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Saturday, February 5, 2011

Contrary Opinions

Recent votes by the Rock Hill School Board have produced some opinions differing with the board's vote.  I've gotten phone calls and emails to that fact - and while I agree with some of their main points, I still come to a different conclusion.

  • The board did not vote to spend money on a conference, as was reported in the newspaper. The board voted to allow board members to attend the conference which is in Charlotte - per board policy (Policy BID - Board Member Compensation and Expenses -  The board must approve any travel outside the state at least 60 days in advance, or as soon as possible when reservations must be made.). Now, I agree with the comments that we shouldn't be spending money like this when we are taking money out of the classroom - however - I think  if there are board members who believe they will do their job better by going to the conference, then they should be able to attend. As to the district sending staff to the conference - this was not up for board vote and comes under duties of the Superintendent. Certainly we can micro-manage every detail of the district - and some who have contacted me want just that. Well, it is just not efficient  to spend time micromanaging every 0.008% of the budget, and, it dilutes the board's role in holding the Superintendent accountable for district performance.  We spent a lot of time talking about Professional Development when the budget was being developed - and were led to believe money from the general fund would not be used. You can rightfully argue this  should have been part of the discussion at the board meeting - that discussion is shown below.
  • The second issue involves the hiring of an energy manager. Most who contacted me either believe there should already be someone on staff who can do this or the energy savings cannot be quantified. If someone is on staff who is qualified, I hope they will apply for the job - that option is still available. We can then decide if the position they are leaving needs to be filled. And yes, we should have been doing something on this years ago - but that is no reason to be against starting now. And - there is difficulty in justifying the savings because weather changes drive  variations in energy usage. But there are tools for making adjustments for this and there are big savings in  maintaining efficiencies - which our many campuses actually make easier to do. It will be up to the board to make sure there are periodic reports on this progress.
Response from the Superintendent as a result comments received:

Responses by Supt. Lynn Moody to Recent Controversies in Rock Hill Schools
February 4, 2011
Q: Should school board members and/or the district administration attend a national conference in Charlotte?
A: No one from our district will attend the Key Leaders Conference in Charlotte.
Comments: I appreciate the Board's support and willingness to look for ways to improve even during difficult economic times. After our dialogue at the Jan. 24 board meeting, I have given additional consideration to the Key Leaders Conference and believe that a better suggestion would be to have key teacher leaders develop a plan for how the district can share the "school story" with the community. I believe it is their voice that people want to hear, so I have met with three teacher leaders (District TY's) and listened to their ideas. They have agreed to assist in this effort through a series of meetings on their own time after school to develop a plan.
      However, I contend that I am still committed to growing professionally and finding ways to improve. A number of teachers and administrators will be attending conferences and sharing what they've learned that will benefit our district. We also have federal funds that are earmarked only for professional development which we plan to use.
Q: Should the district employ an individual to work with schools and offices to achieve additional energy conservation savings of $500,000 annually?
A: At the recommendation of the district administration, the school board did approve this position on Jan. 24, but it will be reviewed in a year in terms of cost-savings.
Comments: Two independent reviews on how we run our campus buildings within the last year by nationally known school management experts have both concluded that there are still significant opportunities to reduce wasted electricity, natural gas and water consumption. Charges for these utilities total up to the second largest budget expense we have. The budget line for teacher salaries is number one, and that is what we are trying to save with our new Energy Conservation Management Program. 
     Our past efforts at energy management were aimed at efficiency—upgrading old heating and air conditioning equipment, lights and plumbing fixtures in most of our schools. Over 90 percent of our annual savings from these “retrofits” goes to pay back the cost of the new equipment, and we will have to continue this “payback” schedule for at least 10 more years.  We need more savings now, however, to keep us from having to cut other programs. We need to keep our cash in the classroom where it belongs.
     The conclusion of both independent management experts was that these “deeper” savings should come from conservation—how we as people use and manage the energy we consume every day. It is much more than just writing a memo that says “Turn out the lights when you leave.” As listed in one report, it includes:
=Establishing and implementing a comprehensive energy policy with procedures (we don't yet have such); =Using a utility accounting and energy management information system so we can measure, track and analyze  over 300 power, gas and water bills each month and spot wasted use and costs better than we do now;
=Working with our utility providers to ensure we have the best rates, most consistent and most efficient service  possible, including managing our electrical demand (we don’t do this now);
=Setting up and managing a systematic, people-focused program which:
    Constantly trains teachers, administrators, office staff, cafeteria, coaches, custodians and other staff on the  latest conservation techniques;
    Continuously identifies and resolves problems before they occur to make our buildings more comfortable  and efficient;
    Consistently communicates to administrators on ways to improve our learning environment and save wasted
    Clearly shows progress and encourages commitment through reports, developing new resources and  incentives for savings.
     We have been trying to do a few of these things in the past year, but without dedicated resources we can only save about 6 percent of our utilities budget. This is almost equivalent to annual salaries for three teachers. Many other districts have shown that hiring an Energy Manager to fully implement the recommended program will result in saving over 20 percent of our budget. This is equivalent to annual salaries for more than 10 teachers. So, with the “investment” of one position, we could potentially save seven more positions from the drastic cuts we are now facing.
     One recent “point of pride” is Ebinport Elementary's becoming the first school in S.C. to win the “Energy Star” label. This designation resulted from data we submitted showing better efficiency from our equipment retrofits. We hope to qualify more schools for this recognition through our new conservation program. Yet again, many of the dollars saved to earn the label are being used to pay for new equipment. Now we need to find additional conserva-tion dollars to keep our most vital employees—our teachers—employed and working daily with students. 
Q: Are our schools misspending taxpayer money, particularly on food purchases?
A: As public servants, my staff and I are committed to being responsive and responsible to the Rock Hill community. We demonstrate this fiscal stewardship through the transparency of our business processes, from our budgeting and capital improvement planning down to posting daily routine financial transactions online. Just as budgets and plans are the result of extensive research, analysis and other preparatory actions, our individual transactions are one “snapshot” of a larger and more complex system. 
     All transactions for school system goods and services over $100 are displayed publicly on our website. In addition, purchases made within our Procurement Card Program for goods and services in any amount are also displayed publicly. Only certain fields of information for each transaction are displayed, however, which leaves out the “rest of the story."  As a representative sampling, the following items are now offered in response:
Transaction:     12/3/2010 Haese & Harris Pub $1,186.94
      Detail: This is from the Hayes and Harris publishing company.  Item was IB textbooks purchased by executive director of secondary education. 
Transaction:     12/14/2010 Lebo’s Inc.  $79.50
      Detail: Purchase by Castle Heights Middle School from student activity account for uniform items (pants) for cheerleaders. 
Transaction:     12/30/2010 McDonald’s (Florida) $1.49
      Detail: This was an unauthorized charge. The charge was reversed by the bank which credited the district account. 
Transaction:      12/24/2010 Honey Baked Ham Co.  $600.00
      Detail: Northwestern High School staff holiday meal. This cost was paid for by donations deposited into the local school account. 
Transaction: 12/20/2010 Donato’s Pizza $128.22
      Detail: Purchase made by Dutchman Creek Middle School from student activity account for student band members after a late night practice. 
Comments: In accordance with our published procedures for procurement cards, all purchases are audited quarterly. If unauthorized purchases, such as personal items are found, the employee must make a personal payment to the district. Failure to comply with these procedures can result in removal of cardholder authority, or in extreme cases, disciplinary action or termination.
     It is district policy that public funds be used for school or district operating expenses only. This does not preclude using the procurement card as an electronic transaction method to purchase food or other goods used in extra-curricular activities, for which the district is reimbursed by a school-related club or organization.

So, while I agree with many comments I have received, I still come to a different conclusion and stand by my votes. On these issues, we'll just have to agree to disagree. For contrary comments, see below:


I promise I'm not going be harping on every article in The Herald, but $65K for someone to save energy. Three points:  1. We should have someone on staff (currently drawing a salary) at the DO that could figure that out and 2. How will you monitor this so that you can cost justify the expense and 3. Isn't there some basic common sense measures like thermostat control and athletes sharing buses (like you've been doing) and not scrimmaging teams out of the Rock Hill/Charlotte region, etc. that could be put in place instead of paying someone $65K.  The public perception alone would be reason enough not to do this. I won't bug you anymore.  Sorry for the rant. 

We have all been to conferences and seminars and we all know that some have true value and others are semi vacations and someone else is normally paying your way.    For me the best way to evaluate a conference is to ask yourself - would you have spent your own money to go - usually the answer in no.   I admire Mrs. Reid's offer to pay her own way. 

My hope and expectations would be that the School Board evaluate and examine the merits of any seminar and travel by anyone (District Office, staff, administrator or teacher).  It is a little disturbing to me to know that if this conference had been in Hilton Head that no approving vote would have been required.   I agree with you about the importance of networking - I disagree that $1,400 per person is justified in this case based on the topics covered.   I also strongly believe that if you have a PhD in education that you should know how to best serve your "constituents" (or know how to find that out) and that you should know how to tell your own story in a compelling fashion.   The district has a paid PR and a paid HR position that should also know how to accomplish this.  Plus - as you mentioned - you network via web technology internationally.  I have been on many webinars and meetings on-line in order to save travel costs.   My guess is that you could host an international networking webinar for less that $1,400 and involve the entire school board and District Office.

By comparison, this would be like sending City Council and our City Manager to a seminar to figure out how to better serve the citizens of Rock Hill - they should already know (and have the resources) to figure that out and that is what they were elected to do.   Maybe that is a poor comparison, but I think you get my drift. 

I am probably focusing too much on this one particular item, but as I said, it has made me wonder what other decisions are being made about travel and expenses that are not receiving so much public scrutiny.   Too me it represents a laps in judgment and fiscal responsibility as it relates to this one issue.  Overall - as I said - I think the board & DO have done an outstanding job.  

Again - thanks for what you do - I do not take it for granted. 

I just wanted to respond to the article in yesterdays Herald about the proposed training session in Charlotte - it struck a nerve with me and I wanted to vent.   In my opinion it is the responsibility of the Superintendent's/District Office  to address the importance of listening and understanding those that they serve as well as telling the good stories about the district in compelling ways.  There are at least three  "Phds" in the District Office that are paid very well to know how to address this issue without spending $1,400 on a seminar.   I am sure this was part of their course work in graduate school. 

Jim - for me it isn't about the money so much as it is about the decision making process.  It seems like someone should have taken a step back and looked at this recommendation from a business and public perspective.  Especially  considering the economic times that we are in and the teachers and administrators that have been laid off and/or furloughed. 

OK - that's my entire two cents worth.  Let me add that generally speaking we are very happy with the educational experience that our kids are having - it isn't perfect - but nothing is.  I respect the job the board has done through these challenging economic conditions.  I promote our outstanding school district to new business prospects ever week.   I especially want to hold up the Dutchmen Creek Principal as an example of what I think is the finest principal in the district. 

There is no way the district will be able to prove the savings of the energy manager. I can guarantee this with 99% accuracy. Having worked in an energy field for 40 years, I've heard a lot of presentations which couldn't be justified and this is one of them.

Just in case you do not read comments from the Herald Online this should give you an idea about how people feel about this ludicrous decision to spend $9800 of monies that should be spent on education. You folks just don’t get it. see...facing a budget cut, teacher layoff, and less and less every year spent on schools supplies and education materials...lets spend $10,000 on a trip to to Charlotte?...W.T.F.?...proof that what is good for the goose is NOT good for the gander.....
You know, I will just about be willing to bet (I’m not a gambling man) that the academic fees they collected are funding this fat rat session.
News like this continues to make me glad I didn't pay that academic fee.
Theres something wrong with these people
10,000 dollars for a 20 minute many groups are attending? if there are 5 or 6 groups there at 10,000 a it just my public school education or has someone got a pretty good racket the way...who gets this "registration fee" since there is no lodging or dining involved?
Here's a novel idea...use! You can have the same thing as the "conference" (which we all know is a bunch of people just talking about what they've done and what has worked for them) and said superintendents and school board members wouldn't even have to leave the district office. Or is that too much to ask?
P.S. I bet setting it up like that would cost well under $500.

WOW, great idea, really you should send it to Voice of the People. I mean Really Really.
While it sounds like a good idea, wouldn't work for this type of meeting. You would never get the interaction needed or be able to split into groups that this meeting will involve. Not to mention the fact that most participants in a gotomeeting type of meeting are just half listening to the meeting while doing other things. As an IT person I am a big advocate of teleconferencing, but I don't think this is the type of meeting for it. I think Moody's idea of a few going and learning then sharing the information is an admirable idea. Yes, it's taxpayers money and I think most here know how I feel about wasting tax money, but sometimes these conferences are necessary.
I have only 1 thing to say about wanting to spend 10 k on a conference in Charlotte ................ NO!!! I do not care if it is partially funded by private money, the rest of the money is tax payer money and I see it as a major waste of funding. Ms. Moody you need to start thinking smart. Ypu want to learn how to listen to us? Just read what everyone of us has said so far. DO NOT waste our money !! Just open your ears and eyes, and you will hear what we have to say! You do not need a class on that.
What is wrong with this picture? Where is the common sense of the board? Teachers are being furloughed, classroom size is increasing, student scores are decreasing, etc. Very little discussion about the issue and not a single member said let’s hold up on this, the economy is soft, the unemployment is high, and the citizens are struggling to pay their bills. Let’s forgo this and use the money for classroom assistance or something that helps students to learn. Who cares if it is in the budget? Why do we need to spend a dime on this just because it is in Charlotte? Talk about self-interest. What is the board thinking about?
Can they just get a written summary of the talks after its over? Could they promote a suggestion box to receive citizen input /comments? I like the "" idea, but the conference organizers wouldn't make much money. 
Since they couldn't get a jet directly from Rock Hill to CLT, they had to book a stopover in the Bahamas. It was unavoidable...

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