On My Varying and Quixotic Bids for the School Board
November 13, 2013

Many have followed my Scranton School Board odyssey and last night came what may be the very last chapter of an arduous book: I applied for a vacancy and failed to get it.  Will there be other vacancies?  Probably, especially given that they seem to pop up twice a year.  Will I apply?  I dislike speaking with absolute certainty, because nobody knows what the future will bring.  But I don’t enjoy being consistently let down.  And I’m sure my wife is happy I will have more time! She tends not to be fond of politics. Who is?

The Board chose to appoint Carol Oleski, whom I congratulate and am happy for.  She will certainly do a wonderful job.

That doesn’t mean I’m not disappointed I’m not there, too.

It may sound cliched or cheesy, but I genuinely got involved in politics because I want to affect change and do it positively, for the betterment of my community.  (Yes, that sounds horribly cheesy as I reread. Still true.) At the risk of sacrificing the air of humility I’m sure I project (because humility is, of course, my most glorious trait), I’ll say that the skills I bring to the table involve an ability to think, analyze, research, and consider perspective.  People don’t put that on a resume.  Not that I’m aware of, anyway.  These are essential in government.  After this, my knowledge of education and educational practices, is, I think, invaluable. Not having the opportunity help make the district, and thereby community, better really leaves in me a void.

The retort that there are other ways to help is not lost on me.  I volunteer regularly and am more than happy to attend fundraisers and events that benefit the causes of the community. I’m very active.

Politics is the best way to help the most amount of people in the most efficient amount of time.  This is the core belief that drove me into the political arena in the first place.   People may not believe that politics is a people-centric arena, and I can understand, given the national climate of demagoguery and, in many cases, outright hate and loathing.   Local politics tends to have a bigger affect on our immediate lives.  See the coming massive tax increases in Scranton, or the construction of new schools, and on and on.

I allowed myself to be deluded into thinking that I had a shot at this appointment.  Silly me.  But that delusion was coupled with a lot of evolution in my plans for the school board.

I get that I’m a geek.  I’ve realized my favorite hobby is thinking (after that comes reading and writing and playing my guitar and cooking and listening to music and playing videogames — I said it, geek).  The prospect of an appointment meant that any moment I had to think, I was envisioning what I would do if I got there.

And here is what I’ve come up with.  Maybe even in chronological order.  (Anybody running for School Board, or on there, can please attempt any idea they think worth while.  In fact, I encourage it.)

1)  Schedule meetings and walkthroughs with each administrator in the district, from Superintendent down to Vice Principals.  I remember when I was running, one principal told me he had a long list of what his building needed.  Every principal should have such a list.  I, for example, have no clue about what McNichols Plaza needs in terms of upgrades, equipment, and on and on.  The information I could glean from administrators would give me an intimate overview of the state of the district, particularly in terms of infrastructure.  It goes deeper, though, and I’m sure the information I would acquire would be broad.  There aren’t enough books for the kids at South Scranton Intermediate, for example.  For me, this first step would help generate an initial “to-do” list as a Director.

2) Meet with the teacher’s union and grow that “to-do” list.  Teachers are a great set of eyes and ears.  I know from teachers that the district barely has enough supplies and some teachers bring their own reams of paper in to print worksheets.  That’s not acceptable.  But I only know that because of teachers who have volunteered that information to me.  The union would be in a better place to coordinate teacher-related policy issues and suggestions.  On the federal and state level, teachers are the last people ever consulted about policy.  That’s why I would meet with the union in order to get a handle on issues in the district related to them.

3) Meet with the clerical and maintenance unions.  Meeting administrators and teachers is a big part of making sure the district is running smoothly educationally speaking.  But without clerical and maintenance, nobody else could do their jobs.  So hearing from the workers and learning what their needs are, where there may be shortfalls in the district, and where I could help as a director would be next on my list.

4) Make sure all major contracts go out to bid.  This relates directly to the audit from the state that said the district wasted millions of dollars on the Bus Contract.  To the Board’s credit, they have bid out the health care and banking contracts and saved millions.  We could expand that and save more.

5) Call Bill Courtright and talk about pooling health care costs with the City.  When the district bid out health care, they started saving $2 million per year.  They did it by securing an agreement from the unions that said health care could be bid as long as the care was the same or better.  The Board succeeded immensely here.  Now, if the same agreement were offered to city unions and the collective purchasing power of the district and city were combined, then both entities would save money because health insurance providers would competitively bid for the business.  I have a great relationship with Bill Courtright and would’ve loved to spearhead something like that.  If that got traction, I would move forward with offering this to neighboring  districts, municipalities, and the county.  Savings for everyone!

6) Request an itemized budget for every single aspect of finance in the district.  I’m sure this would mean the Business Administrator would hate me.  That’s a lot of information (or maybe it’s a matter of clicking “print” or firing off an e-mail and he wouldn’t hate me, I’m not sure).  But I would want to get a handle on what the district spends, where.  If we overpaid in the millions for a bus contract, are we overpaying for something elsewhere?

7) Push a centralized purchasing department.  Right now, buildings purchase on an individual level at different prices for the same material.  That’s silly.  The district needs to assess its supply needs as a whole, then purchase as a whole.  Buying in bulk saves money.  Jumping back to #5, I think an inter-governmental purchasing agency would make a lot of sense, as well.  The city needs paper.  The district needs paper.  Together, we can save.

8) Direct administration to research the feasibility of a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) Magnet school for the district.  We need to move into the modern era.  There isn’t enough of a focus on 21st century jobs and life.  I find, as a teacher, that students are getting WORSE off with technology.  That’s a whole other post.  You’ll just have to trust me for now.

9) Address the feasibility of purchasing tablets for the student population.  With aging books and the current book shortage in the district, we need to both move forward technologically, and provide instructional material for the kids.

That’s what I’ve been thinking about the past two weeks, as I pictured myself sitting on the Board, one of nine.  It’s kind of an amalgamation of a lot of ideas I’ve had on the campaign trail.  There’s a lot more I would like to do than what I’ve written.  And that “To-Do” list, I’m sure, would be long.

And I’d love every minute of work, despite it being often time-consuming and utterly thankless.

This is why I’m disappointed.  I want to help.  But Fate has other things in store.  So, Directors and Future Directors, in my stead, feel free to print this list.  I’m sure I’ll be adding to it in this space as issues arise and time goes on.

At least I’ve got the therapeutic vessel that is this blog to sustain me!  (And my wife, of course.)


Note:  For your word of the day, “quixotic” refers to something that is both extraordinarily idealistic and unrealistic.  It seems appropriate for the title.  And I’m an English Teacher, after all!


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