephant tubs. Mud Shows have them in Blue Overalls; European shows tend to put them in some sort of mild costume.

The aerialists in particular go out of their way to keep the Ring Crew happy. Dear Butcher particularly liked one flyer: Pedro Reis. Here's a REALLY blurry shot of him. It's obviously not that great a picture, but it does demonstrate how incredibly built he was and how very low he liked to wear his pants. Not at all full of himself. Gracious backstage, although I remember he didn't like horses much. Every show I'd stand backstage holding four horses lined up against the side wall, and Pedro would warm up right next to me by doing pull-ups between two sidepoles.

Completely effortless grace. Uuuup. Dooown. Uuuup. Dooown. Smooth and quiet. While he bobbed slowly, Pedro and I would chat about circus gossip. He was from South America, and at that time, the Berlin Wall was coming down. We talked a lot about how little Americans understand of the larger world and a lot about the weather. He thought New York was cold.

His act was the "Cloud Swing". Essentially it's a fireman's hose (sorta) stuffed with cotton, attached at both ends to the top of the tent. You can do a stationary trapeze act on it, either seated or standing, but because it's so flexible, you can wrap it around your legs or arms as well. Pedro had dramatic mounts and dismounts. To begin, Pedro would stand in the ring, arms straight out to his sides, and grab two flat ropes suspended from the larger Cloud Swing. Wrapping the ropes around his biceps, he would bend over and flip forwards. Arms outstretched in an Iron Cross, he would flip himself over and over again, wrapping the ropes ever tighter as he twirled himself up over the crowd's head to the Cloud Swing itself. It was beautiful.

Once he was up there, the music kicked in, and he swung back and forth across the width of the tent, sometimes standing, sometimes hanging from his knees, at one point pretending to fall off but getting caught up in the web by his ankle just in time. Because the tent was so small, the entire act was unnetted. (If you net, the net has to have room to go down to break the fall of the performer. In this case the net would have been no more than a foot above the audience's heads and would have been useless.) It gave the whole act that much more sparkle and verve.

Dear Butcher and Pedro worked well together. Dear Butcher was in charge of the final cue for Pedro's act--his dismount. While the spots were on Pedro, the Ring Crew set up a vertical rope on the other side of the ring. It looked as if were simply hanging, but it was actually tightly attached to bungees set up through pulleys. At the close of the act, the ringmaster would call for silence, the music would stop, and the house lights would come up slightly. Slowly, Pedro would swing back and forth a few times, gather his courage, and then leap across the width of the ring, like a silver Superman without a cape flying free for almost thrity feet, and grab the rope, a dismount web. Holding the web, Pedro would quickly plummet to the sandy ring, where he would step off with a flourish and a "style". (A "Style" is that pose you strike with one hand on your hip and one arm in the air, grinnng at the crowd.) When he let go of the dismount web, it would often go kasproinging up into the upper reaches of the tent. I had to watch the act a few times before I realized that the thing was rigged slow him down.

A few weeks before I left the circus, a redneck born-circus roustabout showed up. No one liked him, but his father was the cook. He refused to work under anyone but the Ring Crew Chief, a job Dear Butcher was up for, and made it clear that when the current Ring Crew Chief was promoted, that he had been ordained byt the Lot Boss to take his place. Dear Butcher was furious, but then, everyone was angry about something on the lot. Right after I left, Dear Butcher left. Pedro tried to "tip him out", but Dear Butcher avoided him on his last day. He didn't want Pedro's money.

We heard later that summer that Pedro's career had ended. I don't know if the band played Stars and Stripes Forever, which they are supposed to do in disaster, or if everyone just went still in quiet shock. During an afternoon performance Pedro leapt off his Cloud Swing and grabbed the dismount web. It wasn't attached to anything. Someone had missed the cue.

With no brakes he just kept soaring out ever farther from the ring, plummeting at speed. The House Crew did their job of standing up between the seats to bat him away from the crowd. He tried to land in the ring. He tried hard to land standing. But when he did, he broke one leg and ankle, and pulverized the other ankle, pushing the shin up into the knee.

He might walk again, but certainly, he'd never work again. Ultimately, he had to have his ankles fused, and since you can't walk comfortably on pointed toes, they were fused in a square position. Dear Butcher was horrified. And felt terribly guilty. I left the circus for a terrible reason: to nurse my aunt as she died. After we left, we both suffered for it.

With a whisper to the insurance company, Pedro could have shut down the circus forever. Instead, he and the circus did what all circuses do--arranged an enormous payout which covered not only every medical cost he could ever hope to have, but also provided for his living in Sarasota, Florida. (Sarasota is steeped in circus families and tradition--it's the traditional home of Ringling Brothers.) I further heard that his girlfriend, the beautiful Dolly Jacobs, Queen of the Air, mistress of the Roman Rings, was taking care of him on the off seasons. At least he didn't die. And at least he had someone to take care of him.

I just discovered the epilogue to this story.

In 1994, Pedro and Dolly performed a pas de deux, On Wings of Love. In 1997 Pedro and Dollly started their own one ring circus, Circus Sarasota. That very blurry picture above is from the homepage of Circus Sarasota.

Pedro not only went on to perform again, with his devoted partner, but together they went on to start an entire circus. The whole website reads as I remember Pedro. There's a dedication to the larger community by way of nursing home visits. There's his pride of becoming an American citizen. There's a sense of class in it all. And not a single word regarding his accident or recovery. I'm so glad to know the epilogue.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

By Laurie Wren


My daughter now has two frogs.

Osiris and Maat.

My daughter is head over heels in love with her frogs.

Dear Butcher? Not so much.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

She's eleven

I'm in awe that my sixth grader drew this. It's a full character sketch, complete with detail layouts of the back of the hairstyle, closeups of the fold of the belt/skirt. She drew it on tracing paper, so small folds on the shirt for exmaple are quite blurry in this scan, but yee gods. How can she possibly be related to me?

And a question: does anyone have any recommendations for an Art History textbook which isn't too overwhelming? I'm trying very hard to something for her which would help explain how trends and movements developed one from another.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

OK, I know it's spam, but what is it selling?

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Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Why you need to vote

I should have posted this yesterday, but Angie mentioned that she felt guilty for having voted when she wasn't as informed as she thought she should have been. Here's the thing: if you're unsure, you still should vote. And I'll expalin why.

I don't have the statistics at hand, but campaign managers and consultants spend hours crunching the numbers--it's what they get paid for. And I've heard this from a variety of sources to know that this strategy DOES have an effect. For the most part, it relates to measures, bonds, taxes, and propositions, but there's a mild effect on individual candidates too. For Yes vs. No ballot measures, which need a certain percentage to pass, campaigns often try to influence voters who are unsure on any measure not to cast a vote at all. Let me explain why that helps a measure pass, and then explain why it trickles over to candidates.

Assume you are campaigning for a measure, one which needs a simple majority to pass (50% of the vote plus one vote). Assume that you've got a good group of volunteers who are going to vote yes for it. Assume though that it looks as if the measure might not quite make it to the simple majority. One very slimy tactic is to get your Get Out the Vote callers to push the Yes voters to get to the polls, to essentially hang up on any vociferous No voters, and then, for the undecideds who really don't seem as if they are going to vote for the measure, you ask them simply not to vote at all on the measure.

"Please, Mr. Smith. Please go to the polls and vote. However, if you feel as if you still do not have enough information on any item, it may be better if you would simply withold your vote. I'm not calling you to change your mind on any item. I'm simply encouraging you to vote."

Here's the theory: If 100 people vote NO on a measure, then the pro-side needs to get 101 people to vote YES. Most people who do not understand the implications of any ballot mesure will default to voting against it. So if you can knock out a few "I'm undecided so I'm going to vote NO" votes, then your 101 dedicated YES voters have a greater chance of swinging the election in a smaller pool of voters.

Personally, I don't like this tactic, and whenever I've set up GOTV banks, I've specifically requested that callers don't do this. There's a former friend in town who disagrees with me. I found out last year that he had called the GOTV volunteers the night before I was to train them to ask them to encourage people not to vote.

OK, so this also trickles over into indivdual candidate races. You can't really vote against a single candidate, especially when there are four others on the ballot. However, a YES vote is an active decision. People who take action are generally decided. So if you vote for a candidate, generally, but not always, you were ready to go to the polls and support your guy.

If undecideds stay away, then the races default to which ever campaign is better organized to get their voters to the polls. It has nothing, absolutely NOTHING, to do with platforms, ideas, or priorities. The entire race simply comes down to who has more money and who has better organized volutneers. I've worked with campaign managers, I've run a campaign, and I respect these individuals. However, I don't think that who sits in the lawmaker's chair should be decided entirely by them. Because a lot of them are stubborn pricks as well.

So. To sum up. If you vote YES on an item, in general you are an active, decided voter. People who feel less informed on any topic generally vote against it. (I do that on the School Board too--it's the safer route in the long run.) Since the voting majority in most minor elections are undecided, the people who would like to get any particular measure passed hope and pray that the undecideds stay away.

If you stay away from the polls, then there's a much, much smaller group of people actually voting. The smaller the group, the easier it is to influence, and the more likely it is that they are either rabid "pinko commie lefties" or rabid "redstate wignuts". The extremes should not decide who gets into office. Just go vote. It will be OK.

First Tuesday in November!!

Go vote.

If you haven't voted yet, do it now. (If you're in America.)

In California we had a two page double sided ballot. And, because of ongoing concerns about our voting systems, we had to fill in the little bubble with the special black pen. Took fricking forever. Better overall than the punchcard thingies which never lined up properly and led to torn ballots and Dum da Dum Dum: hanging chads.

But anyways, I voted.

I have my sticker, right here on my shirt which says, "I voted!" (My kindergartner wore one to school today too. Awww.)

I miss the voting booth machines from my childhood in Massachusetts. Walk into the booth, pull the lever to swish the curtain closed behind you. flip the little tabs and then crank that big lever to VOTE. So active. Flipping all those little levers made it seem as if I were preparing a brown muslin spaceship to take off from the basement of the Union Church. It was great and mysterious and archaic.

Somehow filling in the little bubble with the little felt tip pen on the slick blue plastic table just doesn't feel quite right. Like maybe I only pretended to vote?

I dunno.

Whatever else there is rumbling around in my head, do this one thing for me. Vote.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Jiggedty jog, bloggedty blog

Every once in a while I try to figure out what in the heck I'm doing on Blogger. I'm not talking about shifting to Wordpress, because at somepoint I know I'm going to end up doing that. I mean to say, why in the world do I have a blog to begin with?

I was reading Smart Bitches today. Go read the article, but not the comments. I want to comment on the comment I made. (Too many layers--gack.)

OK, you back?

Here's my comment:
I’m finding it ever so ironic that most of these discussions about what one should or should not have said come down to an underlying critique of how professional the original commentor (commentator?) was behaving. There’s a lot of verbiage about how we should all act and what lessons can be learned from watching someone else act rashly.

Ummm. But all the comments regarding professional etiquette are showing up on blogs. As a writer of a blog, I’m having some trouble digesting that.

First, at some point every person has acted less professionally than they should. There’s always a more tactful or, conversely, a more open way of presenting an issue. There’s always one more opportunity to resist the pull of gossip. The effectiveness of pulling out these examples is getting diluted. Because, really, how many times do we all need another reminder that perhaps we could be “nicer”? Even La Nora commented that the internet is a tool which requires some finesse; I believe she mentioned some scars she still bears, although she was kind enough not to show us the scars in question.

Second, why are the critiques of professional behavior given any weight whatsoever when they appear on a blog? Unless that blog is dedicated to professional ethics, managerial techniques, or business management tools, then no blogger has the ability to point fingers about another’s professionalism. And I say that as a blogger.

Because really, blogs are a newer form of gossip around the water cooler. In some cases, such as on this site, the discourse is intelligent, varied, and respectful. But really the whole blog “movement” is an exercise in *personal* opinions, reactions, stories, and ideas. Sometimes friends show up in a time of crisis and offer suport and conversation. Sometimes strangers gather on streetcorners to bitch about politics. Sometimes watercoolers attract office gossip.

But not a simgle bit of that is professional behavior. None of it. And I enjoy it greatly.

In my professional life, I modulate my tone very carefully. I appear on TV with a certain look, a certain affect. When I walk into a colleague’s office, I’ll often announce, “I’m here as a Board member” or “I’m here as a parent” just so that the other person can tell what level of dialogue we’re going to engage in. I consider it professional courtesy to do so. But on my blog, it’s personal.

At AAR, I expect something in the middle--it was a pretty open-ended question after all. And I don’t consider AAR to be a professional publishing or industry website. If it were, there wouldn’t even be an “At the Back Fence” column with a linked discussion board for public comment. What professional organization would go out of its way to stir up topics of discussion and invite the public to weigh in on an unmoderated message board? Hello. Unprofessional. Therefore casual, and therefore I’m not understanding the complaint that Ms. Stuart was being unprofessional to begin with.

All in all, I’m left shaking my head over a reaction to an internet posting on a blog, where the blogger decries that the original poster was acting unprofessionally. By the very virtue that you are blogging about it, are you not also acting unprofessionally?

I think we all need to get over ourselves. People do and say odd things occasionally, and they all have differing opinions. Singling them out to answer for their actions on blogs is a touch immature.

And after that huge reaction, I’ll close by saying that I thought Ms. Stuart’s comment was just as appropriate to the interview as the rest of her answers. “Favorite type of man"--I’d never answer that question if a newspaper asked me, but I’d hop right to it if AAR had occasion to.

(Note to self--figure out a way to write a post which is four sentences or less. Really.)

In politics, I genuinely enjoy conversation. Some frustrations aside, I enjoy negotiations too, because it is only in negotiations where I get a sense of what is deeply important to the unions. What I thought was going to be a big issue isn't mentioned, and that's FACSINATING to me. I enjoy hearing from people on the "other" side about what they'd like to see get done. Because then I can understand where their priorities are.

And I hear from time to time from folks on the "other" side that they are genuinely surprised to find me so willing to engage in conversation with them. (Then I hear from idiots on "my" side that I shouldn't be talking to them. Ugh.)

OK, all that works. I love that part.

What I hate, is the personalization of pointing out differences.

I'm seeing this over and over again. People are constantly misinterpreting the intended audience for various comments. There is a specific difference in talking about a topic on a blog, or in an informal interview, than there is in discussing a topic for a professional audience, or in a prepared statement to the press.

Different diction is used, and differences in tone and behavior are completely appropriate. How is it that we refuse to understand that, as a larger community?

I recently got into a bit of a shouting match (bad Suisan) with a parent on the Kindergarten playground. She had addressed the board the prior evening, and I was nothing but repsectful, and therefore silent. When she tried to buttonhole me the next day, I told her, "If you want to do this right now on the playground, this is going to be a very different conversation." And she honestly could not see the difference. It baffles me. At one point she told me that she was upset that I was responding to her. So I said, "When you bring an issue up on the playground, it's a different attitude than when you bring it up at a Board meeting. I'm more candid here. Portions of this are "off the record" so to speak. At the Board meeting, the entire Board has the responsibility to behave in a certain manner."

She totally didn't get it.

Do we all think that bloggers are this freewheeling in everyday conversations about every significant detail in their lives? Do we not understand that blogging and internet conversations are more casual and emotional than professional discourse?

Why is that so hard to grasp? Is it because we've lost the ability to separate the tone from every bit of written word, i.e., if it's written then it must be accurate and more valid than the spoken word?

Friday, November 03, 2006


Thumbsuckers unite.

I feel so much better now after a long meeting with my thumb: MMnnnMMnnhMnnn. MMnnnMMnnhMnnn.

No more posts about how very angry I am. Because, you see, I'm not.

I got my package from MEGAN today!!!

Pride and Prejudice! Collector's Edition! Companion Book! Goddam, could not have come at a better time. No more thumb sucking needed. Just a bit of this:

Angry Angry Angry



I'm angry at the newspapers.

I'm angry at my parents.

I'm angry at my house.

I'm angry at the mouse.

(Actually, I'm not, but the Dr. Suess who lives in my head made me write the last line.)

So, in the interests in getting back to, hello, books, I've got to get these out on the blog. I'm not angry at these. In fact, I've read them to soothe myself and for the most part it's worked. No reviews, because, that would take frickin' forever, but know that I enjoyed them all.

The Virgin and The Unicorn by Joan Smith (Skimmed kind of, but really liked)

Aunt Sophie's Diamonds by Joan Smith (Loved it!!)

The Golden Feather by Amanda McCabe (Fun!)

The Lady Midnight by Amanda McCabe (Good hero. Think I would have liked it better as a shorter Traditional Regency format. Not sure exactly why.)

Scandal in Venice by Amanda McCabe (Suffered from being the last of three books by the same author all read in a row. I think it's good though.)

Lord Dearborn's Apprentice by Laurie Bishop (Fun!! Lord Ryburn was the high-in-the-instep hero that I do enjoy. Although, really, I think he could have been a touch snootier.)

When Horses Fly by Laurie Bishop (Great beginning. Young lady comes to country house to serve as companion to elderly gentleman. When she arrives, discovers that elderly gentleman is an ass and has decided to marry her to piss off the relatives. But the total book was not really that engaging somehow?)

My Lady Gamester by Cara King (Loved this book--should do a longer review. When I calm down a touch, perhaps.)

Lady Dearing's Masquerade by Elena Greene (Fun!!)

Dreaming of You by Lisa Kleypas (hiding it down here where Kriste won't find me. Don't hurt me Kristie, puweese. But I didn't, cringe, like it. Oh, she's going to come pound on my head, I know she is. But see, I've only read Devil in Winter by Kleypas at this point, and, well, I liked Sebastian better. Derek was too over the top for me. Kiss kiss, Kristie? Come play pirates? We can even watch Scarlet Pimpernel together. I'm sure now I've devastated her.)

There are about three others that I've read recently too. Been on an insane binge of alternately roaming around the house arguing with people in my head and then diving into a book, refusing to come up for air. The books are all scattered about the house, but I'm sure there were more.

Oh, I remember one, Much Obliged by Jessica Benson. Very much enjoyed Lord Stanhope's Proposal. This one did nothing for me, but my daughter liked it a lot.

More lists later when I've finished tidying (I refuse to call it cleaning any more) the bedroom.

Update on the newspaper article

OK, I really should never vent here again about how stressful this School Board thing is. Because I always go off about three hours too soon.

What I found out yesterday: the articles in the papers, the parent upset, the papers' securing "freedom on information act" access to the police report; all of that was one big hit job.

All this angst, all the drama, it's been totally orchestrated by two, count that, TWO people in the community.

One is our most recently resigned former Superintendent, who called the present Interim Superintendent to complain about the way the "hit list" issue was handled. And the other is our most recently resigned former Board Member, who accused us all of malfeasance on her way out the door. She also called the current Interim Superintendent to complain that she didn't know anything about a "hit list." (Neither did anyone else, silly woman. Only the people who were targeted by the "hit list" were contacted by police as part of their investigation. The police ASKED US not to imform the larger community until they had finished the first phase of the investigation.)

So, how many upset parents called the high school after the presence of the "hit list" was leaked to the anonymous message board? One. The former School Board member.

How many upset parents called the Superintendent concerned about their children's safety afer the presence of the "hit list" was leaked to the anonymous message board? Two. The former school board member and the former Superintendent.

Where did they get the information that there was a "hit list"? From the wife of one of the policemen investigating the case.

Why did the newspapers run articles about this issue? Because the former school board member called the papers to indict a sitting school board member, indicating that the police report said that she was uncooperative.

There's no wide scale parent upset--two people.

There's no ongoing threat--we have plainsclothes policemen on site just to make sure.

There's no refusal to cooperate--the school board member's daughter was a TARGET of the alleged "hit list", and the parent asked that all interviews of her minor daughter be conducted at her home with her parents present.

I fucking hate politics.

This morning when I dropped my kindergartner off I was surrounded by panicked parents who have read the paper and who want to know why they aren't told about "incidents" at the High School.

I didn't say this, but I wanted to say, "Because, you fucking morons, there are incidents at your High School every week. There are incidents at every High School in this country every day. Not every incident is worthy of reporting. It panics people to have their emergency dialer go off every day--we'd lke to reserve that for an actual emergency."

You want to know every time a student bangs another student into a locker? Because we call the police on those, and they investigate it. You want to know every time a normally active and bright student has a psychotic episode in the parking lot because of drug interactions? Because we call the crisis manager out to investigate and offer counseling for those too. You want to know every time there's grafitti which mimics but isn't actually gang signals? Because we call the crisis manager and the police out to investigate those too.

The most recent gun on campus incident in California resulted in every child in the school calling their parents on cell phones. The police, including the district coordinator responsible for communicating with crisis teams, SWAT teams, ambulances, and cops, could not reach the scene. The district coordinator had to park, get this, Two Miles Away. All the parents had parked in front of the school. No room for police.

So, to sum up. We had a possible crisis, and we asked the police to investigate.

Turns out that the "hit list" may not even have been current, and it certainly wasn't valid. However, a wife of an Investigating Officer (God, that makes me mad) told her buddy over coffee that a sitting school board member was making extra demands of the police. So to stick it to the sitting board member, to make her out to be a meddlesome witch, the whole thing is sent to the papers to demonstrate how upet the entire community is.

What bullshit.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

A meditative exercise

What if we lived in a world with no hypothetical questions?

Discuss amongst yourselves.

Don't you just love High School?

Bowling for Soup has that great song now, "High School Never Ends."

I'm so there right now.

edited to add: I oculdn't stand the way this video was on auto play, so here's link to "High School Never" ends instead.

I've got a bunch of gossipy parents right now who are convinced that they NEED to know everything about certain kids in the District.

I got a call from a parent who heard from a parent in church who heard from another parent who heard from another parent who volunteers in the Middle School about a girl who's in a Special Education isolation class. The parents have discussed this girl amongst themselves and they have decided that she's too violent to be on campus (in a separate building, in an "pull-out" room, with a dedicated aide). The parents have decided that she should be bused elsewhere. And the parents want the School Board to change her Special Education Placement. (I'm not sure they know this, but the closest placement is almost two hours away--that's four extra hours on a bus every day.)

Umm. NO! Not your call boys and girls. And how the hell do all you church biddies know about the details of her educational placement? Pissed me off enough that I made a comment at a Board Meeting about how we must, at all times, remind ourselves to protect the confidentiality of all of our students. And I asked the Superintendent to please make sure that the parent volunteers were well trained on this. She and the rest of the senior staff were properly horrified.

The Next Day, the very next day, I got an email from a staff member at the High School, which was obviously meant to go out only to a select group of High School teachers, listing the names of every single Special Ed student on campus along with their assigned case worker. I emailed her and the Superintendent saying that clearly I was not supposed to be on this list, to please check the masthead list for accuracy, and to remove my name. Simple error, but for it to happen on the next day was a bit much. Who else receives these sorts of emails in error?

(Staff member responded to me that she would "have Technology look into the issue." Three weeks later I'm still getting the emails by the way. Fucking hit the delete key in the address book! Jaysus.)

And now the latest bit of High School gossip.

A few weeks ago the Board heard from the Superintendent that a student had found a "hit list" on a school computer and that the police were jointly investigating the matter with the site administration. After an investigation, the police determined that the child who found the list did not write it, and that it was not a credible threat. They have left the investigation open so that if more information comes in, they can continue investigating. In the meantime, the administration is continuining to pursue leads. Furthermore, we're offering counseling referrals to the finder of the list and to his friends and family.

Last week someone posted anonymously to a website that there had been a bomb threat, that the administration had refused to react to the threat (the campus was not evacuated), and that a board member's child had been questioned by the police. Since a board member's child was involved, the poster went on to say, then the adminsitration was endangering the community by refusing to notify the public and evacuate the campus.

Hello. Not a Bomb threat. Hello? Serious problem, obviously, but not a bomb threat.

Things just got worse from there.

The local rag published an article quoting the anonymous poster. Oh THERE'S a fine bit of journalism for you. And today the larger real newspaper wrote an article about the hit list as well. (They had filed a freedom of information request to the police who gave them a heavily redacted five page report saying that essentially they had investigated every lead but didn't feel that the threat was either current, credible, or anything other than a sick joke.) The police chief says in the article:

"We're especially sensitive to the climate in schools today....At no point did the [City] Police Department not take this seriously and not get involved."

But here's why I'm so steamed. The article went on to quote a town busybody who volunteers in the District with high risk students and who should fucking KNOW BETTER that the parents are upset and that the "author should come forward and explain why the note was written."

Fuck no.

This is why student matters are kept confidential, you idiot. You want to turn this child into a pariah? (Assuming we can ever figure out who it is.) You want this tight assed community to tar and feather his/her family?

Dear Butcher says this controversy shows that there's not much controversy going on in the District, and that the people who hate the current board are grasping at straws to whip up an issue where there isn't one. I kind of agree.

On the other hand, I'm really upset that in order to prove a point about how much a very small minority does not like the current Board, it is ready to drag a child's psychiatric history or behavior into the newspapers. And the idea that a school board member would in any way hinder an investigation is simply sick. Check out this bit of slime from the article:

The [anonymous] online posting said that "one student, who claims to know who made the threats, is refusing to cooperate with the police. She is supported by her parents, one of whom is a school board member."

School board member [Blank] said that police questioned her daughter, a BHS student, as a potential victim because she shares the same nickname as one of the names in the note. However, [Blank] insisted that her daughter does not know who wrote the note.

[Police chief X] said police believe "one student knows who (the author) was" but that student is not saying.

Interesting bit of juxtaposition, eh? I really hate newspapers these days.

I'm so done with this "serving the community" crap. I sincerely just want to go throw up.


Of course, what gets lost in all of this stupidity is that in the three years I've been on the board (Jesus from Jesus Christ Superstar: "Tried for three years/ Seems like thirty/ Could you ask as much/ From any other man?"), we've gone from being 1 million dollars in the hole to having a balanced budget with an EXTRA 12% reserve. Just this year we've brought back smaller class sizes to the ninth grade English and Math classes, our test scores have gone up, we've increased the numbers of hours secretaries are paid at the school sites, we've hired a Curriculum Director and started District-wide meetings on revamping Art, Music, Math, PE, and Fine Arts, etc., etc., etc. We've reduced our legal fees, renegotiated our insurance premiums, given all our employees a cumulative 10% raise, etc., etc., etc.

It's hard to make people happy. Just like High School cliques all over again.

Gawd. I've got a School Board meeting tonight. I could simply die. (Is that a threat?)