The two "Kims" on Richmond School Board (Bridges in the 1st and Gray in the 2nd), could not have had more opposite responses to the recent concerns about the lack of a full line-item budget and the potential that the "Communications Protocol" violates the First Amendment.
First, the budget. Gray and her colleague, Dawn Page (8th), Finance Committee Chair, have provided their colleagues and the administration plenty of information concerning what is expected to be included in a line-item budget. Click here: http://www.tasbo.org/Budget%20Basics.ppt
Bridges, on the other hand, doesn't think any more information is really needed. And, inexplicably, the majority of board members and key administrators claim not to understand what is meant by the term "line-item budget." (If this is really true, it could explain a great deal about why it is Richmond's per pupil rate remains so high and teachers throughout the system frequently have to buy their own copy paper, among other supplies).
In response to statements from Antione Green, president of the Richmond Crusade for Voters, critical of the board's vote on the budget and "Communications Protocol," Bridges invites all Crusade members to contact their School Board members at the same time she attempts to minimize both issues by saying that she is weighing the "best approach" to deal with the "few offending words." Be sure and read the comments following the article. Click here: Crusade Admonishes School Board Articles/Archives Style Weekly Richmond's alternative for news, arts, culture
Previously, Bridges has defended the RPS administration's lack of detailed budget information by claiming that a previous board decided to eliminate the line-item budget. Both Bridges and Supt. Yvonne Brandon have said that former board member (and former Finance Committee chair), Keith West (7th), was the prime mover behind eliminating the line-item budget.
After examining the minutes of last two years to determine when this vote took place -- and not finding any evidence that it did -- I contacted West to see if he had an inkling of when the board voted. After his initial shock and laughter subsided, I asked him to send me a statement. Here it is:
"It has come to my attention that individuals are claiming that while on the school board I put forward a measure against a line item budget. That contention does not square with my recollection. What I did object to was a budget full of fluff, commentary, and excuses. I am, and have always been, for accountability in public spending. I believe that accountability would be enhanced by making as much information public as possible. That would be up to and including placing every expenditure of the schools online with tools that [would] allow citizens to properly understand the spending of their taxdollars."
Still, throughout a series of intriguing postings on the Style Weekly website this weekend, Bridges does her best to defend the administration and maintains that the board already has a line item budget -- it is just missing a few details.
Gray, who did not post anything on the Style website, but nonetheless contacted me directly, says the board and administration could inspire far greater trust throughout the community by simply providing the information that she, Dawn Page (8th District) and Adria Graham-Scott (4th District) have repeatedly requested on behalf of their constituents.
Despite defensive counter-accusations from the board members who approved the budget -- (Bridges (1st), Murdoch-Kitt (3rd), Carr (5th), Smith (6th), Coleman (7th) and Wilson (9th) -- Gray remains calm and determined to get the detail needed to make informed decisions and to ensure that citizens are treated respectfully by the board. She and Page (who both voted against the budget)insist that no one is pointing any fingers, but both believe, as Gray said: "Board members and citizens have a right to know how their tax dollars are being spent."
The following is my response to Bridges' statement that the board "already" has a line-item budget:
"To say that the board already has a line item budget, albeit one that is missing some of the "details" your colleagues, constituents and taxpayers have repeatedly asked to see, is akin to telling one's English teacher that you have read "A Tale of Two Cities" when, in actuality, all you did was read the Cliff Notes.
"I don't know how many times I need to state that the issue of concern here is NOT the so-called "Code of Ethics." The issue here is that the board is attempting to deny to any board member (and the citizens of this city who elected them), their Constitutionally guaranteed right of free speech. Further, it is threatening to have the dissenting member(s) held accountable by the board's legal counsel.
"The First Amendment is abundantly clear: "CONGRESS SHALL MAKE NO LAW...ABRIDGING THE FREEDOM OF SPEECH ... "
"History instructs us that the Constitution's framers believed that freedom of inquiry and free expression were the hallmarks of a democratic society. But, in times of national stress — real or imagined — First Amendment rights always come under enormous pressure. During the Red Scare and tumult in Russia in the early 1920s, thousands were deported for their political views.
"During the McCarthy period, the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) used the infamous "blacklist" to ruin lives and careers. Similarly, leaders of the Civil Rights movement were frequently jailed (or worse) as they sought to exercise their First Amendment Rights in this nation in the struggle to end segregation and Jim Crowe.
"The Founding Fathers were indeed prescient. The First Amendment exists precisely to protect dissent from government suppression.
"No one individual or entity has all the answers. Reasonable people should be able to disagree and work together. This doesn't mean someone has to essentially take a vow of silence.
"But when the board moves to silence its own members by various punitive methods, you are crossing the line. Persuasion, not coercion, is the solution. And, as Dwight Eisenhower once noted: "May we never confuse honest dissent with disloyal subversion."