Last week, I delivered a speech to the Reading School Board of Directors. It was the first time I had addressed the Board, other than at a public hearing, since shortly after my term as a School Director ended in 2013.
I congratulated the Board President for being elevated by her colleagues to the presidency, which I took as a validation of the work that she, I and others on the previous Board did to balance the
budget, under difficult circumstances, without raising taxes, while producing
millions of dollars in surplus. I
praised and thanked the current Board for continuing the previous Board’s
practice, which had been my suggestion, to have metal detectors at Board
meetings for the safety of the public. I
also praised the new Board for continuing two successful projects initiated by
prior Boards: the under-budget renovation of the Amanda Stoudt elementary school
and thanked the Board for planning a meeting there for the public to see the
renovations and additions, and the repair of the Hampden Park Comfort Station,
which had fallen into such disrepair as to be a danger to the public, as well
as an eyesore, and noted also its improved security.
However, I observed several areas, in contrast, where the current Board had failed to make progress or had even regressed. I noted that the new Board has ignored a number of facilities resolutions approved by the previous Board, numerous suggestions for cutting wasteful spending or improving the collection of revenue that I urged it to consider, a recommendation by the Finance Committee to issue requests for proposals for professional services in order to increase openness and transparency and act in the best financial interest of the District, and the recommendation of the District’s auditor and the Pennsylvania Auditor General to have an “Audit” or “Financial Review Committee” to increase openness and transparency and improve the District’s financial controls.
Finally, noting the criticism of the Auditor General of a prior Board in 2011 for failing its fiduciary responsibility to the taxpayers by being “too trusting” of administrators, I expressed my deep concern that the majority of the current Board was also too trusting of administrators, whom I noted are not perfect or all-knowing and usually are not from the District. I urged the Board to conduct proper oversight by asking questions in order to hold the Administration accountable. Noting how several of the School Directors on the Board shared my concern, I suggested the way to afford Directors the opportunity to learn what is happening in the District and to ask questions was to return to the practice of having board committees.
I warned that the majority of the current Board’s failure to conduct proper oversight would result in it, too, failing its fiduciary responsibility to the taxpayers.