What's wrong with this picture?
This is the Albuquerque Public Schools Board of Education meeting November 15, 2006.
It was not a very good display of democracy in action.
APS’s Uptown Blvd offices’ DeLayo-Martin community room is small with a Fire Marshal’s 60-occupant capacity, I counted 67 plus in the cramped room. There were an additional 20 chairs set-up as overflow in the hallway. A loudspeaker, put up hall that did not work, to the point that some spectators and even fellow journalism class students left, because they could not hear.
Citizens wishing to address the board must fill out an “individual’s request to speak” that might well have been written by a kindergarten teacher. It has the standard two-minute time limit imposed at most local governmental meetings. However, it also requires that the person promise to “refrain from emotional outbursts, directing personal attacks on any individuals, and agree to respect the duties of the presiding officer…”
Public comments are limited to only thirty-minutes.
Coordinator of Stop Wasting Albuquerque’s Taxes (SWAT) Silvio Dell’ Angela, seated, center in white shirt, questioned the potential impact of the “Mayor’s streetcar” on APS and announced a rally at La Cueva High school for Sunday Nov. 19. Calling the $80 to 100 million in state matching funds, to help pay for the “Trolley Folly,” a diversion of money that could go directly to the education system instead, he said.
Asking those who supported ethical standards to stand, several students who had gone through APS’s “Character Counts!” initiative program and a couple of parents stood. Ched MacQuigg, above standing, a candidate for the board said a senior APS administrator, with whom he had a dispute over the ethical conduct of a principal, quoted the administrator, “… it doesn’t hurt a kid when their principal lies to them.” MacQuigg called the administrator a liar over remarks made at an arbitration session. http://ched-macquigg.blogspot.com.
This brought District 2 Board Member Robert Lucero, above, to call for the forfeiture of the remainder of MacQuigg’s time and his removal.
The Four Hills boundary change was the most hotly debated issue of the evening.
Of the 208 students in Four Hills 158 of them do not attend their assigned schools this year, including 62 of the 71 high school students. Only nine students attend their assigned high school, Highland while 19 attend Sandia and 18 attend Manzano, while the other 25 attend four other regular and alternative high schools.
The Four Hills neighborhoods approached APS asking that their area be redistricted to the closer high school, and that younger students attend the feeder schools in the Manzano cluster.
A Capitol Master Plan sub-committee made up of; Associate Superintendent Tom Savage, Capitol Master Plan Director Kizito Wijenje, Planner/Demographer Betty King, Transportation Director Patrick Garcia, Four Hills Neighborhood Association John Butcher Parent Representatives Howdard Kimberly, Laurie Hassler and Jane Sneddon made a recommend proposal to redistrict the Four Hills Neighborhood into the Manzano area. Administrators admitted that there was no representation from Highland on the sub-committee.
Newly elected Republican District 20 State Representative Richard J. Berry, right, City Councillor Don Harris spoke all favoring the proposal, and City Council Policy Analyst Javier Benavidez read a message from Council President Martin Heinrich against the proposal.
State Senator Shannon Robinson, below, whose district 17 includes Manzano High School boundary and eastern parts of Highland High School’s area asked for an additional minute but was initially refused by Board President Paula Maes. Robinson stated that he put a lot of financing into the system, having sponsored legislation that brought more than $275,000 directly to APS and that they would face legal action if they did not pay attention to the needs and wishes of the affected citizens, Maes relented and after Robinson’s two-minute expired he was not challenged. He pointed out that the unfunded federally mandated, No Child Left Behind program. made provisions for allowing parents to send their children to schools beyond the normal boundaries.
Board Member Leonard J. DeLayo Jr., right, a proponent of open enrollment, asked Superintendent M. Elizabeth Everitt, what effect would changing the boundaries have, if so few students attended their assigned schools.
DeLayo moved a delay that was supported by Acosta but lost on a 2-5 vote. The boundary change was then approved on a 5-2 vote, with Board Members Maes, Gordon Rowe, Berna V. Facio, Lucero and Mary Lee Martin supporting.
After the vote, Highland Principal Nicki Dennis, and supporters of Highland, had a discussion with City Councillor Don Harris, left, whose District 9 represents the Four Hills neighborhoods and much of the area of Manzano.
Dennis, right, complained that Highland was not at the table when the discussions took place and felt her school was being unfairly attacked and ignored.
A provision of the no child left behind program allows students to attend any school they wish. “The ramifications can be huge but are still unknown,” said Sander Rue who spoke about a second boundary issue involving a less controversial question on the westside. “What happens in athletics?" As schools may recruit student athletes who are now required to attend their assigned schools, Rue said afterwards.
So what's wrong with the picture?
Clearly the APS Board of Education is set up to allow the minimum amount of public participation as they possibly can by the use of an undersized room, the quashing of free speech, the limits on the right to associate and to petition for redress of grievances. When political representative who manage state purse-strings have to threaten to withhold funding and take legal action in order to get an extra minute to explain the complexities that surrounds the no child left behind program, what chance do citizens have in the face of political correct thought police enforced by board members who have no idea if what they perceive as personal attacks are not absolutely appropriate.