Last Tuesday evening, Board of Education chairman Ted Raczka cut me off where it hurts many politicians most, at the TV camera.
I wasn’t particularly concerned about the public access cameras being shut down while I was addressing the board, then again, I don’t consider myself a politician. The topic was one I thought would be of particular interest to this group — Annual Yearly Progress reports in Middletown schools. Still, Ted pulled the plug.
I kept speaking, nonetheless.
I was only four lines from the finish of my presentation, which I had clocked in at the three-minute limit. I told the chairman I was nearly done. But he would have none of it, and called an immediate recess, and walked over and had the public access cameras shut down.
Fifteen seconds later, when I was done, and the meeting had been called back to order again, I handed the questions that didn’t make it into the public record to board member Corinne Gill, who made sure they were added into that record.
Gill and a few other members of the Board took the time to express their dismay that the cameras had been shut down so quickly. A practice, I was told later, that was quite rare.
I was expressive, though not nasty, in my presentation. The chairman, and the superintendent were the only members of the board who left the panel when the chairman called a recess. I can only assume they didn’t want to hear the questions I was posing.
Too bad. I think the performance of students in Middletown schools is a topic that should be at the top of the list of things discussed by the Board and the superintendent.
In fact, a substantial portion of the meeting after my presentation, consisted of the superintendent explaining why he could not speak about the Annual Yearly Progress report, or the interlinking topic of moving elementary students out of overcrowded kindergarten classrooms.
Superintendent Frechette refused to provide board members any information on AYP reports indicating, again, that the information was “embargoed” and he was forbidden by the state Department of Education from discussing them.
Still, the information had been distributed and discussed weeks ago with a select group of district administrators, staff and parents. Apparently, it was a selective embargo.
Frechette offered some insight into why the AYP reports were delayed by the state (cheating on tests in Waterbury, inadequate resources at the state level and the likelihood that No Child Left Behind standards would be abandoned by the state).
But the Mad Hatter logic of “we can’t distribute the reports that we’ve already distributed, and we certainly can’t talk about the reports because the state said not to, though they did instruct us to discuss it with some people, and we’re not going to discuss it here because it’s embargoed, and gosh, it’s so frustrating” was completely confounding. If it were not so important a topic, it would have been hilarious.
Needless to say, Frechette’s frustration with the embargo was shared by all. His frustration led him to email state DOE Executive Assistant to the Commissioner Ann Marie Lenkiewicz. In an email he wrote:
Hi: Redundant question: with the embargo on the AYP scores — we should not discuss them in public — right?... Sorry for the question — I am sure you know why I have to ask!! — Michael
The double exclamation points must express the frustration.
I wrote the state DOE, and demanded that the reports be released. They replied that they were “a draft” and as such were protected from public scrutiny. The problem is that once a draft is distributed to other entities, it is no longer a draft.
I will file a complaint with the State Freedom of Information Commission.
The state claims the reports will be released this week after they complete “a press release.” I imagine the reports could speak for themselves, and as public information they should be released immediately without the spin provided in a press release.
Neither the state DOE, nor our district, ought to be working so diligently to keep public information from the public.
Here in Middletown, we need to improve transparency and communication between the public, the BOE and the administration.
Arbitrary time limits for public comment on serious issues doesn’t help. It only makes it appear that the Board chair and the superintendent want to have the last word.
That’s fine for now, as long as they don’t think they’ve had the last laugh.