Grant and Johnson Elementary School parents lost their appeal of the Davenport School Board's decision to close the two neighborhood schools after Administrative Law Judge Susan Anderson decided that the DSB had followed the state's Barker Guidelines for closing schools in Iowa.

The truth is that during the original appeal hearing on March 5, Anderson suggested that the parents and DSB try to work things out. It was apparent the DSB would lose the appeal at this juncture because it had clearly failed to follow the Barker Guidelines. (This is substantiated in Anderson's decision.) The parents agreed to continue the appeal if, and only if, the DSB agreed to "reconsider" its decision to close the schools at the next school board meeting by voting the issue up or down. The DSB agreed to this condition. (It is important to note that "reconsider" has a definitive meaning according to Robert's Rules of Order). However, when the DSB held its next school board meeting on March 11, it reneged on the agreement by ignoring the condition and voting to "re-examine" the closings, which resulted in initiating a pseudo process of implementing the Barker Guidelines. The DSB further demonstrated bad faith by rescinding its own 1980 policy that mandated specific actions be taken before any school closings could occur?actions that were thoroughly ignored from the beginning.

The pseudo process called for the formation of a task force, whose mission was to gather, analyze, and synthesize nine specific items: 1) alternatives to closing Johnson and Grant; 2) feasibility of alternatives; 3) anticipated financial gains and losses; 4) program offerings; 5) plant facilities; 6) student enrollment statistics and impact; 7) staffing requirement and assignment; 8) transportation costs and busing; and 9) boundary changes. The final report submitted fell woefully short of this mission, further evidenced by the testimony of school district administrative staff, in which they claim they focused primarily on financial considerations, with no meaningful consideration of the other eight items.

However, none of these facts concerned Judge Anderson in her written opinion of the matter. The opinion begins with a mischaracterization of the situation by declaring that the parents and school board "jointly requested" a continuance of the appeal. This is a distortion of what occurred, according to Grant parent and spokesperson in attendance Alan Guard. The parents agreed to a continuance based upon the above-mentioned condition, which is also substantiated by the agreed upon continuance date of April 5th if the condition was somehow not met (Guard and parents still erroneously believed that the DSB would act responsibly, if not honorably, in the matter but left a window for remedy in setting a date to pursue the appeal). In fact, when the DSB reneged at its March 11 school board meeting, the parents believed with their hearts that the DSB's actions would prove to the administrative law judge just how disingenuous the DSB was.

Nothing in Anderson's decision suggests even a modicum of responsibility for sending the parents back for a legal beating. If the parents had proceeded with their appeal on March 5, Grant and Johnson would still be open. (Anderson at least admits that the DSB did not follow the Barker Guidelines in its January 28th decision to close the two schools.) But to the shock of many who followed this issue closely, Anderson decided that the DSB returned and established a process between March 5 and April 22 that followed all seven Barker Guidelines, thereby exonerating it from its pervious misconduct of January 28th, and allowing its April 22nd decision to close the two schools to stand.

What is so infuriating about this decision is its lack of consideration of the evidentiary facts. Judge Anderson's decision is based primarily on whether the DSB followed Barker Guidelines relative to its subsequent April 22nd decision to close the schools. She writes "The test is essentially one of reasonableness," but there is nothing to suggest this decision adhered to, let alone passed, such a test, especially in context of the psuedo process the DSB followed to conform to the Barker Guidelines.

The seven Barker Guidelines are: 1) An advance timeline for closing schools should be established; 2) All segments of the community must be notified of the pending consideration; 3) The public should be involved and have input into a study and planning of the decision; 4) Sufficient research, study, and planning should be done by the board, groups, and individuals selected by the board, including data on student enrollment, transportation costs, financial gains and losses, program offerings, plant facilities, and staff assignments, should be considered carefully; 5) Open and frank public discussion of facts and issues involved; 6) Proper record made of all steps taken in making decision; and 7) Final decision made publicly with record made thereof.

If reasonableness is the litmus test, then explain Anderson's decision relative to the following four issues: 1) The information/documentation presented by the DSB supporting their decision to close Grant and Johnson was inaccurate, constantly changing, misleading, or intentionally withheld; 2) Administrative staff and board members admitted to considering only financial losses and gains in their decision to close the two schools at the expense of the other eight criteria; 3) The only time discussion occurred in depth about the closings and possible alternatives was in closed, private meetings with staff and various board members only with no minutes or record of the proceedings; and 4) During public meetings, very few staff or board members attended, violating the "opportunity" to be heard by parents and the public.

In Judge Anderson's opinion, she states, "The real issue for the State Board of Education to consider is not whether both sides actually listened to each other's position. The real issue is whether they were given the opportunity to do so." This alone demonstrates the folly of the proceeding. All the DSB had to do was implement the semblance of a process. The fact that intent need not be considered part of the "opportunity provided" allows all the bad faith in the world to prevail.

Next week: inconsistencies, including evidence that was not considered, in the decision, and more.

Thanks to Poplar Grove's Richard Bernard

I would like to take this opportunity to thank Richard Bernard, owner and operator of Poplar Grove, a peaceful, neighborly retreat of libation and relaxation for those lucky enough to know about it, for taking me kayaking to document the recent flooding of the Rock River. (The cover of last week's issue featured the flooding of Poplar Grove by the Rock?the worst in the Grove's long history? and I've been waiting for National Geographic to call ever since.)

Poplar Grove is a hidden treasure nestled on ancient Indian ceremonial grounds along the Rock River, where Rich's family has lived and given sustenance to friends and patrons for decades. The Grove is rich in history, evidenced by the rustic décor and sense of deep tradition that surrounds it. There is a sense of place so old and blessed, visitors actually experience a sort of calming, or spiritual balm. The friendly camaraderie and humor that greets patrons of all walks of life is a warm reminder of the great bond that exists with folks dedicated to life on the river?in this case the beautiful and bountiful Rock River.

For those interested in enjoying all manners of spirits, both ancient and those found in an icy cold beer or soft drink, visit Poplar Grove by taking John Deere Road to Farm and Fleet and turning right, then following the road down to the river.

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