Saturday, January 30, 2010

Big Brother At The School Board?

Karen Wolowski, President of the PTA Council of Mt. Lebanon, has a chilling tale to tell that evokes the specter of Big Brother.  Her email letter to the community is posted below (the blog she references in her letter is not Real Lebo).

Karen's reflections on the incident she describes below:  "I feel there is a public expectation of confidentiality in communications with the School Board and find it morally and ethically wrong to have my private opinion, shared with a handful of individuals, disseminated to the public.  Tell me, if someone has a different opinion from a School Board or Municipal Commission member, does it give that member the right to twist those views and slap them into a letter to select constituents?  I am as apolitical as they come and avoid controversy.  In my role as PTA Council President, I have always kept people's privacy.  I hold our School Board members to the same ethical standard.  As to why there are those who are always trying to discredit the PTA and its members, I have no idea.  I have never told the almost 4,000 members of the PTA what opinion they should have on an issue."

Karen continues, "The bottom line is that a member of the School Board redistributing my private communication with the Board to the public was WRONG, and if they did it to me, they'll do it to anyone else in the community.  If Board members cannot be trusted to keep confidentiality, on what else can they not be trusted?"

Karen's letter to the community follows:

On Wednesday, January 27th I got a phone call from a Mt. Lebanon resident who told me that a letter that I had sent to him was sent to the wrong person.  I was confused and asked him what letter.  He said, "Oh you know.  The one that starts 'First and foremost, I am writing to you as a *private* citizen and my comments in *no way* reflect the opinions of the PTA in Mt. Lebanon and should not be viewed as such'".  I thanked him for telling me.

I share this with you because on Monday, January 25th I wrote a letter via email to each member of the Mt. Lebanon School Board.  And that letter does in fact start out with that before mentioned sentence......"First and foremost, I am writing to you as a *private* citizen and my comments in *no way* reflect the opinions of the PTA in Mt. Lebanon and should not be viewed as such".  I sent it to 9 people....only 9 people on the face of the earth got this email from me.  Within hours, information from that email (though twisted and distorted) appeared on some sort of a blog posted by a private citizen.  Two days later I discover that not only was my email forwarded to private citizens, but it had also been hard-copied and mailed to people in the community, a serious breach of the implicit or even explicit duty of members of the school board to treat residents of Mt. Lebanon with respect and confidentiality when such residents respectfully but earnestly express their disagreement with members of the Board.

First let me say that I have NEVER given up my constitutional rights as a citizen of this country just to serve on the board of a nonprofit. I have as much right to express my views as the next person.  I thought that is what the members of the School Board wanted from the residents..... to let them know their opinions about various issues facing the community and our School District, after all they were elected to represent the PEOPLE of Mt. Lebanon.  Regardless of what side you represent on an issue, do YOU want your opinion as a private citizen to be sent to the public without your knowledge?  When YOU voted for these School Board members, did you not have an expectation of ethical behavior from them?  When you sent your last email or letter, did YOU expect it to become public fodder?  Are YOU concerned about where your email might end up and who ultimately might be reading some unauthorized version of it?    Does it scare you to think how someone reading your unauthorized distorted and edited email may react to you, a private citizen of Mt. Lebanon?  Does it scare you?  Well maybe it should.

Apparently a member of the School Board  has violated a trust with their constituents.  A member of this School Board  has read my letter and because he or she disagrees with it,  widely  disseminated it to their private citizen consortium. Someone on the School Board has made some of the most outrageous ethics violations I have seen in this community. Someone on the School Board has violated a public trust by forwarding and copying a personal and private email sent to them in their capacity as an elected official.  Someone on this School Board blatantly disregards YOUR rights as a private citizen and throws ethics out the window.  If one of our state legislators or federal legislators forwarded a letter that one of us sent to him on a particular issue to members of the public without our authorization because that legislator disagreed with our viewpoints, we would be outraged.  How would you react if a letter that you sent to your state representative on a particular issue such as abortion, taxes, etc was sent by him to members of the public.  Should we hold our Mt. Lebanon School Board members to a lesser standard of integrity and ethics?

Please beware!! It could happen to YOU! Maybe a certain School Board member doesn't like your haircut, or your sentence structure or your viewpoint or your cat.  It really doesn't matter only matters that it could happen to YOU!  Perhaps it already has.  Someone on the School Board could very easily leak YOUR PRIVATE communications to the community.  Is that really OK with you?

Be careful!  A pattern has been set here.  If you happen to have an opinion about something that is different from a School Board member, your comments may be edited, copied, pasted and forwarded.  Be careful!  The trust you THOUGHT you had in some of your elected officials has been violated.  BE CAREFUL!!!!!!

Anyone who is NOT a resident of Mt. Lebanon can just disregard this email. Residents of Mt. Lebanon can do with this email as they see fit, be it forward or delete. Nothing in this email is confidential.

Karen Wolowski


  1. I don't think it's fair to touch on the merits of this issue or judge the SB until we have first answered few questions:

    1. Are communications with the school board at large (especially through email) confidential? It seems odd that they would be.

    2. If a resident asks the Board as a whole to censure or remove one of its members, isn't that something that should be shared with public?

    3. Does Ms. Wolowski know who shared her email with the public? Was it one member, or 2, 4, 7, 9 of them?

  2. Does the board have an ethics code of conduct? If so, how is it enforced? Outrageous behavior before and now getting worse. Be sure it stays in the discussion when certain board members are facing re-election.

  3. Mr. Franklin, thanks for your post. To your questions:

    1. Mrs. Wolowski, in her letter, is speaking to what she believes is a moral and ethical expectation of confidentiality from our School Board members. She is very clear on that point and did not suggest, to my reading, that she had more.

    Our community should be aware that email can be a very public thing. Presently, a former School Board member has requested copies of emails sent to School Board members over a great many months and this individual has every right to do so under the Right To Know privilege that exists in Pennsylvania. Mr. Franklin, if you have sent an email to a School Board member over the last many months, it could soon be in someone else's hands simply because they want to know what you've been saying. These Right To Know requests are public knowledge and the district keeps a copy of them in their offices, said copies available to any member of the public who requests to see them.

    2. Mrs. Wolowski doesn't mention "censure" anywhere in her letter to the community. Do you know something we don't, Mr. Franklin? As for me, I have not seen Mrs. Wolowski's letter to the School Board referenced in her letter to the community.

    3. If Mrs. Wolowski knows who shared her letter to the School Board with the public, she did not share this information with me. You will need to contact her directly. That said, I don't see how it's germane to the point she's making.

  4. I sent an email to the school board asking that Mr. Fraasch be censured for what I see as his unethical and misleading report and letter from his wife, both widely circulated after Mr. Fraasch's point of view lost out in an 8-1 vote of the school board. Maybe I should be a target.

    Perhaps someone should be asking for copies of my emails to the school board? I'd be more than happy to make them public...

  5. Sigh . . . I was reluctant to jump in on this discussion because I was wary of exactly what is going on . . . I just thought that there were a few assumptions that needed to be addressed.

    Ms. Tashman, if forwarding emails from the public violates the SB ethics code I agree with you, but until you know that it does we probably shouldn't accuse them of such - any of them. And I agree, if it violates their code of ethics, EVERYONE who forwarded it should be held accountable. Perhaps someone on the Board forwarded the email because they disagreed with the message, but isn't equally possible that someone forwarded it because they agreed with it? Fact is, I don't know and you don't know, so we shouldn't jump to conclusions.

    Ms. Labalme I suppose there is a difference between a moral and ethical expectation of confidentiality vs. an absolute guarantee of confidentiality, but in any respect I think we all have to assume that when we send emails to the School Board that they will be read by more than just the recipient and will always be subject to public review following an appropriate request. I suppose that's why when I send an email to the School Board, I don't say anything that I wouldn't want the world to hear.

    As for the topic of censure, I suppose I raise that because I have read the "letter". I've received it from people who support both sides of the school debate and one who is undecided. I did not receive it from any School Board member, at least not that I know of. I did receive a few copies in the mail at home from anonymous senders. Why? I have no idea and frankly that wigs me out just a bit. And no, I didn't check it for prints. But what I received suggested that censure was an appropriate response to Mr. Fraasch's report.

    As for how many people on SB released the email, it sounds like Ms Wolowski believes that it was someone who disagrees with her opinion. As I note above, it may have been circulated by members who agree with her. I'm just saying it's dangerous to jump to conclusions . . . that's all.

  6. I understand that the Pennsylvania Right to Know Law does allow the public to request copies of emails, correspondence and other documents from the School District, but it is certainly not appropriate for any School Board Member to determine which, if any, documents are released. According to the policy adopted by the School Board, the Open Records Officer (Jeanine Szalinski), after consultation with the Solicitor shall determine whether the documents are public record or not. I am dismayed that a School Board member choose to make this decision on his/her own and at the breach of ethics the release of this email implies.

  7. Having devoted the better part of a year to running for School Board, I have, even though I failed, a pretty good idea what it takes to hold the postion of Director. Regardless of how I feel about each board member's positions, I do respect the service and dedication of all nine, as well as those that went before them.

    But taking a resident's correspondence sent solely to the nine board members and passing it to constituents without permission, goes beyond all standards of decorum. I can accept "white papers". I can even accept board members going on a media blitz. Unlike many others I've spoken with, I don't believe these actions are grounds for censure. I believe they are well-intentioned actions of a board member who is on a no-holds-barred mission to stop something he feels is wrong. These actions, in my mind, are short sighted, but fair enough.

    Now someone on the board has breached the public trust by spreading an email intended only for the board. Unacceptable.

    No board member has publicly admitted that they were the one who sent the note out to select constituents. No one has stepped forward to say it was within their rights to do so. That's because they know that even if it is within the letter of Board Operating Principles, it flies in the face of the spirit of those Principles.

    It's times like these that call for strong leadership. I implore Mr Kubit to gather his team, create a safe environment for candor and confidentiality, and get his board to reset their working relationships. They don't have to agree. But even if they can't find common ground, the community needs them to show a little common decency.

    Rob Gardner

  8. Ms. Tashman, did you hear any Board member at the last meeting dispute Mr. Fraasch's numbers? I sure didn't, at least not with any specificity. If you did, I'd love to review the tape with you. Instead, I heard 9 board members tell me that they could and will build the high school for a much lower price. Isn't that all that Mr. Fraasch is asking for? I understand that Mr. Kubit has suggested that that my taxes won't go up by 14% this year or 50% in a few years, but he didn't think to offer an estimate of where they would be. So, should we oust Mr. Kubit if our taxes go up 14% this year on the theory that his public "NO" on behalf of the Board was irresponsible, fraudulent and outrageous? What if they go up by 13% and 48%?

    And as far as emails from spouses go, I received a rather terse one from Mrs. Remely before the last board meeting, yet I've not heard anyone expressing similar concern with her. So can we please stop with the absurd generalizations . . . .

  9. Mr. Franklin, I'm sorry, but I don't understand your comments. The board voted 8-1 to approve the construction drawings based on the current design. After that meeting, Mr. Fraasch sent out his widely circulated report along with his wife's plea based on their own personal finances. This is highly inappropriate in my opinion and hardly an absurd generalization. I am speaking very specifically to this incident. As for Mr. Fraasch's numbers, please see Mr. Kubit's response on the school board website. I believe that many of these points were discussed at the meeting where the Act 34 hearing was approved.

    I have not received or seen emails from any other spouse of a board member, so I can't comment on what you may have received.

  10. Ms. Tashman, didn't 2 other board members vote WITH Mr. Fraasch at the Act 34 hearing? Never mind though - I'll let your words stand on their own. I can't make my point any better than you have done it yourself.

  11. Mr. Franklin, just to clarify, the Act 34 hearing has not happened yet. Please don't be so quick to judge another's comments (Ms. Tashman's - who was correct in her statement, BTW) when your own posts are not necessarily accurate. The Act 34 hearing will take place this month. 3 board members did vote no on something, but that was not AT the Act 34 hearing. Furthermore, your tone certainly does not encourage anyone who might disagree with you to jump over to your side. Perhaps that is not your goal. Please consider that no one is correct 100% of the time, even you.

    Clearly there are many opinions on the topic of the high school renovation and the behavior of particular board members. I can certainly appreciate differences of opinions. However, I do have big issues with the approach that Mr. Fraasch has taken with his opinion - I have cut and pasted a section out of the board operating principles that can be seen at the end of my post. To me it is very clear that Mr. Fraasch has violated some basic principles which is a disservice to the board and the community. The biggie for me is:

    "Supporting the conclusion of the team."

    Years have passed, input has been given by countless stakeholders, numerous votes have been taken, and a conclusion was made by board collectively. By vote, the high school project is moving forward with a cap of a little over $113 Million. It is safe to say that this is the "conclusion of the team". Even though Mr. Fraasch may disagree and doesn't like the conclusion, it should have been his PLEDGE as a board member to support his team members in whatever conclusion was arrived at. He chose not to do that and appears to have gone to desperate measures to try to derail the conclusion of the team. I can only see his actions as desperate because I know James Fraasch personally and I find it hard to believe that under normal circumstances he would resort to such measures as 11th hour ambush attempts and trying to discredit someone like Mrs. Wolowski who has devoted countless hours of her life to the betterment of children's lives through her tireless work with the PTA. It's like trying to discredit Mother Teresa or Nelson Mandela. I see all of this as a very sad state of affairs all around.

    Some of you may disagree with my "high road" mentality, but it is the way I have chosen to live my life. Teams set up bylaws and principles for a reason. Mr. Fraasch has ignored those ground rules and I have expressed that to him myself. I don't think anyone can dispute my argument that he has not "supported the conclusion of the team". Some of you may not see his disregard for the Operating Principles" as a big deal because you agree with his "cause". I disagree.

    one last comment, please don't point to the other principles listed below and try to craft them into an assumption that Mr. Fraasch's 11th hour ambush somehow falls into those categories because they encourage discussion, etc. That discussion has already happened over the past several years with the conclusion already established.

    Team Members Pledge To:

    · Major decisions will be made by:

    · Ensuring that all decisions are consistent with the district mission and strategic plan.

    · Ensuring that the leadership team will address all challenges concerning the issue, seek and review appropriate research and data, listen to each other and stakeholders and discuss openly.

    ·Ensuring that open discussions have taken place among the leadership team and that stakeholders have had ample opportunity to provide input regarding the issue.

    ·Ensuring that multiple options for implementation are presented for consideration that reflect available resources and represent forward thinking.

    · Supporting the conclusion of the team.

  12. I'll keep this brief. I understand that the Act 34 hearing has not occurred. However, at the Jan 22 meeting the Board had to take a vote on whether to submit the required Act 34 paperwork with a maximum project cost of $113 million. The result of that vote was 6-3. It was very clear from the discussion that EVERY member of the Board believes that the project SHOULD NOT cost $113 million . . . so from where I sit EVERY Board member (and not just Mr. Fraasch) believes in their heart and in their minds that $113 million is TOO MUCH to spend right now. I have received similar assurances from Board members since that meeting. Unfortunately, however, Mr. Fraasch is the only Board member who is being publicly flogged for his opinion.

    It should also be noted that Mr. Fraasch's opinions and report were published PRIOR to the vote on Jan 22. No decision had been made by the Board as to the maximum project cost pursuant to Act 34 and he was well within his rights to express those concerns in advance of that meeting and the resulting vote. Mr. Fraasch was not swimming against the stream at that point, because no vote had been taken. To accept your argument, Mr. Fraasch should have kept his mouth shut and voted "yes" simply because he knew he would lose.

    I should also point out that 2 of the 8 Board members who voted to move forward with the project (Ostergaard and Stipanovch), ALSO VOTED AGAINST submitting the Act 34 paperwork with a $113 million cap. Ms. Stipanovich has been consistent in her opposition to spending $113 million. Oddly though, neither Mr. Ostergaard nor Ms. Stipanovich are being accused of not being team players. Further, at no time has Mr. Fraasch argued that the project should stop or be derailed. In fact, at the Jan 22 meeting he emphatically committed to supporting a project with a maximum project cost of $75 million, a number closer to the total cost favored by his colleagues on the Board than the number that they ultimately agreed to as the maximum. Specifically, members of the Board argued that the project SHOULD come in any where between $85-95 million. Simply math allows us to conclude that the majority of the Board members AGREE that the total project cost should come in at a total price closer to the one advocated by Mr. Fraasch. Please understand this is not my opinion . . . this is what happened.

    And thank you for quoting the Board policy for us. In fact, by challenging the thoughts of the majority of the Board PRIOR to the vote on Jan 22, My Fraasch appears to have fulfilled his obligations quite nicely. Specifically, he ensured that the leadership team addressed all challenges concerning the issue, sought and reviewed appropriate research and data, and listened to each other and stakeholders. Further, he ensured that open discussions took place among the leadership team and that the stakeholders had ample opportunity to provide input regarding the issue. And finally, by speaking up in advance of the vote, he ensured that multiple options for implementation were presented for consideration that reflected available resources and represented forward thinking.

  13. S. Cohen's post seems to state it quite clearly, that no Board Member has a right to distribute emails receieved from residents without the permission of the Solicitor and the Open Records Officer. Furthermore, if this Board Member did nothing wrong, then why hasn't this person stepped forward to stand up for what they have done?
    If they had the huevos to send it out, then have the huevos to stand up and admit it.

  14. I would also note that the Board HAS NOT approved the Construction Drawings as indicated by Ms. Tashman. Instead, the Board has approved the Schematic Design and authorized that the Construction Drawings phase commence . . . big difference.

  15. Mr. Franklin, there's a lot of screaming in this post (I think you know what I mean -- the CAPS), a lot of it just in your first paragraph! We can all tone it down a bit and still make our points.

    The one thing that stands out for me is that while a number of Board members have been saying for some time that they are looking to bring this project in around $95 million, the last school board meeting was the first time I heard Mr. Fraasch say publicly that he approved of a project around $75 million. Since we floated bonds late last year and now have, you guessed it, $75 million in hand for this project, Mr. Fraasch's statement was, to me, more of a de facto acknowledgement of the new reality as opposed to working to bridge a divide within the School Board team.

  16. Mr. Franklin, you should also note that Mr. Fraasch's actions came after the 8-1 vote by the board, to which I referred, to approve the construction drawings. That vote was several weeks prior to the 6-3 vote to schedule the Act 34 hearing. That is what happened as well, not my opinion.

  17. Ms. Tashman, the circulation of the report that generated all of the debate came immediately prior to the Act 34 vote on Jan. 22 and specifically encouraged resdients to ask the board members to vote "no" on that vote. Just so I'm clear, do you take issue with that effort? If so, are the other two dissenting board members who voted with Mr. Fraasch equally at fault for going against the majority? Or do you take issue with his actions "before" the vote? I guess I'm just trying to figure out what Mr. Fraasch has done wrong in your opinion. And please keep in mind, he is not the only School Board member who has been critical of majority decisions on his own private blog. If you want to advocate for his censure, please argue for the censure of others too.

    And to reiterate, there's been no approval of construction drawings yet.

  18. Mr. Franklin, thanks for your post. At this point, however, I think we're all a bit guilty of steering away from the post that started this thread, which talked about how Mrs. Wolowski's private communications to School Board members found their way to a number of community members, yourself included. Mr. Franklin, do you care to share who sent you Mrs. Wolowski's communication to the School Board, either via email or snail mail? Maybe then we can get some resolution or closure on this and move on.

    Please note, there is another thread at Real Lebo appearing several below this one that more specifically speaks to the high school renovation project.

    Now back to paying work...

  19. Sorry to disappoint, but I don't see the need for those innocent folks (at least the ones who identified themselves) to suffer the wrath; however, I will reiterate that I did not receive it from a SB member.

  20. Mr. Franklin, I am tired of splitting hairs with you. The 8-1 vote was to approve moving ahead with the construction drawings based on the current design. My objection with Mr. Fraasch was based on his actions after being on the losing end of an 8-1 vote to keep the high school project on track. Thsi was not in keeping with board policy. I'm sorry if you missed that meeting or if I didn't provide enough clarity on for you on the subject of this vote. However, I'm sure you are now aware of it as it is public record. Enough splitting hairs with you on this matter. I look forward to the Act 34 hearing on Feb. 22.

  21. And also with regard to the original post, if an e-mail is sent to a school board member or the board as a whole, and IF a member has the right to forward that e-mail to others outside of board, is it not ethically correct of anyone in the e-mail chain to forward the entire message, unedited? That, to me, is another large lapse of judgment by those who forwarded the letter. If we are not to expect privacy, then we should expect fair treatment and equal treatment of all.

    I have learned from "reply all" mistakes that I should put nothing in an e-mail that I would be ashamed of. But besides that, anonymous messages should not be necessary or acceptable. I am definitely suspicious, as well as wigged out, when I receive a message with no known sender. We are not whistle-blowers that fear loss of income, we are taxpayers fearing high rates and poor return. We may disagree on what we are willing to spend to what end, but what real reprisals do we fear that any of us feel the need to be anonymous?

    Finally, a great deal of what I feel many have issue with concerning Mr. Fraasch's letter to the community was its fervor. Yes, he has the right to present his views publicly and yes, in all technicality, he did not misquote anyone. He can continue to voice dissent at every vote, with or without other members' support. And yet, he chose to take the worst-case scenario and present it as a reality that we would be facing in a short time. (I am sure someone could present worst-case scenarios as to how poorly this building will function in five years if this project does not move forward, addressing all of the 15 design goals.) He did admit to me that his graph of present and future school district tax rates could be seen as misleading.

    I do believe that Mr. Ostergaard said in his vote against the Act 34 hearing that his issue was with the cost, not the scale of renovation. He hoped for savings in site development, but he does agree that a large-scale renovation is necessary. I think he and Mr. Fraasch differ in that respect. Mr. Fraasch was the lone vote against moving ahead with the construction drawings because he was not convinced that the much-maligned Building D should not be kept. He did show great disregard of the entire design development process with that vote.

  22. Ms. Tashman, your argument does not adequately recognize that all school-board policy is subordinate to the board's obligation to serve in the public interest. If Mr. Fraasch believed that his concerns about the then-current renovation plan were valid, and if he believed that those concerns had been dismissed by the bulk of the board, his duty to serve the public interest would suggest that the next reasonable step would be to communicate his concerns to the public. Releasing the report was wrong, then, only if his concerns were not justified in light of then-current information.

    But you have characterized Mr. Fraasch's report as "unethical and misleading," suggesting not only that his report was fundamentally inaccurate but that he wrote it with the intent to deceive. You have offered no credible evidence to support either of these claims. (The claims of the Board FAQ, for example, are suspect, conflicting with information provided at the January 28 Audit and Finance Committee meeting and relying upon assumptions that have not been clearly stated let alone scrutinized. Further, it draws upon financial information that was not available to Mr. Fraasch at the time he did the analyses behind his report. Can reasonable people fault Mr. Fraasch for not having the ability to see financial figures from the future?)

    If Mr. Fraasch has done anything wrong, it was to trust in the district's financial projections. I don't see that trust as grounds for labeling his conduct "unethical" or "misleading." Nor do I see it as irresponsible to scrutinize the district's finances using the best information available at the time. (What other information can a reasonable person use?)


  23. Again, folks, we're steering away from the original thread, which was how Mrs. Wolowski's private communications to nine School Board made their way to community members. It's starting to feel like piling on on all sides around Mr. Fraasch's actions and this thread didn't start about Mr. Fraasch -- or did it, and I just don't know? If Mr. Fraasch is central to the genesis of this thread and someone knows that (Tom? Dave?), can they please tell me? If not, let's keep him out of the conversation.

    I want the conversation to stay en point since the other stuff has already been hashed and rehashed and if it doesn't, I may be compelled to say "we have to agree to disagree" and I know Tom doesn't like that. ;-)

  24. Blogs are a lot like community gathering places in that the thing that initially draws folks in – the allure of coffee, a particular conversation, or something else – is not necessarily the thing that holds their attention. The reason people jumped on the topic of Mr. Fraasch is because it's a legitimately hot topic, and Ms. Tashman injected it into the conversation early on, in comment #4.

    Why did I step into the conversation then? Because when people bash Mr. Frassch, they indirectly bash people like me. Back in October I used the district's own finances – the best information available at the time – to reach findings similar to those in Mr. Fraasch's report. If Mr. Fraasch was somehow "unethical and misleading," then by similar logic so am I.

    But I did the homework, studied the finances, and cranked through the numbers. I didn't make wild accusations, and I certainly didn't try to deceive anybody. (That's why when I founded the MLAO I established standards that serve the public interest, made membership open to all residents, and asked the community to hold us accountable to our word.)

    Still, I'm always open to the possibility that I got something wrong. That's why I continually ask everybody to show me the evidence of where I (or Mr. Fraasch) have gone wrong. When they do, I look at that evidence. All too often, however, that evidence doesn't withstand scrutiny. And that's when I become all the more aware of how important it is to share what I've found – because most people can't see it and are basing their conclusions on bogus information.

    So I think I have a pretty good idea of how Mr. Fraasch feels, if not to the same degree. That's why when somebody does a little Fraasch-bashing, I feel compelled to make sure they have the opportunity to see what they may be missing.

    Thanks for listening.


  25. I'd be thrilled to get back on point. After all, I started the comments with 3 very specific questions that so far have gone unanswered. I also think that those answers should come from Ms. Wolowski or someone with factual responses. If those questions cannot be answered than none of us should jump to conclusions. After all, no one on this blog has indicated that they know who forwarded the original email.

  26. Yes, back on point. Dave, I answered your questions to the best of my ability in this thread. If you want different/better answers, you can contact Mrs. Wolowski directly. She is the President of the PTA Council and I believe her contact info is on the district web site (or call the district, I'm sure they can put you in touch with her). You're a PTA member, right? I'm sure she hears from PTA members on a regular basis. You'd probably be a good one to discuss this particular issue with her seeing as how you are in receipt of her original letter to the Board -- I'm serious about that.

    Dave, your tone may be a little sharp for my taste ;-) but I sense that you have a genuine quest for answers. On that point, we are very much in agreement.

  27. Just to let those reading this string that I would never forward or share with anyone, correspondence from a resident sent to me as a school board director.
    Whether or not I agree with that individual's opinion, the message is their intellectual property.
    I am committed to looking at policy BCA, The Board Code of Ethics, as well as policy BBAA, Board Member Authority and Responsibilties, and will be making suggestions for more specificity in those polices. We owe it to our constituents to be transparent and hold one another accountable.
    Thank you for your continued efforts to keep the conversation civil.

  28. Elaine:

    I apologize for the tone. I'm sure most would agree I'm not an angry person. I would defy you to find a more proud supporter of this community and its schools. However, on this issue I am very frustrated. I too would like to think that we could bring this project in $18-23 million below estimates, but think about that! Does anyone think that is remotely possible? Many people have told me to trust the experts, but if the experts are truly off by that much, how good are they? And if the Board is so convinced that they can do better than these estimates why approve a max cost that is so much higher? These are things that make no sense to me. And what happens when the municipality brings its next big ticket item to the taxpayers in the next 3-5 years? How do we pay for that? I realize that thoughts like this are interepreted by some as fearmongering, but I view them as good governance and responsible management.

    I'm also frustrated because no one seemed to be asking these hard questions until Mr. Fraasch circulated his report. Sure, there were a few, but let's face it, he got people thinking about this project in ways that no one else could. Mr. Fraasch was the same person who suggested that we should put together a plan and approach the project in phases as we saved some of the money. Ironically, had Mr. Fraasch been around 10 years ago with that proposal he would have been lauded as a forward thinker and perhaps the greatest champion of the high school project. Unfortunately, since Mr. Fraasch is on the Board during the "build it now" era, his concerns and plans are seen as disruptive and anti-Lebo. Think about that . . .

    In my opinion, since the new high school will have a useful life for generations to come (and not just my kids), why not plan it out so that it doesn't bury us financially? After all, what's the easier task - phasing this project so that we can afford it or trying to squeeze $20 million of savings out of the current estimates?

  29.'re off topic, Dave.

  30. A couple comments on this issue and Ms. Birks stated position (quotes taken from her above post):

    "Just to let those reading this string that I would never forward or share with anyone, correspondence from a resident sent to me as a school board director."

    Sharing emails that are not legally confidential is totally Ms. Birks choice, but it is also hard to imagine a resident email that would be considered legally confidential. Absent some exceptions it is likely that any email a School Director receives regarding their work is ascertainable by the public under the PA's Right to Know law. If they are requested they have no choice but to share them with whomever asked. This would include emails from their School Board account and their private email if they relate to work as School Director.

    "Whether or not I agree with that individual's opinion, the message is their intellectual property."

    It is incorrect to say that a residents email is intellectual property just because it is an email - and more importantly, even if it could be classified as intellectual property that does not mean the Right to Know law would not apply to it.

    "I am committed to looking at policy BCA, The Board Code of Ethics, as well as policy BBAA, Board Member Authority and Responsibilties, and will be making suggestions for more specificity in those polices."

    Ok. And hopefully check with the School District solicitor to better understand the issue?

    "We owe it to our constituents to be transparent and hold one another accountable."

    Agreed. That's why all School Board related emails are ascertainable by the public. The current administration has interpreted the Right to Know law very broadly- and that's a good thing isn't?

    I would agree that if a School Director wanted to use or share a residents email for some purpose, it would perhaps be best to ask before doing so out of courtesy. But I do not believe there is any legal requirement of them to do so (assuming that the email is not changed).

    If I am wrong on any of these points perhaps the School Board could release their solicitors opinion regarding such communication?

  31. Joe, thanks for your note. What struck me most is that we've gotten to the point of requesting the School Board solicitor's opinion on this matter, all because a School Board member released Mrs. Wolowski's private communication to the School Board to assorted community members. Is this really how the solicitor's time is best spent?

    Mrs. Wolowski never indicated to me that her emails were legally protected. She stated that she sees this incident as a moral and ethical breach by a School Board member. Let's all try to keep the conversation there.

  32. With all due respect your last post is symptomatic of the confusion on this issue. For example, you reference that a "School Board member released... a private communication." While the author may feel it was "private" - legally it was not. There is little in the public arena that is "private." It was a constituent communication with an elected official and therefore public upon request (for the record, shuffling such emails between private and public emails does not change that).

    My point in suggesting that the School Board revisit the Right to Know law is precisely because of such confusion - and the post of one of our new School Directors that likewise seemed confused. I definitely understand that the author has not stated that she believed the email was "legally protected." I am sure that the author knows quite well that there was no violation of a legal right of privacy in sharing the email. The only legitimate issue therefore seems to be whether or not as a courtesy the elected official should have notified/asked to use the constituent email. On that issue, subjectivity rules.

    If you don't want your email shared perhaps in the future a well placed phone call or even - heaven forbid - a face to face discussion would be best.

  33. Joe, I LOVE face-to-face conversation. I'm often found at Uptown Coffee doing just that. ;-)

  34. Actually, Joe, it appears that there are also legal issues (though I agree that the ethical ones come first). While it appears clear that emails (or old-fashioned letters) to school board members are subject to Open Records requests (and thus the sender should expect them to be public), a school director sending out an email (unsolicited, it appears) does not fall under the Open Records laws. As the School Board policies indicate, decisions on what to release follow a process, one that involves the Solictor and a point person for Open Records requests. School Board members releasing emails on their own is not something that is required, or even allowed under the policy.--Neil Berch

  35. This thread seems to be jumping around quite a bit. One thing that seems to be overlooked by some is that this project did not begin a few weeks ago or a few months ago. This project has been in the works for a long time. The conclusion that the board has arrived at is based on years of study and research with numerous experts and stakeholders. I have followed this project for quite some time and appreciate all of the time that has gone into this. The conclusion of the board has not happened in a vacuum as some seem to imply.

  36. Nobody has suggested that the board has operated in a vacuum. Some of us, however, have said that (1) the planning process failed to adequately consider what the community would have to give up to get the planned renovation, (2) that the board was relying upon information that we now know to be incorrect, (3) that the board has dismissed good alternatives and credible evidence of overspending for the sake of moving forward, and (4) that the economy has left the community, the school district, the commonwealth, and the nation much worse off than expected and that the board has not adequately revised its decisions in light of this weaker financial reality.

    Do you have reason to doubt any of these claims?


  37. I stand by my words. I have been involved every step of the way and feel that appropriate steps have been taken and that every effort will be made to keep costs as low as possible while still trying to provide everything that the teachers, staff and community have asked for. I am also excited by the cost-savings that will be seen by having a more energy efficient building. The LEED certification is wonderful as well.

  38. Just to clarify (because I got a couple of backchannels pointing this out), I wasn't intending to say above that emails sent by school board members didn't fall under the Right to Know law. Rather, what I meant was that a school board member can't justify forwarding an email from a constituent to whomever they please (if this is what happened) and simply claim that the email from the constituent falls under the Right to Know Law and therefore is subject to release (with the implication that this outweighs the ethical obligation that Karen Wolowski talks about). That is not a decision for an individual school board member to make. Rather, there is an Open Records Officer, Jeanine Szalinski, who, perhaps in consultation with the Solicitor, decides whether to release things--and only after a formal written request is made.

    The notion of individual school board members acting as de facto Open Records Officers is a very bad idea.--Neil Berch

  39. Mr. Berch, thanks for your comments -- illuminating. Sounds like School Board members aren't the ones to make the call on what emails get released (pursuant to a request for same) to a member or members of the public, and I consider it a good thing if School Board members don't start hiding behind the Right To Know privilege. That said, do you (anyone?) think there is a legal responsibility for School Board members not to release constituent emails? I can certainly see that there should be a moral and ethical responsibility not to release private communications to the public, be it in full or in distorted parts, and that at a minimum, a School Board member should ask the sender of any private communications whether they are okay with having it released to a subset of constituents before they do so on their own.

    I have not seen, nor do I know the contents of, Mrs. Wolowski's original letter to School Board members, which is helping me look at this issue objectively e.g. based on a School Board member's actions and not on the merit, or lack thereof, of the contents released. Perhaps those who have received a copy of Mrs. Wolowski's letter are viewing this issue with more subjectivity.

  40. Yesterday I received a copy of a letter circulated by Mary Birks, in which she labeled Mr. Fraasch as "unethical" and basically a liar who has left a "mass of wreckage behind" him. I am troubled by this in many respects.

    First and foremost, I am troubled because I chose to support Mary during her campaign and listened closely as she explained to me about she should would work to set aside differences and build consensus.

    I am further troubled because regardless of whether you like Mr. Fraasch's point of view or not, he did not lie to anyone, nor did his report contain a single personal attack.

    I am still further troubled by the fact that prior to the Jan 22 meeting, Mary informed her supporters and other residents that the proper forum for discussion was at the Board meetings and not in off the record emails, blogs or letter writing campaigns. Somewhere she changed her mind.

    But lastly, I'm especially troubled because letters like this, regardless of their author or their position, erode the credibility of the entire Board and the District. Theses off the record letter undoubtedly frustrate the progress of this project and make our whole community look incredibly dysfunctional in the eyes of those looking closely at us.

    Frankly, I am officially tapped out. I can no longer expend my energy trying to hear the substance over the static . . . from all sides. Sadly, I am left to only hope that leadership emerges from somewhere and we get this whole thing right.

  41. Kristen,

    You have nearly made my case for me. You wrote, "I have been involved every step of the way and feel that appropriate steps have been taken and that every effort will be made to keep costs as low as possible while still trying to provide everything that the teachers, staff and community have asked for." (Emphasis mine).

    The goal of providing everybody with everything they wanted is fundamentally incompatible with keeping costs as low as possible! Providing everything, which is what the planning process has tried to do all along, was simply the wrong goal. Somewhere on the road to everything, you reach the point of rapidly diminishing returns, beyond which you have to pay so much for each additional benefit that the money you paid could have purchased you greater benefits if spent elsewhere.

    The right goal should have been to provide the best education possible for each and every student. That goal should have been used to weigh the stakeholders' preferences and the planning process's outputs every step of the way, enabling us to make hard decisions.

    By failing to do this weighing, our planning process prevented our school board and our community teams from adequately identifying and weeding out the least educationally effective parts of our plan. Because we left those parts in, we must now pay for them, overspending. And the money by which we overspend is the money that would have purchased our students better outcomes – through better teaching, better lab equipment, better computing equipment, and through better cash reserves to help us adapt to unanticipated future needs.

    I know you think that this weighing was done, but it was not. Can you tell me, for instance, how much are way paying for Design Criterion 9, "No temporary classrooms"? Can you tell me when we ever did a sensitivity analysis?

    If we don't know how much the various criteria are contributing to cost, we couldn't possibly have weighed their educational value against their educational opportunity costs. If we're paying $15 million for Criterion 9 – and I'm just guessing since our planning process didn't tell us – did our community's parents really know they could have had $15 million in teaching or other things instead? Did they get to make that choice?

    Am I wrong? If so, can you please tell me how much we're paying to avoid temporary classrooms?


  42. Tom, can you perform an analysis that tells us how much more we'll spend on the high school renovation if we analyze it to death for another 2, 3 or 5 years? I'm serious! I have to believe it would only get more expensive over time, and that the cost of waiting would be greater than the cost of acting now on the plan we've got. But then, even that analysis won't be bulletproof since these studies are always subject to interpretation.

    Boy, I have GOT to get to paying work. Oh, let's move this conversation over to the thread on the high school renovation -- it's off topic here.

  43. Elaine,

    You're right: back on topic.

    I have received a copy of what appears to be the original letter.

    Since becoming an editor at Blog-Lebo, I have discovered that just about everybody in town wants to send me something anonymously. It's weird receiving unmarked envelopes in the mail, but I guess I had better get used to it. For better or worse, I'm now part of what is effectively a town newspaper. I should learn to accept what comes with the territory.

    Anyway, what's missing from this discussion, and why knowledge of the original letter may weigh into it, is that the original letter (if what I have received is authentic) appears not to be sent to the school board. Instead, it appears to be offered as a personal letter to people who just happen to sit on the school board. Moreover, the letter I have seen (if it is authentic) states that it is being sent this way to avoid being subject to public scrutiny.

    So the question becomes, Is a citizen allowed to send a secret letter to the school board?

    I don't think so. If this letter were a "real" letter to the school board, it ought to be subject to Right To Know requests, which the sender apparently wanted to avoid. If, then, this letter isn't "real," it's just a random email between friends, right?

    That's the ironic wrinkle that's been missing from the story. In trying to influence the school board in secrecy, the original sender may have made an official letter into a personal letter, opening the door to personal sharing.


  44. Elaine,

    You offer a false dilemma. Recognizing the problems of the existing plan does not force us to analyze the renovation for another 2, 3, or 5 years. We do have other options. We can change our plans without incurring such penalties.


  45. Tom, I'm co-founder of Real Lebo and I STILL haven't received Mrs. Wolowski's letter and have no idea what it says. Was there some other reason for your receiving it? Further, your arguments don't pass the common sense test for me.

    I think Mrs. Wolowski is in the best position to address your questions. She's President of the PTA Council and easy to find. You really should talk to her about it.

    Oh, if the letter isn't real, are you suggesting it's a fake? Sorry, couldn't resist. ;-) The bottom line is Mrs. Wolowski's letter about this incident, which is at the top of this thread, details her very real distress about this whole mess.

  46. Elaine,

    Just wait. You'll start getting those letters soon enough. ;-)

    My questions are of a general nature, being about the interplay of public and private interests, and therefore not questions that Mrs. Wolowski can answer for us. Whether she (if she sent the letter I received) views the letter as official or not, secret or not, doesn't change the fundamental issues.

    If the original letter is authentic, we have two issues:

    1. An individual who apparently wishes to influence a government body while trying to avoid the public's right to know about such influence.

    2. Another individual (or individuals) who apparently feel so strongly that the public ought to know about something that they are willing to go outside of established confidentiality policy to make it known.

    If either issue stood alone, it would be easy to judge. That both are intertwined in this particular instance is what makes the situation so interesting.


  47. Tom,

    Please go back and re-read S.Cohen's post from 1/13/2010.
    This might add clarity to your comments.

    Thank You.

  48. Time to snip this thread as the conversation appears to have played itself out -- even Dave Franklin is tired of this one! Let's move on to other stuff, many more good posts on this blog to comment on.


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