Last night the board voted to approve the finalized contract with Net56 6-1 (guess who the 1 was?). I am sincerely hopeful this will be a wonderful partnership for the district, I know that some immediate impact can be made by going with this plan, that was never a question for me. It has always been a question of process, contract length, and cost.
The good thing is that since I first adamantly opposed this is February a lot of things happened:
- An Ad-Hoc Technology Committee was formed to more completely investigate
- Specific services were added to the contract where the original was vague
- The automatic 5% per year increase has been changed to reflect the Consumer Price Index (CPI)
- The monthly cost of the program has dropped from $51,919 a month to $49,535 (a savings of $138,272 over the 5 years of the deal)
- Independent review by an outside technology consultant was done
- Net56 is required to run criminal background checks on on-site employees and the district has the right to request replacement of any on-site employee
- Net56 will maintain the network to the “end of wire” meaning in-building wiring as well (material costs are extra to the district)
These are all significant changes and I don’t believe any of them would have happened if I wouldn’t have persistently and aggressively pushed the issue. I still wasn’t ready to approve the deal, I still think other options should have been more thoroughly investigated before this plan was adopted. I accept the will of the board, I made my case and voted my conscience and I’m prepared to move forward and continue to work on technology issues in the distrct because they are not going away with this deal.
Two things did upset me though. The first being Net56 feeling they had to counter my presentation with various statements and debate once the board began deliberations. This shouldn’t have happened. Once the board starts debate the time for questions needs to end, there was ample opportunity to ask questions at the end of my presentation of me, of district staff, of Net56 and no one asked any. Everyone who reviewed my presentation before I gave it and people who approached me after I gave it stated it was a very fair and even assessment of both options without regard to my personal opinion and that was my goal. I didn’t appreciate the response from Net56. I was impressed with Net56 before but their response to my presentation was not a good idea with someone who will be watching this deal closely for the next two years at least.
The second, and this one irritates me to no end, is the insinuation that I would ever vote or not vote for something without regard for what’s good for the students and staff. The fact this plan would be good for the district (as far as benefits go) was never really a question for me once we had things drilled out and fine tuned in the committee. The statement “we’ll hurt the kids” doesn’t wash with me and will never wash with me. Everything we do is for the kids so to support something because it will be good or oppose it because it won’t provide some immediate benefit is an age old argument from administration to board that gets districts in trouble. It almost destroyed this district.
“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” — George Santayana
I am concerned about the comfort level that is starting to permeate the district that we can continue to absorb higher costs on virtually anything. This district almost ceased to exist operating on a philosophy of “it’s for the kids”. This philosophy led to deficit spending, rampant expansion of programs, and lack of financial control. My first actions as a board member in 2001 were when we had to cut program after program to slash the budget to try to survive and I can tell you the voices of “it’s for the kids” were suddenly silent and nowhere to be found then.
Anyone who thinks that those days are so long ago is fooling themselves. Anyone who thinks we can’t go right back there if we continue to have no long-term plan for the district and loose control of spending needs to look at just how many tax rate increase passed in Lake County on Tuesday. At the end of the day the viability of this district is my sworn responsibility as a board member. When the rubber meets the pavement it will be the board that is on the firing line for decisions that are made.
None of this is to take away from the financial managers we have in place now that are doing a great job on getting the most bang for the buck in the district. However, if the board loses sight of its responsibility, its duty to adequately plan and establish the mission and vision for the district and abdicates that responsibility to someone or something else we can forget about restoring local control to the district any time soon.