Ken Knickerbocker (former school board member, former Parkesburg borough council member, and owner of the ParkesburgToday blog) is upset. I believe there is more to it, but he accuses me of “[having] bluntly accused the nine-member all-volunteer Octorara school board of 1) having “narrow, rigid vision,” 2) spending “like drunken sailors,” 3) intentionally deceiving Octorara tax payers, 4) ignoring events leading up to 2008 epic economic collapse and intentionally deceiving Octorara tax payers and 5) misrepresenting academic achievement.” (link)
This is what happens when people pull back the curtain. Most school board apologists don’t have answers. They just want to take the focus off spending, and silence dissenting opinions. They vigorously avoid discussing why controllable costs have not been better controlled. They avoid discussions about Octorara’s high labor cost issue. They avoid discussions about why the High School renovation was not at least delayed when the economic climate became harsh, and taxpayers asked them to reconsider timing and cost. They avoid talking about academic achievement data.
I’ve tried to ignore Mr Knickerbocker’s ad hominem attacks and logical fallacies, but things can only go so far before something needs to be said.
- While I do talk about the board as a whole political body, I’m not accusing every member of the board of anything. The Board is responsible for this situation, just like Congress is responsible for our national budget crisis. The Board is responsible for governing the school district.
- That the board is “all-volunteer” is irrelevant to any argument about cause and effect. It is also an insult to taxpayers to try and assert being a board member has no personal value, and is always done with selfless motives. I’m not questioning motives. I am questioning decisions.
- The vision of the board being rigid is my opinion, based on my analysis of the facts and data. It was only when the well started to run dry that there any attempts to make real cuts to the budget.
- Saying the school district spent like drunken sailors was insulting… to drunken sailors, who are spending their own money.
- Was there an attempt to intentionally deceive taxpayers? I don’t think I specifically made the accusation of deliberate lies, and I think the facts speak for themselves.
- Where there misrepresentations of the school’s academic achievement? Misrepresentation may be too harsh a word. I would say there was a concerted attempt to downplay or take focus off things like achievement scores, graduation rates, and college readiness.
- Did the board ignore events leading up to 2008 epic economic collapse? The foreclosure and credit crisis existed long before final approval to proceed occurred, and the major collapse was happening and ignored while contracts were being awarded and the vote to proceed happened. This is fact. They either ignored what was going on, or… what?
The school district leadership does not want to be held accountable for past decisions. They instead want to switch the subject, and make it a conversation about shrinking State and Federal contributions, about farming tax waivers, and about the community rejecting vigorous development. They want the blame to be on people who send their kids to charter schools, taking funds out of the budget, not the school district.
They don’t want us talking about…
- When faced with a global financial crisis, considered by many economists to be the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930s, the school district chose to move forward with the High School Renovation schedule.
- When people spoke up about taxes, and wanting them to take pause and re-evaluate the possibility, extent and financing of renovating the high school, they were told it was too late to voice their objections.
- The fact Ocotrara has had a labor cost issue, going back before 1999 that only escalated.
- The budget increase and tax hike of $1.2 Million, after other debits and credits, is almost completely labor costs of $1.1 Million.
- Labor costs (salaries and benefits) represents $27.6 Million of the total $47.8 Million 2013-14 budget.
- Salaries representing $19.2 Million of the $27.6 Million labor cost.
The Complexity Conundrum
The argument that the school budget is too complex for the average voter or “novice activist” to grasp, and even comment on, is a false argument. It is merely an attempt to keep taxpayers and voters from peeking around the curtain, and invalidate the opinions of those who have the audacity. Information seems often presented in a way to have people looking away from cost that are/were controllable, and upset with uncontrollable costs and funding issues.
It is true that the issue is complex, but the complexity comes from large amounts of information being disjointed, and presented in an incomprehensible way. It is done in a way that keeps many from even attempting to pull all the information together, and making comparisons.
The Personal Attacks and Name-Calling
From feedback, I feel confident most people recognize Mr Knickerbocker’s ad hominem attacks. I have no idea what his thought process is other than since he can’t prove the facts I post wrong, or my assertions invalid, he must attack me personally. He’s a veteran of the school board, and has a vested interest in trying to not have people digging too deep.
The ParkesburgToday blog is commentary packaged as news. It is not true coverage of the area. For all the saber-rattling, there has not been any substantive analysis. He just sits there screaming it is too complex for the average taxpayer to understand.
When we compare mill value, tax rate, and total student body, we see our tax rate should probably be around 31 mills, not a projected 37. Our spending should look more like Oxford and Solanco, not West Chester and Great Valley. Even then, West Chester’s spending is much more controlled… remember, they have almost 12,000 students compared to our 2,600.
The reason one would resort to attacking the messenger is because they can’t refute the message. Mr Knickerbocker has not provided his own analysis. He has not provided any information or data that refutes the facts I have posted, or invalids my point of view. He is not trying to solve the problems facing our community. The ranting is just an attempt to silence opinions which he does not share, nothing more.