For three years now I've talked to my principal about the illegal fees we charge for classes and activities at my school. While he understands the issue, these fees predate his tenure by many years and currently are not causing any difficulty among the parents, so he focuses his attention on more immediate concerns. Essentially, he doesn't want to spend the enormous "political capital" that would be required for change on this battle that doesn't seem to be important enough.
In late July I learned some amazing news--that the budget for our school's student government is about $120,000 (wow!), about $80,000 of which goes to support our athletic programs. Knowing that Hartzell v. Connell states that athletics and cheerleading are considered part of the school curriculum, and knowing that student body monies aren't supposed to be spend on curricular items that the school would otherwise pay for, I contacted our school district's legal officer to question if this practice was legal. I also mentioned (illegal) fees we charge for classes at school.
She forwarded my email to several people; honestly, I believe this was an attempt to intimidate me. It worked for all of about 5 seconds, when I remembered the old British saying: in for a penny, in for a pound. The Rubicon is crossed, the die is cast, the battle is engaged.
Two of the people she forwarded my message to were my principal and his boss. My boss' boss tried to explain how we have Board Policies that allow what we're doing, that there's nothing wrong--nothing to see here, please move along.
I've researched this topic for several years now. I've discussed the topic with people who initiated and won lawsuits against school districts for such fees. I've received very clear information from the state Department of Education on the topic. I know of which I speak. And there is something to see here, and I will not move along. I don't know for sure whether the student government spending is legal or not, but I do know that the fees we charge for classes and activities are not. That is now the battle.
It was requested that I send specific information about illegal fees we charge. I said I'd rather discuss these face-to-face, and offered to meet in person.
Silence. For almost a month. Not only did I feel ignored, I felt dismissed. And I'm not one to be dismissed easily.
Last week I emailed our superintendent. He's been on the job a year and I haven't heard a negative thing about him yet. The one time he spoke to our staff he seemed to impress everyone--he certainly impressed me. I thought I'd give it a chance. Last Sunday I received an email from the superintendent. The tone was very calm and reasonable. He said he'd forward my email along to the legal counsel and my boss' boss, and that he himself would meet with me if I couldn't resolve the issue.
A couple days later (this past week) I received from the legal counsel an email I can only describe as "snippy". Again, she stated that she can do nothing because I haven't given her any specifics. I told her that I don't want to address this as a problem solely at my school, dealing only with the fees that I know about--this is a systemic issue, district-wide, and we should discuss the macro issue in person. During the course of that conversation, of course, the micro issues would arise. I'm waiting to hear back from her.
My principal is obviously not pleased with me. No one likes it when the boat is rocked. In my email communications I've bent over backwards to point out that this isn't an issue he's created--these fees have been in place for years, all across the district. I'm doing everything I can to keep this problem from being directed only at our school. That's apparently not enough. You know when you're in someone's dog house, and I'm smelling the Alpo right now.
But what can I do? My training at West Point taught me to choose the harder right instead of the easier wrong. Everything I know about leadership says that we adults must set the example for the students, and not ask the students to do anything we're not willing to do ourselves. We expect them to follow our rules, but don't follow the law ourselves. We expect them to rat their friends out (grafitti, vandalism, etc.) but we stand by while the law is broken. We expect them to respect us, yet act in ways that don't merit respect. This is something I have to do if I'm to be able to look myself in the mirror each day.
I'll endeavor to limit the damage. I'll treat this as an opportunity to improve our district, not trash it. I'm acting within the system--I haven't gone to the press, or to the school board, or to any anti-public school organizations, or to any legal foundations that specialize in fights like this one (and yes, I know who they are). I hope we can all resolve this without having to get down in the mud.
I'll keep you posted.