Welcome to Laurie Goodman's blog. I use this space to share news and opinions about education and schools in Ridgewood, the state of New Jersey and the nation, in addition to other issues I'm personally interested in. I invite you to share your thoughts, feelings, questions or opinions, too, by posting comments on any blog entry. Please observe basic courtesy -- keep your comments focused on issues, no personal attacks or bullying, please. Contact me directly at: lauriegood@mac.com

Thursday, March 24, 2011

What have I done?

Someone asked me today to "bullet point" some of what I've been up to during my time on the Board of Education Here's a quick snapshot:

I have been a member of the Communications and Facilities Committees all three years, as well as the BOE liaison to the Fields Committee. I am also a member of the Board’s Negotiating Committee in our current negotiations with the REA.

In terms of communications, I’ve worked on implementing the District’s new website and Skyward systems, helped with communications on the budget and referendum, where we instituted more public meetings and public input than ever before…I also worked with the committee on the parent survey which we started last year and will repeat this spring…I’m proud of that survey experience, as that was one of the goals I talked about during my campaign three years ago.

I have worked hard on my personal communications as a Board member, writing this blog for three years, and incorporating social media like Facebook and Twitter to dialogue with residents.

On Facilities, I -– and the committee -- worked hard on first prioritizing facilities needs and designing the referendum projects, then explaining the needs and the referendum to the community and now reviewing and monitoring the projects on a regular basis.

On the Fields Committee, I have represented the BOE (and our constituents, including students, parents, staff or neighbors) to the committee in discussions and work, and I’ve reported in detail back to the full Board to ensure all BOE members are educated and informed regarding fields issues.

As a member of the Board’s Negotiation Team, currently in negotiations with the REA, I’m excited by the potential and opportunity that contract negotiations represent – for both “sides.” Obviously I can’t speak to any specifics regarding negotiations (they are confidential), but I can say that my (and the Board’s) goal is a productive negotiation process that results in an agreement that is mutually satisfactory to the BOE, the membership of the REA, and the community, and that meets the needs of our students. I will work tirelessly to fulfill my responsibility to our students and taxpayers.

Other than those committee highlights, I have not missed a Board meeting and I've only missed committee meetings when there was a rare conflict with my "real" job. I thoroughly prepare for every meeting, I receive and respond to questions from the community, I attend several HSA meetings and the Federated HSA meeting each month, and I love more than anything attending school events throughout the District, such as International Day at Hawes, Celebration of Learning at Orchard, the Ridge Restaurant, the BF Turkey Trot and more. My very favorite thing is watching our students and teachers at work...it still gives me chills any time I can spend some time in a classroom. That is what it's all about.


Anonymous said...

You shouldn't care a wit whether the REA is satisfied with the terms of their agreement with the taxpayers of Ridgewood. What is important is that we the voters and taxpayers are satisfied. You only serve one master.

If you go in caring what they think or feel, you are doomed before you start.

Laurie said...

My point was not about feelings, per se, but simply the fact that any agreement must be ratified by the membership of the REA.

Thanks for posting.

Anonymous said...

On March 24, Laurie wrote this on one thread:

" I don't write this blog to "promote" myself. I've been writing it since before I was elected in 2008. I would write it even if no one read it. It's partly for me and it's partly for you -- or those who are curious about the individual opinions, experiences and ideas of one member of the Ridgewood BOE. It's not a "news" site and it's not a message board. I don't care how many people comment. I know how many read it and that's fine with me."

and then this on another:

"I have worked hard on my personal communications as a Board member, writing this blog for three years, and incorporating social media like Facebook and Twitter to dialogue with residents."

So which is it Laurie? Either way its self promotion.

And that survey you're so proud of was a joke; something to give the appearance that you actually give a damn about what the public thinks. You and the rest of the board showed your true colors the day you presented the budget we voted down, as is, to the Village Council and asked them to pass it in spite of our vote.

Laurie said...

I respectfully disagree with both your points.

Anonymous said...

And you obviously can't address them.

Laurie said...

Oh for goodness sake. Of course I "can" address them,

1) The blog is not intended to be "promotional." It's a way for me to communicate my opinions, a way to share ideas and information, and as I said, I would do it even if no one read it. How promotional is that?

2) Survey was not a joke. Taken very seriously by BOE, administration, principals and teachers. They are addressing many of the issues raised every day.

3) Budget vote -- I've already referred you several times to my explanations of the difference between "ignoring" and "having a different opinion." We disagree. OK.

Anonymous said...

1)Not believable as you say that you don't care whether anyone reads it or comments and that you do it for you and you're all over the social media (Twitter, Facebook). These are not personal indulgences, they are political.

2)Nothing has happened as a result of those surveys and if the board ignores our vote, why believe you would listen to a survey, please.

3)Yes, why expect you to actually justify ignoring the public vote when there is no justification for ignoring it. The board said in effect, It's my way or the highway. How arrogant of you all to think that your opinions should override those of the voting public.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Laurie,
Until you listed what you have done I failed to realize how little you have done and also
how poorly.
If this was school you might be passing with a D average though
a couple F's too.
Specifically your #1 area of expertise and accomplishment is
Communications. Unfortunately the
BOE is like a fortress or some would say an Ivory Tower which you
have not been able to break through. I think you honestly want to break down the walls and open up communication but it's not been
done to almost any extent. That to
me is an "F" because you can't take credit for something that has
not been done. And also if you don't agree with the way things are
on the BOE you should have the courage to speak up IN PUBLIC and
say so. Otherwise you are lumped
with the rest of the deadwood on the BOE. The Parent Survey was also
good intent but honestly the discussion of it at the BOE meeting which I watched and you might want to watch it again was extremely disappointing. Your colleagues seemed at most disinterested and if you were to be graded on the basis of the quality of discussion on the survey at that meeting it would have been an "F". I have honestly seen Middle School students more
involved and ask intelligent questions regarding a survey like this. Your fellow board members did very little to help move the survey forward. Lastly though we could go on is the Facilities and Fields Committee regarding the referendum and also the turf and lights issue. The last chapter has not been written on this yet. Now we have the Disko indictment factor
which may ultimately be connected as well. You and I don't know but there are so many aspects of this
whole project which need to be investigated. I know your intent was good but I think some serious lapse of judgements were made including choosing these 2 fields to turf that are in the worst Ridgewood Floodway. The fields will probably not hold up to their lifespan of even 10 years plus every year we will have many thousands of dollars in repair. Then the lights on top of all this as an additional expense though some of the cost is picked-up by the Sports Groups. Lights are fine
but these many at this cost in such a dense neighborhood area plus
asking for 10:00 lights out is way too much. Again I think faulty judgment on your part in hindsight.
So I give you also an "F" here too.
I look forward to your comments and
wish you the best. It's up to the voters in the election. Thank you.

Laurie said...

If this were a school I'd be complaining that there are too many group projects! haha

I'll try to comment further later, or over the weekend. Meetings for the rest of the day/evening.

Anonymous said...

Laurie, that response was arrogant and stupid. It was an insult to the person who took the time and effort to address you and everyone else that is interested in the issues outlined. It was though right in line with your empty remarks and the board's ineptitude.

Laurie said...

Wait, what? I realize that person took time and effort, that's why I posted a quick response to let him/her know that I was signing off for a while due to work duties!

Are you referring to my joke about group projects? You know...like when you're in school and you hate group projects because they can be hard to manage and not everyone agrees...and you'd rather be graded on your own effort and not lumped together with the group...? Get it? The school board is like a group project all the time because by law individual board members have no standing except as part of the Board? Oh, never mind. I thought it was a kind of funny analogy after some intense back and forth.

Anonymous said...

Yes Laurie, I got it and I thought it was exactly what I said it was. And frankly, if after all this time on the board you have been unable to make a meaningful difference, its time to blame yourself, not them. Although I'm sure the rest of the board will be happy to know how you're throwing them under the bus in an election year. Doesn't exactly inspire confidence.

Laurie said...

So you get the "joke," but you think an analogy about group projects (and BTW I was just playing off the previous poster's school analogy) is stupid, arrogant and insulting? OK.

You know, I feel like we are circling back around to the beginning of this conversation. I believe I HAVE made a difference in several areas. I tried to honestly note a few of those contributions, and to explain that it's not as easy as it may seem to "make a difference" when one is a member of a five-person Board and compromises are often necessary in order to move forward at all. I'm not throwing anyone under the bus...my colleagues know there are some issues for which I have a different perspective, while we all ultimately have the same overarching goals to help our schools be the best they can be. This goes to one of my other favorite themes -- reasonable people can disagree. I believe it wholeheartedly.

I think this topic is pretty much exhausted for now (although something tells me it may come up again). Thanks and have a great weekend.

Anonymous said...

Laurie, I have always appreciated your honesty and willingness to engage in conversations rather than simply report to us what you think we want to hear. You are far too nice to keep arguing with people who don't really want to listen.

Thanks you and keep up the good work!

Anonymous said...

Laurie, your little "cheering section" is getting obnoxious. As a long time resident with children in the school system I had hoped to get some real feedback on the issues I raised here. If this site is truly a place for communication, then you (and your little cheering section) shouldn't have a problem with a taxpayer expressing concerns and looking for answers. If I sound frustrated, believe me, I didn't get there without your help. Maybe one of these days I'll get a straight answer from you or you'll be replaced on the board. Either one would be fine.

Laurie said...

Cheering section, that's funny. Over the past two days, the comments are running 11 critical and 4 supportive.

Honestly, I do not have any problem "with a taxpayer expressing concerns and looking for answers." Here I am. ASK. I can't promise you'll like my answers, but clearly I am not afraid to hear your concern or question.

So, if you have a new question, or I guess even if you want to re-ask a question, please do so.

Anonymous said...

Some worthwhile concerns were raised Laurie. You seem reluctant to address them. General statements and defensive posturing aren't helpful or meaningful.

Laurie said...

Sorry, not “reluctant,” just consumed with family and work responsibilities. So now that I’ve had a little more time, I’ll try to respond to some of the concerns raised by @1:14. OK? (I apologize in advance for the length.)

Concern #1) Communication – it’s not good and I should talk about that in public.

In my opinion*, our Board of Ed and District have a history of less-than-perfect communication. I think the district has done a pretty good job over the past few years – and is getting better – at getting more information out TO parents and the community – the new website, eNews, Skyward, Facebook, etc. In terms of getting information and feedback FROM the community, this area needed the most work, and we’re getting better, slowly but surely. We’ve held community open forums on the referendum and the budget over the past two years – three forums will be held this year – and this is a big improvement over past practice. Two years ago we had an open forum about communications, asking what the community wants. We’ve established direct emails for questions on the budget, referendum and fields, which are answered by the superintendent. So those items represent incremental improvements, but there is much room for more, in my opinion. At times, the District still has difficulty anticipating community response. And I still think there is room for public involvement in Board committees, but this is a drastic change from past practice and we’re not there yet. I have discussed it during our last three Board Retreats where we evaluate our performance and operations. It’s a philosophical difference among some Board members.

Concern #2) Parent Survey – Discussion at meeting was disappointing.

Three years ago, in a campaign speech, I said I hoped the District could produce “an annual School Report Card, where parents grade their kids’ schools, every year, and the results -- the good, bad, and the ugly -- are reported to the community in a formal, public process.” The Community Survey that the Communications Committee produced was pretty much exactly that. I can’t comment on how other Board members acted during Board meetings where the survey was presented. The important thing is, the results were reviewed with every principal, each of them has shared the results with staff and parents, and responded with very specific follow-up, depending on the results and comments received.

Concern #3) Referendum projects/Disko indictment

The Board is concerned about the recent allegations regarding Ken Disko, who was (and is no longer) and employee of Disko Associates, a firm hired by the Board to provide engineering services on our athletic field projects. (Please note: Disko is not our Architect of Record and they are not the lead contractor on our referendum projects, as was erronerously reported in the local paper.) At this point, our administrative staff has informed the Board, as well as the State Executive County Superintendent, of the potential implications for the district. After an investigation that included a comprehensive review of Disko Associates' records and projects, the Attorney General has indicated that illegal actions are alleged to have been committed by Ken Disko and not Disko Associates. The Attorney General has alleged that these illegal acts involved three districts (not Ridgewood). In addition, the alleged kickbacks occurred during non-bid contracts, and all our projects with Disko were publicly bid projects. There is no evidence at this point to indicate wrongdoing by Disko on Ridgewood projects. We have consulted with our attorney and received counsel in this matter and have reviewed the relationship with Disko Associates to date. We are monitoring the situation closely.

I’m not sure what other “many aspects” of the project you feel also need to be investigated. Can you elaborate?

To be continued...

Laurie said...

Concern #4) Fields & flooding

The Board and District have said all along that we expect the RHS fields to flood. We believe, based on the input of our contractors, that the fields have been designed to withstand and recover from flood events. I have seen with my own eyes that the water currently recedes more quickly now than it did in the past from the grass fields. In addition, the condition of the fields post-flood is greatly improved. Children were able to play more quickly after this flood than in the past. That being said, with a flood like that of two weeks ago (which according to the reports I read was a pretty extreme flood and not common), it’s not really about the water, but rather about the silt and other debris that is deposited on the field after the water recedes. We are experiencing the reality that thorough clean-up is complex and slow – the equipment that cleans and “fluffs” the turf requires the silt to be dry so that it can be loosened and removed. We are currently waiting for the dirt to dry and as it does so, a little more is removed whenever possible. Administrators are meeting with a representative of FieldTurf, the manufacturer of the fields’ surface, to get their assessment of the fields’ condition, and they will report to the Board. Currently our budget includes funds budgeted to cover maintenance and repair of the fields every year. Extreme situations like this most recent flood, or this winter’s excessive snow removal, will be dealt with financially whenever they arise.

To be continued...

Laurie said...

Concern #5) Field lighting cost & lights’ out time

Guided by the conclusions of the Village’s Recreation Master Plan, which stated that based on our population and sports participation by our residents, including children and adults, we as a community needed to get more use out of our existing fields, the BOE undertook the improvement of the track at BF and fields at RHS. We did not include lights in the referendum, although we did include the infrastructure for future lights, and stated such at public meetings. Later, the sports groups came to us with a proposal for funding. The Board felt it was a good deal, for the benefit of the children of our district, and moved forward with the lights. The BOE’s share of the cost is included in the 11-12 proposed budget, in case the sports groups are not able to raise more than the 40% minimum that they’ve pledged to raise. (Keep in mind, when the same sports groups funded the renovation of the Village’s Maple Field, they fulfilled their funding commitment in a fraction of the expected time.) The joint BOE-Village Fields Committee is working on establishing the policy for lights-out times, and attempting to find the compromise among the neighbors, who were surprised to learn that the quiet sleepy fields near their homes were going to see increased use, the school sports and the rec sports groups. Could we have communicated better with the neighbors? In my opinion, looking back, we clearly could have done better in communicating at the initiation of the project. The process to decide the lights out times is ongoing, and currently in the hands of the Village Council. They are expected to vote at their April 13 meeting.

In conclusion, I’d just like to try (once again) to clear-up a common misconception about the role of the Board of Education:

One of the biggest challenges I’ve had and I still have on the Board is accepting my role – as defined by statute. In a nutshell: The BOE does not run the schools. The BOE is prohibited from micromanaging. Unfortunately (for me), I’m a natural worker. I’m a doer. A problem solver. I have ideas for how things should be done. And the truth is, that’s not really my role on the BOE. By law, it is NOT the Board of Ed's job to run the schools. It’s the administration’s job to DO, to DECIDE, to SOLVE. It’s my job to make sure the administration has the policy framework and the mission/vision that allows them to work and do and solve. I have to step back and let them do it. THEN, it’s my job, or the Board’s job, to evaluate the performance of just ONE person – the superintendent.

It’s been a difficult adjustment…to be less active and more passive…to let the decisions be made and then give feedback. And I think this difficulty infiltrates my relationship with the public.

Anyway, I hope this is the more thoughtful and informative response you were looking for. I am sure you don’t agree with some (or maybe even all) of my opinions. That’s OK. This is going to have to stand for the weekend, however, because I really need to get caught up on my work for clients.


*By law, I need to keep saying this and make sure it's clear at all times. These opinions are mine alone and I do not speak for the RBOE.

Rob Lyons said...

Laurie - I don't know why you bother... The village is on to your shenanigans. Obviously you cannot be bullied by your constituents. I hope you can live with yourself.