Overruns, Accountability and Parent Involvement

Over the last four school years, I have been watching the business operations of the Beaumont Unified School District. So, what happened Tuesday didn’t surprise me. I understand what I witnessed is not unique to Beaumont’s school district but is part of the public school culture in California and probably the rest of the country.

Let the overruns begin –

Tuesday the board was asked to approve modifying an existing purchase order related to the current construction taking place at the high school. The modification would increase the district’s obligation by $64,000. This overrun is a result of the district’s inspection contractor, John P. Beverly Inc. being called out for more inspections than originally planned for in the budget. The board voted to deny the modification and instructed the administration to go back to the contractor and negotiate a lower charge. Since the Beverly's inspectors were responding to requests for additional inspections by the general contractor, Bogh Engineering, it is my opinion, the district doesn’t have a strong position and will be required to pay the full amount. Here is a list of the specific conditions requiring additional inspections:

  • $30,000 Masonry installation exceeded estimate by six weeks
  • $3,600 Reinforcing Steel exceeded estimate by 18 trips and 51 tests
  • $28,500 Additional required testing:
  • 4 added weeks of field welding inspection
  • 1 added week of fireproofing inspections
  • 1 added week of concrete testing

Who works for whom? – Part II

At last month’s board meeting, the board instructed the administration to bring back two busing plans for the board to consider.  This was generated by my proposal that the district consider a district wide pilot program offering free busing to every student in the district for one month. I believed this would reduce some of the traffic problems around our schools, increasing the safety of our kids and should be fully evaluated before the district completely eliminates busing services.

Board member Janelle Poulter suggested a scaled down version of my proposal. She suggested using the existing routes and stops to offer free busing to all the district’s elementary students. She asked the administration to present a plan for consideration that would meet her requirements and that would not incur any additional costs. The administration told the board they were already working on a pilot program for Brookside Elementary that would offer, for a fee, busing services to students living within one mile of the school who are currently ineligible for services. The board unanimously instructed the administration to bring back both plans. The administration only brought back one. Can you guess which one?

The administration’s plan not only didn’t offer a free component to fully utilize the existing routes, it involved charging the “one mile” students a fee. Does anyone think this will seriously increase ridership and reduce traffic resulting in increased safety?  Obviously the board didn’t. The motion to implement the administration’s program died because not a single board member was willing to second the motion.

My questions…

Why wasn’t the plan requested by the entire board presented? Why is the administration so hesitant to try to solve the traffic problem with a busing solution? Why are they afraid to implement a cost free trial period? Why didn’t a single board member ask about the missing plan? Will the busing issue ever be revisited? Who works for whom?

Are some of our board members out of touch?

At last month’s board meeting we heard one board member tell us she has been driving her kids to schools in Beaumont for fourteen years and she hasn’t noticed a change in the traffic conditions - Really? Another board member told us she had to rely on busing for the first year her child was in kindergarten but once she was able to leave her job and stay home, she chose to drive her kids and has been taking them to school ever since. She thought most parents today would make the same choice. I wonder how many students in Beaumont she thinks have a stay-at-home parent.

I also wonder how many of the board members were aware of the traffic fiasco that happened last week at Brookside Elementary. On Monday, multiple parents were cited by Beaumont police for improper use of the roadways and parking lot during afternoon pick-ups. This resulted in a much bigger mess for that day and confusion during the rest of the week about what procedures were going to be put in place.

I know the administration is working with the city to redesign the bike lanes and traffic routes around the school. I also learned last night the district is planning to schedule a review this month of their plans for the parking lot redesigns at both Tournament Hills and Brookside. Unfortunately, the district, and, to some extent, the city, still don’t recognize how valuable it would be to get parents involved in the early planning and design process.

My wife has run the gauntlet at least twice a day for four plus years. She, and parents like her, have a lot of questions and suggestions that could help the planners. The district will respond by boasting they will be inviting parents to review their plans at the schools. But you watch, they will schedule the meetings to take place in the afternoon when many parents are at work. If they really want to hear what we think, they would hold the meetings in the evening and offer some activity to occupy kids so more parents can get involved in the process.

In Idaho, the state has required school systems to make a serious effort to increase parent involvement. One controversial program districts are employing, involves tying merit pay for teachers to their individual success in getting more parents involved. I don’t like this idea but it shows an understanding for the importance of increasing parent involvement. I believe it is the responsibilityour administration to increase parent involvement, not our teachers. I hope our district, and others, will realize this soon and make a serious effort to involve parents before our state imposes more extreme measures, similar to Idaho’s, on our schools.