Sunday, August 16, 2009

6 Questions - my interview for vacant Board seat

Tell us a little bit about yourself and some of your activities as they relate to your community involvement. Are you currently, or have you been involved in District activities? If so, how long and in what capacity? Why are you interested in being a Board member at this time? What personal qualities do you feel you bring to the Board?

Just as Mike Calta was dragged into District business by Gregory’s needs, I was dragged into it by the District’s abuse of my son. And just like Mr Calta, I’ve had to learn and get involved in everything else. I’ve had and still have a lot to learn, but the first words I spoke to this board a year ago have certainly proven true. And it would have been better to pay attention to my warnings against the board letting itself be bullied and lied to by Dr Heatley. It would have been better to listen when I warned that no board can make a good decision with bad input, so that we simply must require truth and honest reporting like any business. People have kidded themselves and one another that we can get away with ignoring such inconvenient truths. Well, we can’t.

If I’m on the board, I will bring the perspective that truth matters – all the time. Looking hard at reality, all the time, is not optional. Dealing straight with parents and the community, all the time, is not optional. Putting kids first instead of cynically sacrificing them to protect their abusers, for any reason, is not optional. And the flip side – not pretending any longer that we can afford the frivolity of sweet little lies until we slip over the falls. We do need to be serious, to put away the childishness and self-deception of the past several years and to act like serious people, all the time. Aircraft designers, bridge builders – anyone who does work in which lives are in the balance – such people don’t tolerate nonsense in their work, because they know that such nonsense kills people. We need that mindset here. We need to act like getting it wrong can seriously screw up the lives of young human beings, as I’ve learned upon my son. When we pretend, we can kill people.

How do you propose to bridge the District’s projected $31 million budget gap in its current year three budget?

No one now on the board knows. Some very smart people I’ve talked to see no hope until the basic mindset changes, as I’ve just described. Inside the present box, there is no way. In my 58 years, nearly 40 years acquainted with Jesus, I have found that when it’s a real problem, don’t expect a good answer without him.

If I’m on the Board, first thing I’ll do is cheat. I’ll follow David’s example when he became king and consult every leader, which for him included many that had pursued him in the wilderness before he became king. I’ll listen well to current board members, and former board members too – I’ve already seen that they’re pleased to advise when asked. I’ll also certainly listen to others. People have hurt themselves by not listening to me just because I’m goofy like Mr MacGoo – which I am. So if I too overlook good sense in funny places, I will be completely without excuse.

We can’t dig out of this ourselves. We need advice and help from people in Sacramento and Washington, and we don’t need to provoke them without a reason. Consider this enlightening incident.

Last September, the whole board except Bill Klein - Mr Na was not yet with us - thought good to commit the district to Proposition 8. There was lots of impassioned support expressed, which I mostly agreed with. I even thought of a good argument that others overlooked. But none of that related to the issue at hand. If I ran down the street naked with a sign favoring Prop 8, nobody would have thought that Prop 8 was the point. Nobody would have supported me in that with arguments for Prop 8 – and nobody would have told me to put on my clothes with arguments against. In the same way, the board’s endorsement had nothing to do with affecting Prop 8, because no one on the board could have imagined that anyone would vote for it because the Board said so. At most, a few got mad and made a point of voting no just because the board’s action annoyed them. It wasn’t about Prop 8; it was about tapping into passion to pander for votes, 8 weeks before the election. Nobody heard when I warned in the meeting that this caper would finish by exposing the district to plenty of liability.

Months later we had a little slip up in arithmetic – these things happen - and we needed a favor in Sacramento. So Curt Hagman introduced a bill to let us off the hook which flew through the Assembly and then through the Senate Education Committee. Then it reached Appropriations - and Chairman Christine Kehoe threw it in the cooler.

I watched the tape. Senator George Runner made all kinds of sense. Not to push it through was bizarre, but Kehoe still said, “No way!”

I checked her website. Christine Kehoe is one of four openly homosexual members of the legislature. Homosexual rights is her big thing. I think Kehoe reads the papers. I think she hears from others who read the papers and think like her. It proved unwise to wave one finger in the air like that just to scarf a few votes, when we knew that doing so would do absolutely nothing for Prop 8 anyway. How could we not have known that someone who could hurt us someday would see that finger and keep it in mind? That little caper may cost us 5 million bucks, a good chunk of 31 million.

I’m speaking as to Christians, which at least 3 of you profess to be, so hear the bigger lesson. If it ended badly to cut a corner in politics and provoke Ms. Kehoe, maybe it’s even dumber to provoke God that way. As in Kehoe’s case, the harvest may take a while to come in, but God is not mocked, and what we sow we reap. Psalm 1: “How blessed is the one who does NOT walk in the counsel of the ungodly.” How can we read that and let crooked lawyers tell us to do disgraceful things – which any of us would hate upon our own skins? Mr Calta, I’ve read most of your book. You had a problem with the insurance company trying to cheat you out of Gregory’s benefits with a gotcha, so why is it OK for the Board to spend lots of the taxpayers’ money to wrong kids like mine? Will God be pleased with such conduct, or will His opinion have no consequences?

Hear what Isaiah says: “Your iniquities have separated you from your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that He will not hear. . . No one sues righteously and no one pleads honestly. They trust in confusion and speak lies; They conceive mischief and bring forth iniquity.” Come to our due process hearing – open to the public and everyone here is invited – and the district lawyer will show you what Isaiah 59:4 looks like.

This has happened very publicly already - $900,000 fighting Lewis on the Preserve School. How did that happen? Was that a bad break? No indeed. The district walked in the counsel of the ungodly, the advice of Stutz Artiano, which the Board knew to be an utterly unprincipled and corrupt law firm that even lied to one of the Board members to keep him from doing his job for us, and basically the Board trusted these crooks to find a way to cheat Lewis.

God catches the wise in their own craftiness, and that’s what happened here.

So here’s my advice on how to start digging out of the $31 million. Let’s stop walking in the counsel of the ungodly, because separation from God is separation from the help we need. Let’s not be cruel and cunning to cheat and torment kids and their parents, to try to cheat people when we’ve made agreements with them, to take advantage of people and close their schools without notice or forethought because we think they’re too weak or unlearned to fight back, to play us for suckers with empty posturing at election time that comes back later to bite us.

If we don’t want to walk in the guidance of God - simple things like, do to others what you want them to do to you, whatever you hate do not to others - then let’s not ask anymore in our invocations for this guidance that we really don’t want. That’s taking the name of the Lord in vain, to say “Lord, Lord” and not do what He says, or even intend to.

In your view, what are the three most critical items for the school district in the next three years; prioritize them; and provide your rationale for prioritizing in that order.

1) To earn public trust

2) To stand for the real needs of kids and their parents instead of protecting incompetence and abuse

3) To listen to truth from all parties and to do justice, instead of thrusting aside those in the right because it seems convenient or prudent to do so, because such prudence is the prudence of the devil

I can’t prioritize these, because they’re a trinity. They’re all one thing that stands together. We do all three, or none.

With trust we can carry people with us through hard times. Without it, right decisions are not even possible when they’re hard, so we’ll make wrong ones for sure. The proverb says, “A good name is better than great riches.” That means we nail down the good name before we worry about the 31 million. Someone may say that’s impractical, but the other way doesn’t work, ever, so what’s practical about that?

Trust is earned, not demanded. We certainly don’t get it by professing to be trustworthy. We squander trust when we proclaim our faithfulness, because people have to trust us already to believe us, and then what happens when we fall short? That’s running up the credit card, not filling the bank account.

We don’t earn trust by enabling administrators to conceal their wrongdoing at the expense of parents, by spending good money on crooked lawyers to establish impunity for abuses, by making it clear to parents that the district will rip off their kids to protect abusive district employees. When it’s that way, as it remains today, no kid is safe. When no kid is safe, because truth is expendable, how can we expect anyone to really trust us? How then can we get through hard times together? Look, it costs something to be trusted, but whatever we pay for that, we pay less than it’s worth.

What are the roles and responsibilities of individual Board members, the Board, and the Superintendent?

Individual board members need to work well with the other board members and the Superintendent – which, however, does not mean making them feel good at the cost of students and their parents – to ensure that students can learn and achieve in a safe and nurturing environment. It means becoming informed about how things really are. I’m very impressed with how Mr Na has actually gotten out there, talking to kids and teachers, learning reality with his own eyes and ears – when some that didn’t want him to know weren’t too pleased.

The Board is responsible to set policy and to make the district administration serve the goals of the district – nicely summed up on district letterhead and everyone’s business card: Student achievement, Safe schools, Positive school climate. The Board needs to enable the teachers and district administration to do their jobs, but most important, to make sure that all these consumers of our tax dollars are actually serving the community, and not themselves at our expense. The way institutions work, that doesn’t happen by itself. Gardens need care.

The Superintendent serves the executive function: he directs the school administration to achieve the district goals. I’ll say it again: Student achievement, Safe schools, Positive school climate.

The way it’s supposed to work is that the Board is a strong legislature responsible to the voters, with a Superintendent having strong executive authority ultimately responsible to the Board – much as intended in the federal Constitution. Hence the Board has overall authority over the Superintendent, but no right to manage the district administration directly. Individual Board members have no authority over the Superintendent in their individual capacities, although influence in our personal capacities is natural and should happen.

This can all break down in various ways. Lately, the Board has abdicated its role – much like the federal Congress - and allowed the Superintendent to act as he likes, bullying and lying to them and the community. With a new Superintendent, that seems to be less of a problem right now, but going forward the Board and its individual members clearly need to understand this better. Even if Mr Joseph is a good guy, that does not substitute for a Board that understands and lives up to its responsibilities individually and collectively.

You are approached by a member of the community with a concern for their child regarding their child’s school experience. What would you do?

The first thing is to listen and find out what I can from the parent. We’re not talking because the parent thinks it’s no big deal, and what if the parent is right? The parent may turn out to be all wrong, but even then, what do I know until I’ve listened carefully, and thoroughly understand the parent’s perspective? Maybe I even need to interview the kid. Only then am I ready to say anything to the Superintendent or fellow board members. Here the proverb is true: “He that winks the eye causes trouble.”

It’s our folly that makes us wink the eye to avoid trouble, to keep from learning about trouble. This is a perfect example of how a way seems right to a man, but its end is death.

Once I thoroughly understand the parent’s perspective, it all depends. Maybe the parent just needs to ask for an assessment, or bring his ears to a straight talk with the teacher. Maybe, as in my son’s case, it’s a lot more serious, and the whole board needs to seek understanding and to act. But the place to start is to be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger. Regardless of how big or small the matter turns out to be, at least I send an email to the Superintendent and other board members to tell what happened, with a copy to the parent, even if nothing more needs to be done about it.

What is the style of leadership you exemplify? Describe a situation where you have utilized that style of leadership and describe the outcome.

Do you want to know when I’m doing it right, or when I’m screwing it up? This is an interview, so for the moment I’ll go with when I do it right.

Leadership isn’t pushing a string. Leadership doesn’t need an official position, because leadership is simply going where people need to go so that that place becomes real for them too. In whatever situation the world puts us in, nobody can stop us from following God to where we ought to go, so why exactly do we need worldly office? The way a certain Christian put it, “When I’m in jail I pray, read, and do personal ministry” – which is what he was doing outside.

We need to get this straight, because the moment we think that to lead we need the position, we’ve fallen for that temptation in the wilderness: “Fall down and worship me, and all of these will be yours.” It’s amazing how pathetic are the honors and position in this world for which we fall down and worship the devil – which is what we do every time we do injustice and deceit of any kind in order to get something done.

To be clear on this is not to be inflexible or unmerciful. We need to learn everyone’s gotta-haves, and work to meet those needs, because that’s just what we need ourselves from others. Really hearing people can complicate things; what seemed easy isn’t anymore. We have to get treatment for our No Problem Syndrome, and sometimes that can feel like death. Which is why we’re apt to kid ourselves that we can lead in some other way.

2 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Do you have the transcripts from the other candidates who interviewed for the board vacancy?

8/18/2009 10:34 PM  
Blogger Peter Attwood said...

Mine was my prepared statement, and others have theirs. In response to you, I emailed the others inviting them to submit them, and if anyone does, I will post it here.

8/19/2009 3:02 AM  

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