More than 225 residents turned out last Thursday for the monthly meeting of the Upper Perkiomen School Board – and what a meeting it was.
In an “all-purpose” room in the Education Center with a listed capacity of 175, many people had to stand along the walls and overflow into the hall at the rear entrance, where hearing the proceedings was nearly impossible.
The reason for the crowd was the fear running through the community that certain custodial and maintenance jobs might be outsourced to a private company. Also striking concern in many minds were rumors of cutbacks in programs like music, art and others.
The meeting didn’t start well. Some of the members of the audience questioned why the meeting, with the anticipated overflow attendance expected, wasn’t moved to the larger high school auditorium.
School Board President Bill Scott emphasized that it was his decision to keep the meeting at the original location. Then a student asked why he and others were directed to set up the auditorium for the meeting. Scott claimed no knowledge of the directive. Schools Superintendent Dr. Beth Yonson came to Scott’s rescue by acknowledging that it was her decision to have the auditorium setup as an alternate location.
Both decision were made for sound reasons but, the ball was dropped when one official didn’t know what the other was doing. It’s called a breakdown in communication and that’s what the meeting was about.
Speaker after speaker rose from the audience to talk about the custodial and maintenance staff and experiences of those workers going above and beyond their responsibilities to help students and staff. Time and time again, actual incidents of exceptional service were recited at the speaker’s microphone.
It was a far cry from the meager reason given when the board was questioned about the poor informational value of the governing body’s meeting minutes. The response given by Business Administrator Sandra Kassel was “This is what the state auditors require.” That’s not a knock on the administrator; it is a criticism of the state auditors and an apparent willingness to not have to read more than they have to when auditing the minutes. That might be what they want, but what about what the taxpayers need? Hopefully, our state officials will take note of this quasi-mandated slight to the people. And hopefully the school board and administrators will take that as a cue to start posting the minutes of their committee meetings online as well – with little more detail than the “state required” board meeting version.
It was interesting to see that while some spoke of just doing what is required, the same people fighting for their jobs, custodians and maintenance staff, were busy setting up additional chairs and opening up hallways for visitors to be able to be part of the meeting. The room was already setup for the maximum number of attendees; their job was already completed. I didn’t hear any of them ask for thanks or any accolades for the extra effort in doing what needed to be done for the people (nor did they publicly get any from officials). That’s the message that the more 30 people who rose speak sent out loud and clear.
It’s the value-added difference that’s hard to put a price tag on and many of those in attendance believe that it’s worth much more than $214,000.