The following public comments were made by Youth’s Benefit PTA President Laura Runyeon to the Harford County Board of Education at a board business meeting held on December 17, 2012:
Good evening, my name is Laura Runyeon and I am the president of the Youth’s Benefit Elementary School PTA. Thank you for the opportunity to speak before you this evening.
I am here to express my extreme concern about an apparent lack of due process and transparency with respect to the 2014 CIP. I discovered over the weekend through a review of the attachments to the proposed FY 2014 Operating Budget that the CIP had been revised to remove the request for state construction funding for Youth’s Benefit, leaving only a local planning approval request.
We are not aware that any vote was brought before this Board to amend the approved CIP. What is the point of having the Board vote to approve the CIP, if it can be amended without the Board’s approval? There may be a very practical reason for the change in course, but despite my numerous conversations with members of the staff and my presence at the IAC Appeal Hearing, no discussion about this significant change ever occurred. Nor am I aware that any public disclosure of the changes to the CIP took place. As a result of these changes, I was left with the following questions:
1. When was a decision made to remove the State funding request for YBES?
2. When and how was that decision made public?
3. When did the Board vote to approve a change to the state request?
4. What is the rationale for the change?
5. What is the impact on the timeline for the YBES project?
We know that as of November 8th, the Youth’s Benefit replacement funding request was active and being readied for appeal. We were told that these were minor details to be included in the appeal package. At that time, we were led to believe that there were no major changes to the appeal. I came before this Board on November 19th to provide an update.
On November 30th, I requested a copy of the IAC appeal package. I received the package late the afternoon of December 3rd. In response to my inquiries, I was assured that the submission contained only standard responses. I did not have the opportunity to review the package in detail prior to the IAC hearing the next morning. Upon further review, the change is included in a response to the IAC dated November 21st. I note that there were Board of Education meetings on November 19th and December 3rd, both prior to the December 4th IAC Appeal Hearing. Either meeting would have provided an opportune time to ask the Board to approve such change.
At the September 24th CIP meeting, a motion was made to delay the YBES project by one year and only request local planning approval. That motion was rejected by this Board. How is it possible that without a single vote by this Board, we now have an amended CIP removing the state funding request? I understand that the rationale for removing the request is that the local planning will take 9 to 12 months. How was this timeframe determined? Did we go back to the engineering firm who prepared the construction documents and request a timeline? What if it only takes 6 months to complete and we have failed to ask for construction funds this year?
I had tremendous faith in this school system and the process. I have stood before hundreds of parents and assured them that the school system and the Board understood our grave situation and would do the right thing. I have asked people to let the decision makers involved in the process do their jobs. Please assure me that I have not misplaced my trust.
I, along with many members of this Board, have suggested that we would like to see more stakeholder engagement in the school system. How can you ask parents to get involved, spend in excess of 2 years and countless hours of their time advocating for their children and then leave them out of significant parts of the process? This may be nothing more than a necessary revision, but the complete lack of disclosure and transparency leaves one with the impression that there was intent not to disclose the information and that makes one wonder why?
If this is business as usual, parents and community members will never step up and get involved in the process. This school system will never achieve its goals to become a top system in the state. This can’t be the way we continue to conduct the business of the school system. It’s just wrong.
I should note that I have been advised this evening that the amended IAC recommendation list includes the local planning approval for Youth’s Benefit. For that we express our appreciation.
Thank you and I look forward to receiving a response to my concerns.