The first meeting was to interview applicants for various positions on the City’s boards. That process went smoothly as far as we could tell. The only concern we had was that some applicants were questioned more than others. Much of that had to do with the familiarity of the applicants with individuals on the City Council and we accept that. The small issue we have with asking some candidates many questions and other candidates practically none is when the Council goes to make the appointments to the individual boards, it asks for comments from citizens. It is difficult for the citizen to make comparisons and therefore express an informed opinion when the interviews are conducted more as friends talking rather than an actual interview. Our complaint is a minor one, though.
We should note that the city does have vacancies on boards that need filling. Please consider applying for a board position in an area of which you have interest.
The interviews ended and at 7:00 PM the City Council reconvened for its regular meeting.
Brevard County School Board member and Satellite Beach resident Amy Kneessy made a presentation on the proposed closing of four schools in Brevard County with an emphasis on closing Sea Park Elementary which would affect the City of Satellite Beach and its residents the most.
We have to say that we were disappointed. We weren’t so much disappointed in the presentation but we were disappointed in the turn out from residents. We know that there have been groups formed to prevent the closing of Sea Park and yet when one of the School Board members is within arm’s length to answer questions, we didn’t see many people with school aged children. Furthermore, it seems to us that it would have been beneficial to have members of the group speak to present their ideas to the Council so there could be a coordinated effort by all to prevent the closing of Sea Park. It seemed to us that Kneessy’s presentation and the resulting discussion was a missed opportunity for those concerned about this issue.
Anyway, according to Kneessy, the proposed closing of the four schools is but one of many proposed cost cutting / increased revenue measures to close the projected $30.9 million dollar budget shortfall. Those measures include:
1) increasing the number of periods a teacher teaches from 5 of 7 periods to 6 of 7. This proposal will effectively eliminate 200 teaching positions.
2) “play to pay” for sports.
3) school choice application fees
4) increase in fees for facility use by outside groups.
5) elimination of media assistants in schools leaving only media specialists.
6) elimination of the school district paying for juniors to take the ACT’s.
7) a reduction in guidance staff
Kneessy has also proposed the closing of “choice schools” as a cost saving measure.
The presentation then shifted from the overall plans and proposals to the specifics of closing Sea Park Elementary. Essentially Kneessy believes the closure is a mistake for the following reasons:
1) The plan takes local kids out of the “feeder pipeline” to DeLaura Middle School and Satellite High.
2) The plan takes kids from a school with a 90% occupancy rate to schools with lower occupancy rates. The reverse should be true.
3) The plan closes a A+ school sending kids to schools that are not as highly rated.
4) The plan forces some kids onto buses with a travel time of 50 minutes. During the discussion Kneessy was asked by Councilman Dominic Montanaro what was the length of the “average bus ride.” Because of the progressive nature of a bus route, such a number is difficult to compute but Kneessy did say a 45 minute ride was at the upper range of time.
5) When 9/11 happened, Highway A1A was closed meaning the direct routes from Satellite Beach to the schools to which the kids had been bused would not be accessible.
6) The busing of kids that far would effectively eliminate before school and after school day care for bused kids.
7) While the school board will save additional money by moving the Melbourne Adult Educational Center into the vacated Sea Park, the funding for adult education programs is a from a different funding source than that for K-12 education programs. In addition, Satellite High has the highest graduation rate in the county, so moving an Adult Education Center into this area is not the brightest idea. We liken it to placing a Burger King in a community of vegans.
Kneessy also commented that there was a sense of the “beach side communities” having being more affluent and therefore the hardship on kids from the area was less impactful than kids from other areas in the county.
Kneessy noted there was a movement to have a special election to raise the sales tax a quarter of a cent which would raise approximately $24 million dollars. The ballot measure to raise the sales tax by a penny failed in the November 2012 election by roughly 8,000 votes. Kneessy is against this measure as the $800,000 cost is prohibitive and she believes the measure should be placed on the 2014 ballot.
The City Council decided to write a letter to the School Board and presenting the letter to the Board in person before their final vote on January 22, 2013. According to Kneessy, the Board appears to be in a 2 – 2 deadlock with the fifth Board members, Andy Ziegler, not having declared a position on the issue of the closings.
The rest of the meeting was rather easy and without major incidents.
We noted some things that we wanted to comment upon.
Mayor Catino asked Acting City Manager Pearson to look at aligning boards so a person or business could get decisions from appropriate boards when looking to do something in the city. This was a suggestion made by resident John Fergus. We said at the time it was a good idea and still believe it to be so. Processes for permits and board approval takes too long in the city and the process to streamline the process will benefit the city, residents, businesses and potential businesses.
Mayor Catino also asked that any time an agenda item results in the City paying for something, the agenda item reflects what fund which is being used to finance the item, as well as where the item will appear in the budget. We believe this is a logical step from the transparency and accountability theme of the previous City Council.
We do want to say that during the Citizen’s comments of the meeting, an elderly gentleman – a “snowbird” – made a presentation on a fencing issue at his condominium. The gentleman had tried to make the presentation during the comments for the school closing presentation but was told by Mayor Catino he needed to wait until the open comments. Even during his comments, he was slightly confused as to how the Council worked, what “agenda item” meant, etc. We loved the fact that the man received lots of help from people in the audience as well as the “kid gloves” with which the Mayor treated the man. We have never seen the man at a Council meeting before and probably never will again, but the kindness he was shown by all was heartwarming.
The City Council voted 3 – 2 (Councilwoman Denan and Mayor Catino voting against) to disband the Auditing Firm Selection Committee. While it appears the committee’s work may not yet have been “ripe” in the selection process, we can’t help but feeling the decision to shut this committee down was premature on some level. The auditing firm is currently involved in the audit process and we believe having the committee stay active during the auditing process would have helped in gathering information which could have helped with the selection process down the road.
The RFP for a grant writing service was also stopped by a vote of 4 – 1 (Denan voting no.)
The City also agreed to officially engage a head hunting firm for the City Manager position. We have a minor beef with this as the original price was quoted as being “around $20,000.” The final agreed price is $21,500. While $1,500 seems like a small amount, that is close to the cost for a printing of one issue of the Beachcaster. The point we are trying to make is that the City Council can’t deal with “fuzzy numbers.” We want to see the price so citizens can investigate and comment on it intelligently.
(It could have been worse. Our friend William Teach at the Pirate’s Cove reports that the Wake County School Board (North Carolina) was given two bids by two different firms to search for a new school superintendent. They received two bids – one from an in state firm for a price of $20,000 to $30,000 or a firm from Omaha, Nebraska that bid $45,000. The School Board chose the firm from Omaha behind closed doors and without comment.)
There is also a cautionary tale to the search as well:
Nearly four months after firing Tony Tata, the Wake County Board of Education on Tuesday took the first step toward finding a new superintendent to lead North Carolina’s biggest school district by hiring a search firm.
In 2011, the district spent $82,000 and about six months working with the search firm that eventually found Tata.
Lesson learned: hiring a professional head hunter does not guarantee the best results or best fit for a position.)
Late in the meeting the City Council appointed residents to fill vacancies on various boards. This resulted in current members being reappointed, alternate members being appointed to voting members and new members appointed from the applicants interviewed earlier in the evening. We want to thank those residents for their donation of time and effort and wish them success.
There are workshops and City Council meetings coming up within the next few weeks. We will try to keep people informed of them, but please take the time to look at the website for the City of Satellite Beach for a more comprehensive calendar.