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ICISD Board Meeting June 2024

An owl image carved in stone set in bricks.
The Owl of Athena, Goddess of Wisdom, stele on the East wall of what was formerly the school auditorium. This portion of the school will be raised with 2024 bond funds.
 

Read more about another Owl of Athena on the Commons building at the University of Texas at Austin campus. I walked underneath the UT and ICISD Athena owls for roughly 16 years total and never took the time until now to appreciate the symbolism. Athena was the Goddess of Wisdom, so symbolism of her on a school building is especially appropriate. Hopefully this owl, along with 2 other steles that I will cover in other posts, will be preserved for inspiration and placed on/in the new building. If you look around the ICISD campus today, you won’t find this kind of decorative architecture on any of the new buildings. (I am calling the owl a "stele" because it is a monument on the face of a building, but it you find a more accurate term please let me know.)


 

Below is the agenda for this meeting, with my Agenda Analysis and my Meeting Analysis (pending) underneath that.

Agenda with yellow highlights
June 3 2024 Agenda

A. Agenda Analysis:

  1. Date: Note the meeting is on June 3, about 2 weeks earlier in the calendar month than usual.

  2. Formal Action: I highlighted it in this agenda as part of my "how to read an agenda" series. "Formal Action" in a public meeting means that the members may actually vote on a matter, as opposed to merely discuss it. The "action" is the vote itself. I typically connect items like 8 and 10 together because the law prohibits formal action in a closed session, so the vote on anything discussed in closed must be voted on during a portion of the meeting that is open (the public is present). In reality, members will reach a consensus on a matter in closed session, without explicitly voting. I specifically stay to the end of public meetings of interest so that I can hear what specific matter is being acted upon that was discussed privately. (Thus my objection to a motion after closed session that uses the phrase "as presented" because such language acts as a second layer of darkness.)

  3. Administrative Reports: Supt. Moore's report is back on the agenda, but no principal or athletics reports. Again, such things may have no particular meaning beyond folks are on summer break, but one agenda reading tip I harp on is to read actively for how this agenda is different than the previous ones. Agendas are messages in advance to the community about the priorities of the governmental body. Don't assume they are static documents each month.

  4. Project Reimbursement, Item 5. My recollection is that at some point the District needs to initiate reimbursements for its front end expenses on the bond now that it has passed but the bonds have not issued. I will report back on this as I am not certain. (I don't know what "project" means on this item.)

  5. Personnel in closed session, item 8a. This item is an example of where reading an agenda for contrast with previous agendas can be a useful technique. It just says "personnel". In contrast, some recent agendas included terms like "terminations", "resignations", "new hires", "resignations", and "non renewals". The omission of these words from this agenda might mean all those actions are in the past. Is this significant to anyone? Well, if you are a teacher that survived the latest round of departures, it could be hugely significant. And, if you are a taxpayer like me wondering how the District is going to get back into the black on its next budget cycle, knowing whether there are ongoing staff departures before the budget season is relevant. Employee salaries make up the lions share (about 75%) of the District's Maintenance and Operations budget, so the the most effective way to manage the currently projected 24-25 deficit budget of $434,000 (see here at B6c) is to trim the staff. So, reading agendas for detail is helpful. Coincidentally, this week I submitted my latest Public Information Act request that, in part, addresses the comings and goings of staff. I'll report back on this in a future post.


 

B. Meeting analysis (In draft) 1. Open vs. Closed: The Board spent roughly 17 minutes in open session (meaning that the public was permitted to be present) and just over 3 hours in closed (meaning the public was excluded). As mentioned below, the spend down of the 2024 bond funds started with this meeting, However, as a technical matter the Board under this agenda was limited to discussing "personnel" in the closed portion. 2. Administrative Reports, item 4: a. Budget/Finance: CFO Robert Helms did not attend this meeting. Supt. Moore referenced that his documents were in the board members' materials. There was some question about the expenditure of funds on an electrical problem, but the discussion was impossible to understand without access to Helms' documents. The opaqueness continued with the approval of the monthly checks and monthly revenue to expenditure reports in the consent agenda at item 6a. That is to say if you came to this meeting hoping to learn even the basics of what money is coming in and how its being spent you would leave dissatisfied. For all the accountability measures placed upon teachers by the Texas legislature, through the huge bureaucracy of TEA, what is sorely lacking is public accountability of school board members' approval of monthly finances. It is cloudy all the time in these parts, folks, and when one witnesses it month in and month out at every meeting it is hard to not come to the conclusion that it is by design. Bottom line: elected officials are not keen on making their funding decisions transparent, and so it goes with board members at ICISD. b. Superintendent Moore's Report : The District, she reported, is meeting with Region 15's tech department to do an inventory. There appears to be a significant transition taking place with the the technology infrastructure, but I'm unclear from her report what this means. (Technology expense is worth tracking because the costs are repetitive and schools can never be up to date.)

She also reported the District is still interviewing and hiring, but is through posting jobs for the most part. (This might well be the signal at the moment that the District is managing its deficit, as mentioned in 5A above. There was no discussion at this point about the fiscal impact of the administrator/teacher/staff transitions taking place, but the budget season is near.)

Finally, she reported that TEA's report card for the District is out, but they are still evaluating it internally so it was not discussed. I'm going to keep my powder dry for the moment. Keep in mind, however, my bias on state standards: a school board who does not actively question the results in a public school board meeting is going to be witness to mediocrity, year in and year out. Administrators and teachers need to hear the high expectations of school board members, and the public needs to know board members are engaged on the issue. Improvement cannot be achieved in an echo chamber, and sunlight in an open meeting is the antidote to mediocrity.


3. Resolution declaring intention to reimburse project expenditures, item 5: This was the meatiest portion of the meeting in that it represented the formal beginning of the spend down of the 2024 bonds. The resolution itself works as an advance of bond funds of sorts. The bonds, as reported by Supt. Moore, will not be sold until September 2024, and the funds will not be received until October 2024. Rather than wait until October, the District can expend available cash now from its own cash, then obtain a "reimbursement" in October once the funds come in. Because it takes up to 12 months for new buses to arrive, the District used this resolution to allow it to expend cash now on buses AND to build a new bus barn. Remember, City Gym, built with the 2019 bonds, left the District without a bus barn. (See a photo of the old barn here.) Doesn't make sense to buy brand new buses and not have a place to house them, right?

The reimbursement resolution passed, so the District now has $2.5 million of the bond funds to spend.

And so, here we question, right out of the starting block, the poor decisions made with the 2019 bond funds that are already haunting the 2024 bonds: what to do about the storm water runoff from the new impervious cover that will be created from the new bus barn?

The Board didn't address this drainage issue in open session during this agenda item. But it is the elephant in the room...or put another way, the whale on the street. 4. Personnel and actions from closed sessions: Items 8a and 10, if personnel was all that was discussed, consumed over three hours, and nothing was voted on when the Board came back in open session. A 3 hour closed session for personnel is too long. Here is what 571.074 of the Texas Open Meetings Act says about closed sessions for personnel matters: Sec. 551.074. PERSONNEL MATTERS; CLOSED MEETING. (a) This chapter does not require a governmental body to conduct an open meeting: (1) to deliberate the appointment, employment, evaluation, reassignment, duties, discipline, or dismissal of a public officer or employee; or (2) to hear a complaint or charge against an officer or employee. (b) Subsection (a) does not apply if the officer or employee who is the subject of the deliberation or hearing requests a public hearing. A citizen willing to wait out an executive session to see if anything is voted on in open is likely never going to be able to know whether the law, and in particular 551.074, is being followed. As a lawyer who formerly counseled many state agencies during their closed sessions, however, I can safely say: without an independently minded lawyer present in the closed session the board will stray from the law. I've said that before, and the public should have no illusions about what happens behind closed doors. Board members in closed session do not self police, and executive staff in closed session are hesitant to tell their bosses that they are not following the law. 5. Other matters: I am currently reviewing the responses to my May Public Information Act request, and I might post some of that information here because some of it is budget related. I have not made that decision just yet; I just want to give my regular readers a heads up that more content is on the way.




 


Copyright 2024 G Noelke

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