First up, the Resolution Opposing Vouchers was presented by Betsy Landers. It has long been the position of the School Board to oppose voucher legislation so the Resolution passed unanimously with little discussion.
The second resolution involved negotiating for Germantown Elementary and Germantown Middle School. This resolution prompted the most public comments in the Citizens-To-Be-Heard item on the Business Meeting agenda and was clearly, the hot topic of the night overshadowing the long anticipated final selection site for the new elementary school.
During the discussion, a housekeeping item came up when Board Member Suzanne Jones noted that the two resolutions referred to the School Board as the "Germantown Municipal School District Board of Education" while the Contract for the Broer/Shaeffer property referred to the School Board as the "Germantown Board of Education." Debra Owen, attorney for the School District, said that the School Board did not have an official name so either was correct. When Ms. Jones persisted, saying, perhaps the names should be the same for the sake of consistency, Ms. Owens replied, "sure" in a not so nice tone.
JAM NOTE: One of our vigilant Moms brought School Board Policy 1.100 to our attention that clearly specifies "the governing body shall be the Germantown Board of Education."
While we are on the topic of School Board policy, another discussion came up later about School Board ethics regarding political involvement. Policy 1.1061 says: "I will represent at all times the entire school community and refuse to represent special interests or partisan politics."
Ms. Jones asked if that meant individual School Board members are precluded from endorsing political candidates. She was told that the policy was limited to prohibiting the School Board as a body from giving endorsements but did not preclude the individual School Board members from supporting candidates for political office. It was agreed that such support should not come from Board Members during times when they are representing GMSD or wearing clothing, name badges, or indicative of being a School Board member.
Ms. Jones also brought up a rather cryptic question about a legal memo from School Board Attorney, Debra Owens. While the contents of the memo were not divulged during the meeting, Ms. Jones questioned Ms. Owens as to the format. Ms. Jones noted that the memo was not written on Ms. Owen's law firm (Jackson, Sheilds, Yeiser & Holt) letterhead. She asked if there was a reason for it not being on legal stationary and whether that practice was standard? Ms. Owens replied that it was.
The 2 Gs Resolution
That sentiment was echoed by three other citizens during the public comments One citizen, Bill Irby, told the Board that they were special but not special as in "special needs" but special in terms of their gifts and talents. He continued, saying that those gifts and talents are why they were elected to the School Board and he urged the entire Board to remain involved in the negotiation process and not give their rights over to the Mayor.
Mr. Manuel assured the citizens that GMSD is not ceding anything to the Mayor or Board of Aldermen. He was emphatic that the School Board through its Executive Committee will be leading negotiations and the full Board would approve any agreement struck with SCS. But to alleviate any concerns, the School Board changed some of the wording of the Resolution. The new wording explicitly limits the Mayor and Board of Aldermen's authority to only approval of the funding. A motion was made and seconded to pass the Resolution.
When it came time for discussion, Suzanne Jones took the lead. She thanked the Superintendent for his presentation and said that it was the first time, she had gotten this much detail of the past history to acquire the 3 Gs. But she questioned the need for the Resolution and wanted to know if appointing a negotiation team would preclude other Board Members from participating in the process. She thinks the BOE is ceding its power by including the Mayor and City Administrator. She criticized the Board for waiting so long to contact SCS and believed they should have touched SCS more often to spur on the negotiations.
When Mr. Manuel attempted to answer her concerns, she cut him off. Ms. Jones told Mr. Manuel, "Well, I'm still going, I'm sorry. I am not sorry. I just have a few things."
She went on to tell the Board that they needed to approach SCS with new creative ideas and new energy. And they should take on the Grizzlies mantra, "Believe." She thinks that energy and emotions have changed in SCS and that GMSD should approach negotiations differently. She then moved to amend the Resolution by replacing Board Chair Linda Fisher with a BOE member selected by the Board and replacing the Mayor and City Administrator with an Alderman selected by the City. Her motion to amend failed for lack of a second.
Lisa Parker told Ms. Jones that she loves her optimism but, after a while the Board loses its enthusiasm when it is told "no" over and over again by SCS. Eventually, the Board has to move that energy over to GMSD and affect change within its power. She added that there was no need to bring a bunch of people into the mix. She also asked if Ms. Jones understood how the Mayor and Board of Aldermen worked? She went on to explain that the Mayor does not even get a vote, the Mayor serves only as a tie-breaker. She then defended the Mayor by saying that Alderman Massey has gone out and gotten four different legal opinions but still, the Mayor hasn't done anything wrong.
Betsy Landers weighed in by stating that she had emotional ties to Germantown High School where her children attended school. But the language of the Resolution is clear. The Mayor and City Administrator are representative of the funding body and there is no ceding of the School Board's power.
Ms. Fisher answered Ms. Jones' concern about the long delay in checking back with SCS on the 2 G negotiations. She said that Chris Caldwell was clear in setting the timeline for any opportunity for negotiations. Mr. Caldwell said that SCS would not consider any offers or be available for any negotiations until after his Board had an opportunity to review the "foot print analysis" and he estimated that timeframe would be in early May.
The Board then proceeded to vote on the Resolution. It passed with Ms. Jones voting against it.
New School Site
The terms of the contract require a $3.1M purchase price for the two parcels totaling a little over 38 acres and $30K in escrow for earnest money. The Board will have 90 days to perform its due diligence inspection of the property. Thereafter, another $30K will be required for each 30 day extension. The additional earnest money is non-refundable and the sale must close by the end of the year.
Mr. Manuel started the discussion by saying it was a well-settled legal opinion that the School Board has the legal authority to purchase the property and bid out the construction project. He then recalled the public process that was conducted to select the new school location and recommended the BOE approve the contract as negotiated by him and School Board Chair Linda Fisher as the Board's Executive Committee. The contract was then, unanimously approved by the Board. The Board also approved the escrow agreement and a budget amendment for the architectural fees and earnest money.
In other business, the Board approved the purchase and installation of new HVAC roof top units for Houston High School and new interior/exterior paint job for Farmington Elementary. The Board will meet again for a Budget Session (agenda here) on April 12, 1:00pm at GMSD offices and for its next regular meeting on April 17th at City Hall.