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Where is the representation?
December 12, 2005
By Chris Miksanek

 

I ran for a position on the Rochester School Board in 2002 on the platform of representing all of the school district stakeholders. At the time I found it remarkable that issues dividing the community often found disproportionate support with board members.

For instance, projects and expenditures that half the community opposed were unanimously endorsed by the school board. Where was the representation?

Little has changed in that regard three years later. With one exception. One board member has demonstrated the courage to represent the taxpayers; to ask the tough questions and endure the dramatic sighs and eye-rolling.

Fred Daly asks little more of fellow board members than, in a time of limited resources, to slow down and thoughtfully reconsider and prioritize expenditures. He asks the board to recognize the detrimental effect a double-digit levy increase has on the community and how it jeopardizes the board's ability to appeal fo
r their support in the future. But rather than earn peer appreciation for keeping the board's focus broad enough to include the community stakeholders, he is routinely criticized and bullied by other board members.

 

No one has been more vocal criticizing Mr. Daly than board chairwoman Kim Norton who recently expressed her disappointment that his "method of speaking out is a little different than the rest of the board." But if Norton even represents taxpayers or students at all, it is not obvious. When she first came to the board, Norton saw a need for a fourth public high school in Rochester, conservatively estimated to cost $40 million.

Later, she admitted that "none of the long-range studies that look at enrollment growth indicate a need for a fourth high school." Thankfully, there was resistance or Norton would have spent $40 million on an unnecessary project.

About the same time, she said short-term superintendent Mark Shellinger brought a "fresh look" to the district. Soon after her comment, in what we now call the "Shellinger debacle," $80,000 that could have been spent on teachers or text books was used to undo a poor board decision. Yet earlier this year, in the name of "fiscal responsibility," Norton chided Mr. Daly over his request for nominal mileage reimbursement. This would be comical if the stakes weren't so high.

Citations:

 

Regarding the $26 million Mayo upgrade:

"It's a short-term fix for a bigger problem and that is the need for a fourth high school in Rochester."

Kim Norton, Post Bulletin, 06/21/2000

 

"Kim Norton said none of the long-range studies that look at enrollment growth indicate a need for a fourth high school."

Post Bulletin, 09/17/2003

 

"Kim Norton said Shellinger brings a 'fresh look' to the district."

Post Bulletin, 11/02/2001


At the end of the day, we all share the same goal of providing quality educational opportunities for our community's children. And while no one has contributed more to that vision than the taxpayers with their unprecedented funding, if they dare express concern about waste or question expenditures they are insultingly labeled anti-education when the converse is actually true.

By acting as the board's oversight committee, the taxpayers are demonstrating great concern that the dollars invested in our children are spent most effectively. Funding and staying involved: what better way is there to demonstrate commitment to education? The board needs more taxpayer representation to understand that and to stay grounded because our community best benefits when discussion embraces all viewpoints especially from those who speak "a little different."

 
 

 

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