Monday, December 8, 2008

Hear no evil

This from Mary Carey's article in Saturday's Crusty Gazette about the School Committee voting down an online suggestion box: " We don't see a need for a blind suggestion box, a blog site for people to complain," said Alton Sprague, interim co-superintendent, summing up the view expressed by a majority of School Committee members.

In his 40 years working in public schools, "nothing good has come from a suggestion box," Sprague said. Comments about school employees on local online forums have been "spurious," he said. And the tenor of some of the email officials have received in response to a fatality involving a school bus earlier this year and the coming closing of the middle school pool has been "ugly."

So you gotta wonder how the Facilitation of the Community Choices Committee, feels about that Old-School statement denigrating anonymous surveys—after all, the FCCC relied almost exclusively on the 497 responses from Amherst taxpayers to formulate their budget recommendations to the Select Board and Finance Committee.

Perhaps Mr. Sprague was a tad unhappy with the Masslive Amherst Forum “discussion” of the tragic bus accident that took the life of a toddler. Somebody questioned why the Sprague’s were on vacation at the Cape at the beginning of the school year; kind of like a Health Club owner taking off the first two weeks in January--the best month of the year for the industry (New Year’s resolutions.)

And somebody offered up as a defense their (slightly) advanced ages. Yikes!

The recent anonymous survey of town employees turned up problems with the Town Manager’s style of leadership and resulted in the Select Board at the very least suggesting he work on it.

Many industries specifically solicit employee feedback for cost containment and often will reward good ideas with a chunk of the money saved. That way everybody wins. If you don’t like what somebody writes then don’t act on it (other than to delete).

But how are you going to know what you don’t know if you refuse to even listen?


Alison said...

I cannot speak for others on my committee, but I personally think that an on-line suggestion box would be a great idea! In addition to possible worries about confidentiality, I think many people have ideas about our schools but aren't sure how to direct them. Yes, they could email individual members of our School Committee and/or school administration, but that can be intimidating. Plus, emailing one person doesn't ensure that all other relevant parties will also receive the information. I am sorry to hear that our school administrators rejected this idea.

Alison Donta-Venman, member FCCC

Anonymous said...

I also agree that a suggestion box would be most helpful. People tend to forget that we should treat people with decency and respect and that goes out the window when posting behind a anonymous user name. It would be a useful tool and can understand the committees reluctance to allow it.

-Ryan Willey

O'Reilly said...

I can see why the school board would reject a web-based bulletin board for suggestions. Blogging requires moderators and some expert feedback to be constructive.

But rejecting an e-mail suggestions box? That strikes me as thin-skinned and counter-productive.

These are elected positions. That is our recourse.

Anonymous said...

Let me tell you all something. We brought forward some VERY important issues to our 2 supers this summer and what happened? They BLOCKED us on their server !!!

BLOCKED US!!!!!!!!!

Ask them if they remember doing that to us this summer. PLEASE ASK THEM!!!!

Trust us, we were only very SLIGHTLY abrasive...

We have the emails still.

The issue was asbestos in school buildings. And both the state of Mass and the FEDs showed up for a little suprise inspection...

But ohhh, the sups chose to BLOCK us!!!!!!!!!

What this little town doesn't know!!!

Anonymous said...

Anyone wanting the state and fed (EPA) results of the tests can get them using the freedom of information act...

Oh, what next Amherst?

What next Ron Bohonowicz and Peter Crouse?????????

Anonymous said...

And when is a (school) transportation complaints hot-line OUTSIDE of the transportation dept. and linking directly to the school committee getting set up??????

It is SO amazing how we have been WARNING and WARNING but no-one cares.

AMAZING... until something happens!

How long?

Jim Neill said...

So this suggestion box is a one way affair? Not a bulletin board where everyone can see? And they don't see a need for it? Seems they'll be losing out on a lot of valuable feedback. They can certainly distinguish between constructive and frivolous content. This is arrogant. Wow. Hard to understand. Is this an aristocracy?

Anonymous said...

Aristocracy? No, this is what Amherst has become in the past 15 years. Actually started with Del C, what ever his name was, and now we have outsiders running the town and the townies are letting them dictate how to live. Ninety percent of the SB did not grow up in town, nor did the TManager, but they can sure tell you where to go. We need HELP!!!!!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

I believe the problem is that no one is willing to compromise. Suggestion boxes have become the way to transport "my" needed changes to anyone. We are so rapped up in our Burger King mentality of "have it your" that we forget there is a minimum of two sides to each issue. "I sent you my comments on that. Why did you not make the change?"

So how much time are we willing to devote to constantly changing course.

Anonymous said...

One would have thought that P. Crouse and R. Bohonowicz would have been asked to resign by now... no?

loveamherst said...

Amazing that when the presence of asbestos in school buildings was brought to Elaine Brighty's attention anonymously, she (and who else we don't know) decided it was more important to FORCE (oh yeah!) the state to reveal the identity of the one making the complaint, than to worry about the COMPLAINT ITSELF!!!

Elaine is a ~bad~ girlllllll!

Oh well, it's a good thing the EPA took it seriously!!!

Ed said...

There once was a principal that liked little boys, liked them a little bit to much.

And it was the then Union-News' then-anonymous bulletin board that brought that to public attention.

Now if the school committee had an anonymous email suggestion box, perhaps someone from Colorado might have sent a URL or two from the Colorado newspapers and Amherst might never have hired him in the first place.

Wouldn't that have been nice?

Ed said...

As to asbestos - I would be surprised if there wasn't asbestos in both the schools and town buildings (based on when they were built), but that doesn't mean that you always want to remove it.

Sometimes, removing it is the WORST thing to do. As long as it is not "friable", as long as it isn't going to get into the air, you are often better off leaving it alone. And some of the asbestos, well UMass is still full of asbestos floor tiles in the Student Union and other classrooms.

Same thing with LBP (lead paint), the Commonwealth recognizes abatement that does not involve physically removing the paint.

And one thing to remember is that in occupied buildings, if you are ripping this stuff out, you inherently are putting it INTO the air in the process. You can control the contaminated air but think like frying bacon and how odors spread through the house.

This is why you really want to be up front with everyone and lay your facts on the table. Cite the appropriate federal regs and CMRs. And then if there truly are troublemakers, well the DEP and EPA aren't going to do much when they can pull up their own documents on your website showing that you are in compliance with everything, when they can see pictures of the problems and your management plan, etc.

Ed said...

Two other things

First, as a general presumption, any floor tile that is less than 12 inches square is asbestos. All of the floor tiles made back when people were using smaller tiles back then had asbestos in them. So perhaps you don't want to use a floor buffer on them with certain pads, but unless they are broken, well....

Second, as to those nice granite countertops that the YUPPIES are putting into their McMansions -- they are radioactive. Seriously...

It comes down to at some point you have to be realistic about risks. You can pick up the radioactivity from the granite or find the asbestos in the floor tiles or the lead paint buried in the woodwork if you take an axe to it, but at some point you want to just ignore stuff.

H***, you can die from drinking water. Happened in upstate NY as part of a frat hazing and then in Cali over a radio contest.

Anonymous said...


Lovely monologue about asbestos but I think you MISSED SOMETHING!


Max Hartshorne said...

That Sprague guy sounds like a pompous ass to me, with his sniffing dismissal of a suggestion box. I laughed when i read it and thought once again how out of touch Amherst's officials are with the world. I haven't ever heard that expression that 'nothing good comes from a suggestion box'. i disagree. What is the harm school committee?

Anonymous said...

Hey, anyone placing a call over to Peter Crouse or Ron Bohonowicz to ask them why they got the guy who ran over the child fixing school vehicles? Someone without any FORMAL training to do so!

I mean, I know you gotta keep him paid somehow but does having had a junkyard in the back of your house growing up qualify you to fix vehicles for the town of Amherst?!!

Guess so.

Anonymous said...

What makes anyone here think that they would actually consider any suggestion from an online suggestion box? Just stating that you want Amherst to make sense, now that is asking a lot.

-Ryan Willey

LarryK4 said...

Well, I think what they don't like about the Suggestion Box is that it, sort of, creates a paper trail showing that the 'Powers That Be' were informed of a certain problem at a certain time/date.

And if they do not act on it and somebody gets hurt, then the lawyers have a field day (as well they should).

Accountability is a bitch!

Anonymous said...

Like the teacher that used to rub his crotch against the desks during class. The kids saw it, talked about his strange behaviors and come to find out he had a hard drive filled with kiddy porn.

Yes I can see your point about their dislike for a suggestion box being used for such purposes as whistle blowing.


LarryK4 said...

Or--better yet--Stephen Myers the High School Principal they hired in 2002 (without a proper background check) who liked little boys.

And even when concerned parents crashed a School Committee meeting to publicly air concerns (during Public Comment period so it was fair game) they were shut off by then Chair Dr. (that would be a Umass academic Dr.) Barbara Love who said:

"As a black woman, I am leery of jumping to conclusions and condemning and convicting an individual on the basis of circumstantial evidence."

A few days later when the Crusty Gazette remembered that the job of a newspaper is to INVESTIGATE, the facts of Mr. Myers perverted past came to light and his multitude of PC defenders (parents, teachers, students and administrators) shut the Hell up.

The lawyer for the 15-year-old boy summed it up: ""It is apparent that the public disclosure of Myers' improper activities at Amherst Regional High School, although never authorized by the family and however awkwardly made, has served the public interest of protecting our client and other boys in the community from Mr. Myers. We hope that the community will come to recognize the courage it took for the family to raise and pursue these difficult issues given the failure of the School Department to deal with them adequately."

Oldest saying in journalism: "Sunlight is the ultimate antiseptic."

Ed Cutting said...

"Sunlight is the best DISINFECTANT." -- Justice Louis Brandeis, US Supreme Court.

Sorry Larry, I am an academic...

Rich Spurgin, FCCC Member said...

I have nothing to add about the suggestion box, but I would like to correct a comment about the FCCC. We did not rely "almost exclusively on the 497 responses from Amherst taxpayers to formulate their budget recommendations to the Select Board and Finance Committee". In fact, our recommendations represented the informed conclusions of the indivdual FCCC members.

Alison said...

I will agree with Rich's assessment. In some cases, notably the school budgets, we made a recommendation for level funding while the majority of respondents selected either level services or a priority restoration budget.

I encourage all interested members of the public to read our full report which should be available on-line any day at

Alison Donta, member FCCC