In this newspaper last week, the former school board president characterized my board term as, among others, destructive to the high school (“Save RBHS from ‘destructive’ school board,” Opinion, Nov. 21).
When I became a member of the school board three and a half years ago, there were many, many problems facing the school. The school was on a destructive path prior to my election. As a board member and as board president, I have attempted to address as many of these items as possible while still providing our students with a great educational experience.
When I campaigned in 2009, voters told me RBHS was out of control and needed to change. I knew we had to restore integrity. I knew the board had to regain your trust. That is what I have done.
Three and a half years ago, there were no job descriptions for the administrative staff and other employees. This has been addressed. The school has a new superintendent who has been systematically addressing the issues plaguing the school. RBHS has a new principal and athletic director that have brought much needed leadership to their positions. This is the foundation to stabilize the high school from the top down.
When a volunteer with a questionable background was allowed to have access to our students, the board revised the volunteer policy so that our students can no longer be put in danger. When our parent groups were shown to have incorrect filings, incorrect corporate standing or incorrect charitable status, the parent group policy was changed to insure correctness moving forward.
Policy requiring board approval for class size was established. The class-size policy and related discussions resulted in less staff on the payroll. In addition, four of the highest paid teachers agreed to early retirement.
I voted no to a $2.2 million deficit spending budget prior to the failed referendum. The majority of the board voted yes and wanted the community to weigh in on spending.
When the referendum failed by a margin of almost 4 to 1, I heard you loud and clear. With that vote you demanded that we get our spending under control. I have pledged not to go to another referendum until our spending is under control.
We revamped the $1.6 million deficit-spending budget I inherited by dissecting all spending line items. When a smaller deficit budget was passed, we were ridiculed by an individual for not passing Budgeting 101. In the end, the result that year was an operating surplus by June 2012. We recently adopted our most current budget with a small operating deficit. I hope that by June 2013 we can again close the year with an operating surplus.
Financial transparency has been improved. More and more documents have been posted to the school’s website so that the community can have access to these documents. This transparency is one step as we restore integrity to the high school.
This posting of documents includes a compilation of approximately 20,000 pages of construction spending contracts, paid bills and reports. The posting of these items does not represent an audit of the construction spending, but only compiles the receipts and reports that show where $67 million of taxpayer dollars was spent for a project with a projected cost of $63 million.
The construction materials have been added to the other contracts, paid bills, meeting agenda and minutes, board packets and other related documents on the school’s website.
We continue to monitor the new boilers and the new swimming pool ventilation system that have been problematic since going on-line in 2009. We have identified and corrected the sewer smell at the southeast section of the building. We have approved projects to install energy-efficient lighting both inside and outside with little cost to the school.
Additionally, our board worked with our CFO to find a way to manage our healthcare costs by moving from being self-insured to joining an insurance pool. The teachers’ healthcare benefits remained the same but our costs were lowered.
As we head into the 2013, we will be addressing potential life-safety issues; some new and some as old as 2005 and prior. These and other items, including our roofs, will require our attention going forward so that our students and staff have a safe high school environment.
We have put all of our board meeting materials on line to save on paper and supplies. Our aging computers in the school will require an upgrade going forward.
Our current teacher contract will expire on June 30, 2013. The contract and the financial impact must be addressed. In addition, the potential financial fallout of the pension reform in Springfield will need to be included in our future budgets. In January the board will be working to develop the goals/plan that will guide RB for the next school year.
I encourage you to attend our board meetings in person or by watching them on www.RBTV.tv. Our business meeting is the second Tuesday each month at 7 p.m.
As you can see, we have changed business as usual. Under past leadership the school was not well-managed and the school was going broke. Your vote on the referendum said enough is enough. Believe me when I say I heard you.
Matt Sinde is a Brookfield resident and president of the Riverside-Brookfield High School District 208 Board of Education.