Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Lawrence Township School Board Member Criticizes Administration's Budget Moves, Accused of Ethics Violation by Other Board Members for Speaking Out

Today's Indianapolis Star contains a letter to the editor signed by four Lawrence Township School Board members in which they criticize another board member, Henry Fernandez. The conclusory paragraph to the letter tells what their criticism is all about:
There is no question in the mind of this board that Fernandez does not have the best interests of the educational community at heart. His political motives are obvious with his incessant pandering and grandstanding rather than real work toward student achievement. His persistent negativism, his fueling a culture of mistrust and disrespect, and his inappropriate favoritism has been and continues to be destructive. He has rejected opportunities to work with the rest of the board in a productive, collaborative fashion. Fernandez has repeatedly violated the adopted Board of Education Code of Ethics as well as the board's Guiding Principles. His presence on the board should be questioned by the entire community. Having chosen private school over public schools for his own children, one is left to wonder what his real motivation is for continuing on the board.
What was the offensive letter to the editor written by Hernandez that the other four board members were responding to? Here it is:
Advice on school spending in wake of budget cuts If school boards are committed to increasing student achievement, they must protect from proposed cuts the budget items that directly support student learning. In the Lawrence Township school district where I serve as a board member, for example, the administration would like to significantly increase class size by eliminating scores of teaching jobs, eliminate virtually all instructional assistant positions, and purge all professional development from the general fund.

While those cuts are considered, teachers are asked to differentiate instruction for an increasingly diverse student body in newly "themed schools," just as teachers are held more accountable for increases in student achievement. Yet, the administration proposed no layoffs for central office staff and almost no cuts to extracurricular programming.

School boards can minimize the adverse impact of the reduced revenues from the state by restructuring the district -- creating models with more autonomous public schools and less central office bureaucracy.

Henry Fernandez
School Board member
Metropolitan School District of Lawrence Township, Indianapolis
Fernandez's crime? He asked questions of the administration, looked into possible mismanagement and offered a view that wasn't the administration's. In this letter, he is making a recommendation regarding cutting administrative staff versus the teaching staff. For that the board members accuse Fernandez of not supporting "student achievement." Give me a break.

It is apparent that the four who wrote this letter are nothing more than rubber stamps for the Lawrence Township administration and are offended that Fernandez's offense was that he wouldn't be a rubber stamp. Their reference to the Code of Ethics and Guiding Principles to suggest Fernandez is doing something ethically wrong in speaking out is repugnant. What they are trying to do is use an ethics threat to try to chill Fernandez's First Amendment right to criticize the administration. That the four board members (and the administration) disagree with Fernandez on the issues doesn't give them the right to silence Fernandez from expressing his views.

Lawrence Township voters have a thoughtful public servant with Henry Fernandez. What the "entire community" should do is vote out of office these four board members who are more interested in rubber stamping the administration's agenda than doing their job and representing their constituents.


M Theory said...

Fernandez is to Lawrence Township as Greg Wright is to Washington Township!

Paul K. Ogden said...

As Kelly Bentley is to IPS.

karma09 said...

The gang of 4 seems to define the purpose of board membership as "having the best interests of the educational community at heart," and/or "real working toward student achievement."

Since school boards have the ability to impact taxes, defined as money forcibly taken from you to fund government, perhaps another purpose of board membership is to control this spending, or "having the interests of the taxpayers at heart/ the real work toward taxpayer relief."

They way the gang of 4 defines things of course guarantees their view of success, which is apparently to avoid finding efficiencies or cut wasteful spending at all costs. Every level of government could live with less, much less, if forced to do so. Public service is not supposed to be an "alternative" job market, employing as many or more as the private sector does.

Down with thoughtless government spending, down with incremental absorption of human freedom. Enough already.

Marycatherine Barton said...

Whatever is going on with our township school board memberships? These stories about Washington, IPS, Decatur, and now Lawrence, are outrageous.

american patriot said...

How can Adam Goldstein be on a board that supervises his wife, a teacher in the system? If he votes on teacher raises, wouldn't that violate their code of ethics that states "BY refusing to use his position on a school board in any way whatsoever for personal gain or personal prestige."

It looks like Dr. Fernandez is following the ethics rules on "BY refusing to “play politics” in either the traditional
partisan, or in any petty sense."

Why does their code of ethics still refer to members as male only?

If the citizens have a problem with the doctor then they have a way to vote him out, a right denied to Speedway citizens, where the town council appoints members.

Had Enough Indy? said...

I haven't enough information in the Lawrence case to voice an opinion on what is happening there. But, I will say, for all the districts, now is the most important time for the public to be most engaged. When spending cuts being made is the best time to truly see what the priorities are.

HFernandez said...

I appreciate the thoughtful notes. I welcome a dialogue over educational issues with my well-meaning school-board colleagues; in this democratic country we should be able to vigorously disagree and perhaps find compromises without personal attacks. The March 30th unsubstantiated personal attacks deteriorate civility, and I will answer them as appropriate. In my opinion, the act of secretly sending an official communication to The Star with the opinion of the majority of the Board, and the judgments contained in the letter violated Indiana's Open Meetings law. Moreover, that official letter-to-the-editor announced, for example, that I had violated some ethics policy....not allegedly violated but actually violated policy. These declaratory statements or judgments of misconduct offered by an official government body fundamentally violated my Constitutional right of due process. I had no idea that I was accused of some violation, I was never shown any evidence, I was not given an opportunity to defend myself, and a decision was announced to the public in the March 30th letter. This is the type of "kangaroo-court" process that remains in my birth place of Cuba where the accused are deemed guilty and sometimes put to death before a trial begins. (See my immigration story in the April 2009 story in Reader's Digest http://www.rd.com/your-america-inspiring-people-and-stories/how-7-people-found-hope-and-refuge-in-america/article122315-1.html)

In July 2009, a virtual lynching mob of citizens wanted to take action against Board Member Adam Goldstein for the allegations reported in the media that included impersonating a police officer and driving while intoxicated. The School Board reacted by censoring Goldstein in a 3-1 vote; although everyone wanted to "punish" Goldstein I did not follow the pressure of the mob and voted "no" because due process was not followed. For example, a detailed list of charges was not read to Goldstein, no evidence was presented (such as the police report), and Goldstein could not defend himself as he had to remain quiet before his court appearance. It is ironic that Goldstein signed the March 30 letter without me ever having an opportunity to know the charges and defend myself in a public meeting. Indiana's Open Meetings law requires that (almost) all decisions by school boards--including judgments about the conduct of a fellow board member--be made by a vote in a public meeting. The Board's presiding officer and all members should know the Open Meetings law and should follow due process.

I will reflect on the legitimate points my colleagues made, and answer some of the issues and unfounded charges brought forth in the March 30th letter in an appropriate manner that will help deter these personal attacks in the future.
Thanks, Henry Fernandez, Ed.D.

Unknown said...

To the blogger whose question was whether or not I should be voting on raises for my wife who teaches in the District: This is a good question. I sign a "conflict of interest" document every year disclosing that fact, just as Dr. Fernandez does about his domestic partner; he also teaches in our District. I often disagree with Dr. Fernandez, as well as with the other members, but I would never allow, nor do I imagine Dr. Fernandez would allow a minor personal impact to influence a decision of such magnitude on the District. I have fought strongly against my fellow Board members to hold teacher salaries, not because they don't deserve more money, or because I am trying to punish my wife, but because we as a district simply don't have the money. These are the kinds of discussions that the public does not see before a decision is made at a Board meeting which might then be labeled a "rubber stamp".
And to Dr. Fernandez,
You have not been accused of any crime. Comparison to the now-dropped criminal charges previously pending against me is a little dramatic. This Board can not accuse you of, nor convict you of crimes; therefore, due process is not relevant in this context. The Board's letter to the editor was an opinion, and because I shared that opinion, I signed the letter. Opinion does not make for Board business; formal censure would be Board business and, as in my case, would require a quorum.

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