Saturday, January 29, 2011

Follow-Up Re: Anonymous Posting

Interestingly enough, yesterday, several days after my post, NewCastleNOW had an editorial post to their blog about anonymous comments. They attempt to justify their policy of allowing anonymous comments just as I explain my policy of no anonymous comments.

First let me say that it is their sandbox, so it is their right to make their rules. I just have to decide if I want to play in their sandbox, just as Patty and Tim have to recognize that they cannot play here anonymously. I choose not to participate in a forum that allows anonymous comments, but I certainly understand those who choose to play by their rules. Just don't come crying foul when the rules work against you. Either method (anonymous or no anonymous) is valid. But, the justification for allowing anonymous comments is nothing more than, I want to allow them to give anyone a chance to comment. That does not come without risks generally in the form of people spewing vitriol.

I point out that despite Sue Pender's claim, this is not a first amendment issue. This blog and their blog and the NY Times and the NY Post are all private websites that have no obligation whatsoever to allow everyone and anyone to post. In fact, it is the first amendment that gives them the right to set the rules and limit posting. Further, the claim is inconsistent with their practice. While they will allow any comment, they do not accept all Letters to the Editor and all Op-Ed type pieces. I speak from experience.

NewCastleNOW is not just a conduit for "free speech". They have editorial final say as they SHOULD. Their practice is to exercise that editorial right as they see fit. Again, they should. But the first amendment claim is invalid.

Too often people confuse their wants with their rights. They hide behind some concept of free speech and claim it is their right to say whatever they want wherever they want. Civility? Nope, I have free speech. Back on November 18th in this post to my blog I commented on civility and anonymous posting. NewCastleAlternative (NCA), NewCastleNOW, the Patch, etc. have no obligation to allow anonymous commenting. It is a proactive choice.

Ok, maybe it was poorly worded using the first amendment, but they want to give everybody a forum to express their opinions. Seems like a valid goal that should be applauded, right? It is. But then it gets murky again. Another reason given for allowing anonymous comments is that as "journalists" they err on the side of open communication. An anonymous comment, no matter how legitimate the idea in the comment, is the opposite of open. It is hidden behind secrecy. Transparency is what provides for open debate, not secrecy.

In her example, Ms. Pender says,
"Residents have anonymously expressed their frustration and anxiety about Chappaqua Crossing, both pro and con. That information, that residents are frustrated and anxious, is valuable to both the town board and the developer for making historic decisions that will impact New Castle forever. Many of these voices would not be heard but for the opportunity to speak anonymously."


Let's parse that statement. Start with the first word. If they are anonymous, how does Pender know they are residents? She assumes they are. I applaud her for her positive outlook on life assuming that everyone is who they imply they are, but I ain't buying it. In fact, on her blog, commenters are often accused of not being who they say they are. Ask "Westender". I had a person try to comment anonymously on my blog who later admitted that he (and I assume it is a he, but I have no idea) did not even live in the district (any more).

Then she wants us to believe that town board and the developer should assume these are all residents simply expressing their opinions. How can a public official (or SG) know if the person commenting is a constituent or is someone from outside pushing their own agenda? There is no way to know with anonymity. As a school board member, I put significantly more weight on comments that are made face to face, at a public meeting or in writing if it is signed. I would like to think that Rob Greenstein's petition with near 1,000 signatures in opposition to residential development at the former Readers Digest site carries much more weight with the Town Board than the anonymous posters on a blog. (Rob Greenstein is the poster boy for signed commenting!)

Second, NCN is certainly not the only place a resident who wishes to remain anonymous can make their voices heard as she implies. To claim that the School Board (and Town Board) would not hear these voices otherwise is flat out wrong. For example, someone wishing to remain anonymous could open a new email address (they are free and require no proof of identity) and send one to the Town Board or the School Board. We get them. We also get emails from people who sign them yet ask to remain anonymous. We honor those requests.

Third, look at the hypothetical example about why a person would wish to remain anonymous that Pender uses. The example used indicates the level of ethics expected of its readers by NCN. Ms. Pender thinks it is ok to be anonymous so you can post something that may be opposed to the interests of your employer? That concept is ethically challenged. Folks, it is not ok to anonymously act to undermine your employer. The concept of fiduciary is out the window on that one.

But again, probably just poorly worded. I do not think that example was their intention. I certainly appreciate situations where in business you wish to remain neutral and not have clients form opinions or make decisions based on your opinions or politics posted on the web. You are in a bind. You are forced to either not post, post under a pseudonym or post anonymously. But that is not the same as "providing information that very well may be contrary to the best interests of their employers." Again, maybe just poorly worded with good intent.

Finally, with anonymous comments, you are left with having to plead to your users to be civil or start censoring posts. Why? Because there is no accountability that comes with commenting under your own name.

Requiring commenting under your own name provides the real ingredients to open discussion; transparency and accountability. Anyone wishing to remain anonymous can still get their voices heard by going directly to the board.

This blog and NCN are playing the same game, just under slightly different rules. National League and American League. Designated Hitter or not, still baseball. You the players have to choose which blog policy you are more comfortable playing under: transparency and accountability versus anonymity.



Thursday, January 27, 2011

Value of Anonymous Comments?

Here is a link to my comment policy. I think it is straightforward and clear. And appropriate. My blog, my rules. If you want a place to comment anonymously, there are plenty out there including another local blog, NewCastleNOW. I will stipulate up front that I have seen some very insightful and well thought out anonymous comments and some really stupid signed ones. That to me is not the issue.

"Patty", who has sent anonymous comments to this blog several times has suggested that I should allow anonymous comments. Her reasoning was,
"In today’s world of the world wide web , internet, and internet searches, anything published goes immediately viral. Post my name to a comment and someone does a Google search and my name appears. Comments are often altered or taken out of context. Those with dissenting views are capable of profiling the writer or worse ostracizing them in the community. What does it matter if I post my name, make up a name (which I could have done), or post anonymously? Is this about sharing ideas and opinions? If so, why should my comment and opinion be invalidated because I choose to protect my identity from all that could go wrong in the world on the internet?..."

"Tim", another commenter who wishes to remain anonymous wrote, "
I didn’t realize you did a background check and bio search. Tim is a nickname and I don’t actually live in New Castle - I lived there years ago. The beauty of the internet is that it connects and links us all regardless of current location. You either encourage dialogue and free flow of ideas or you do not. If I gave you my full name and the nearby town I live in would that make my comments any more or less meaningful? Must I currently reside or is it ok that I once lived there and still have an interest as I have friends living there? I have been very cautious about participating in the many social networks out there for the very reason you just demonstrated> I don’t want people Googling me and getting in my business. It concerns me that people post on Facebook, Twitter, 123people and their picture, address, phone number and personal information is there for the world to see. Your effort to seek me out validates my concern. As I said, you either encourage dialogue and idea sharing or you don’t. It should not matter if I post my full name or that my profile is blocked. I made a few points and asked you a few questions about this give back you all seem to be celebrating. Does withholding my full name make my comments any less relevant? Hey – it’s your blog – do what you want. Most allow comments to be posted by anyone with initials, made up name, or anonymously..

(I agree with Tim that if you do not want to be Googled, you should definitely not comment or use your real name. It was one of the most disturbing things to me when I first volunteered for the Board of Ed. I was very uncomfortable with how unprivate it made me. So don't comment here or anywhere else that requires a real name. I also do not understand why if you have a question or comment but wish to remain anonymous you don't just send me an email from an anonymous email address. I have said I would engage those.)

A friend pointed me to this article by Jeffrey Weiss which I think has a very good take on the issue.

Here is an article in the New York Times addressing the issue. More and more sites are not allowing anonymous comments. One reason to allow anonymous comments is to drive traffic to your site. While I post to be informative and hope someone reads it, I do not do it for any ad money or to drive traffic to my site. I have no ads.

I would like to engage the community in a discussion regarding anonymous comments. Please feel free to give your thoughts on anonymous internet posting when discussing specific items in a community such as ours. I usually do not post anonymous comments here, but I will for the purposes of this discussion although I reserve the right to moderate comments if they are off topic. Other local blogs such as NewCastleNOW or The Patch will post virtually any comment. They seem to thrive on anonymous comments. I have spoken with many people who will not read those blogs and/or not participate in their comments because they are anonymous and allow personal attacks.

I happen to believe that I should stand behind any comment I make. I do not see why I should be concerned about other people finding it on the internet. If I believe in what I say, I have no issue with anyone reading it. I do admit that I make mistakes and change my mind. I have written things I later would not write. I am human.

Using your real name is a method of creating built in accountability. You are unlikely to write something under your name that you would not want associated with your name. I call it the NY Post hurdle. I try not to say anything or do anything in public that I would not want on the cover of the NY Post. (Jeffrey Weiss' article used "Would you post this comment if your mother knew you were posting it?") Accountability and responsibility for your own words and actions. Simple concept.

While I agree that an idea is an idea regardless of who signs it, I also think that the source of the comment is relevant. In addition, anonymous posting leads to personal attacks and unnecessary vitriol. I am not sure how or why I would be ostracized in the community if what I say is honest and true. Not sure I care what others think if what I am saying is honest and true.

Finally, commenting is not a right on someone else's blog. If you are truly worried about "all that can go wrong on the internet" and don't want to post yet want to say something, send me a private email. I pledge confidentiality if you request it. But either way I want to hear from you.


Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Are You Called a Twit if You Use Twitter?

Fwiw, I am going to try to use the Twitter account @JSMCCSDBoE to post alerts and quick updates. First Tweet today for the weather related announcement. (No afternoon HS exams, regular dismissal time, all after-school activities cancelled and at this time a 2 hour delay called for January 27th).

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Great News for the District, Its Children, Its Staff and The Taxpayers

Moments ago, the Board of Ed along with the Chappaqua Congress of Teachers (CCT)announced a mutual agreement to amend the last year of the CCT current contract and extend the contract for an additional year.

While Janet Benton the Board President spoke for the entire Board at the meeting and I am reiterating much of what she said, I prepared the following brief statement:

I just wanted to make a very brief statement regarding the agreement reached between the Chappaqua Congress of Teachers and the CCSD. First, as Janet mentioned in our statement, I want to thank Ellen and Ray for their leadership and John, John, Tom and Lyn for the efforts on behalf of the district.

This decision to open the contract is extremely rare and should be recognized as a tremendous good will gesture on the part of the teachers. But more than a good will gesture this agreement saves the district money versus the contract this year and versus Triborough next year. It is a significant give back to the taxpayers. It encompasses every area that the CCT could address locally; salary, both raises and step raises as well as the health care contribution. The agreement also has saved both jobs and programs that in the absence of the agreement would have been cut.

Finally, this agreement while preserving flexibility for the district in future negotiations, also significantly contributes to the Board's dual goals, maintain and expand our academic excellence while proposing reasonable and sustainable budgets to the community.

As a friend of mine told me last year, there are no bad guys in this debate. There are just three parties (residents with children, empty nesters and district staff) that have a problem and need to work it out. This agreement is a good first step.



Note: Below is a copy of Janet Benton's remarks on behalf of the entire Board of Education.

I am pleased to announce that the Board of Education and the Chappaqua Congress of Teachers (CCT) have come to an agreement to amend the current teacher contract, resulting in a savings of over $1 million in the 2011-12 operating budget. The CCT overwhelmingly approved the agreement in a vote last Thursday and the Board of Education will take action on the Memoranda of Understanding tonight.

At the request of the Board, Interim Superintendent John Chambers and Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources Tom Cardellichio met with CCT President Ellen Pincus and Vice President Ray Lucia to discuss reopening the existing contract.

While the CCT was under no legal obligation to reopen, their leadership readily agreed to engage in talks. They spent many hours in open, honest, and respectful discussion with our district administrators to craft this agreement. With their positive vote, the CCT membership stepped forward as true partners in this district to give back $1 million to help save jobs, limit class size increases, and preserve the high quality educational program that we have built together.

The Board would like to offer special recognition to Ellen and Ray. Thank you for your commitment to our schools, our children, and our community and for your leadership in bringing this agreement to your membership for approval.

We also thank John Chambers, Lyn McKay, Tom Cardellichio, and John Chow for their expertise, creativity, commitment and patience in guiding these contract discussions a successful conclusion.

The agreement provides modifications to three key elements in the teachers’ contract: salary increases are reduced; step advancement is slowed; and health insurance contributions are increased. The agreement extends the CCT contract one additional year, providing time for a new Superintendent of Schools to become established in the position before new contract negotiations begin.

For 2011-2012, the new agreement will reduce base pay increases from the previously agreed 3.5% to 2.5%, postpone step increases to mid-year, and bring health insurance premium contributions to 10% on July 1, 2011 rather than January 1, 2012. In 2012-2013, the teachers’ base pay increase will be 2%, with step increases again postponed to mid-year, and health insurance premium contributions moved to 11%.

The Board of Education is deeply committed to ensuring continued excellence in our academic and extracurricular programs while developing a fiscally responsible budget. We believe that the spirit of partnership and respect embodied in this new agreement demonstrates how we can all work together to achieve this goal.


Monday, January 24, 2011

Snow Days. Again?

Many many of you have asked about snow days, how many do we have left before we cut vacations days, how are they determined and my kid's (and friends) how do we get more?

Interim Superintendent John Chambers posted a letter today on the CCSD website that answers these questions and more including why was last Friday a snow day.

Click here to read the note.


Friday, January 21, 2011

Insider Buying in CCSD Shares

There is a very important issue that is being lost around this town recently in the school budget debate. Locally, it is not ALL about the numbers. It is not about teacher bashing over their contract. Last year during the budget development, a local resident whom I met for the first time, who is an empty nester, who loves this town and would like to remain but is at the tipping point as taxes are pushing him out told me the line I use often, "There are no bad guys here, just three parties [staff, empty nesters and parents of school kids] with a problem that needs to be solved."

The issue I have with some of the comments floating around town are that they deviate from the facts and from the human element into ad hominem attacks that are not conducive to solving problems. The way to solve our problem is for the bargaining units and the district taxpayers (BoE as proxy) to sit down as partners and find a way to help both sides. I know that just as the teachers recognize that having a great contract with a bankrupt entity is worth very little, residents should recognize that having employees that are disgruntled and with low morale is less than optimal.

The Board and the CCT have taken the first steps by agreeing to sit down and talk. While to folks like me and many of you who come from a competitive business world may not think that is such a big deal, know that it is virtually without precedent for a teacher's union to reopen an existing contract.

Knowing what I know about the way the teachers do take ownership in this district and how much they do appreciate the Board and the taxpayers not attacking them in the first few years of this contract, I am quite confident that at the end of the day, and that day is coming real soon, they will agree to compromises that will both demonstrate that they are our partners and that will help the district maintain a fiscally responsible budget. I do not think they would have agreed to talk otherwise. I hope at the conclusion of the talks, if it does indeed come to fruition, that when it is announced, that the entire community from the PTA to the NCCRE to the seniors to both the apathetic and helicopter parents, to plain old folks like you and me, recognize and appreciate it for what it is; an acknowledgement that the partnership is still intact and that the teachers are reasonable people who are willing to do what they can to help out locally.

The big disconnect for me is that I have to separate the local issues that I can control or at least effect from the State ones where I have to jaw bone and vote to influence that. As you know from your research and from David Shaw, the pension plan is a state constitutional issue that we cannot negotiate locally. What we can negotiate locally is salary, raises, steps and healthcare contribution. I know that all the local issues we can address are on the table in the discussions. I also know that the hurdle we face or the benchmark by which we can measure an agreement is out of our control. It is Triborough. We will see if we have partners if we compare it to that.

But these last three paragraphs digress from my intent of this post and the very issue that is lost. The impetus for this post was a question to the administration about teachers being able to have their kids in the district without charge. What the large number of teachers choosing to have their children educated in this district says to me is the same message I get when analyzing a stock and finding out that the insiders, the top executives are buying shares themselves with their own money. It is the insiders, the people who know what we provide and what we provide vis a vis the alternatives that are opting to bring their kids to our schools. They have a choice and chose this as the better best alternative. That says a lot. That is an endorsement you cannot buy. It is about educating our community's children, and at that we are best bar none.


Sunday, January 9, 2011

Snowday Notification Errors

Thank you to those of you who pointed out to me that you did not receive an email (or text) notification for the snow day yesterday.  I am signed up for the email blasts and I did not receive one either.  (If any resident wishes to contact me, my information is listed on this site.)

Know that the Ed Center Administrators are aware of the issue and are working with our vendor, K12, to diagnose the problem and to ensure it does not happen again.  

In the event you do not receive an expected text or email yet believe there is a good chance that school may be delayed, closed or dismissed early, please also check the district website, local cable TV  educational access channels, and local media such as or the Patch (

Saturday, January 8, 2011

2011-2012 Budget Update

The usual disclaimers apply.  I am speaking for myself, not the entire BoE or the Finance Committee or the Budget Advisory Committee.  Read at your own risk.  Shake well before using.  Past performance means bupkis.  Refrigerate after opening. Your Mileage May Vary (YMMV).

"The dogs bark, but the caravan moves on."  

On October 15th, as part of the Board of Ed's Finance Committee, Randy Katchis and I sent a request to the community, published on the CCSD website as well as on the Patch and NewCastleNOW blogs, for volunteers to be on a Budget Advisory Committee.  The response to that request was significant.  While we were hoping to have between 10 and 15 volunteers, we had over 25 people volunteer.  Rather than turn anyone away, we chose to accept all help offered.  Quite frankly, the Board was very pleased to see that the community might be engaged in this year's budget discussion.  We welcome constructive suggestions, thoughtful comments and incisive questions.  

Since the first meeting on November 9th, the Committee has met as a group two more times; once on November 23rd and again on December 22nd.  At several Board of Ed regular meetings, this group was discussed and it was reiterated that even if you were not formally part of the Committee, all public was welcome to attend and participate.  These meetings were not a secret; they were well publicized. 

I am disappointed to report that neither NewCastleNOW nor the Patch (or the Examiner) attended any meeting or any part of those meetings.  I also add that not one outside member of the public chose to join us for a meeting.  (One gentlemen came to a meeting but had to leave after 5 minutes to attend to a private matter.)  Rather than actually participate in a meeting and offer specific suggestions for our district or discuss the issues that our district faces, it appears most of the public would either rather complain to each other over coffee, write book reviews, write anonymous comments or let someone else get their hands dirty.  Know that 25 of your fellow residents are getting their hands dirty and doing what they can to help.    

The Advisory Committee was further broken into three sub groups.  One group, referred to as the regulatory group had been studying  the numerous state mandates, regulations and restrictions.  They are seeking ways to address them both internally in the CCSD and to seek ways to convince our State lawmakers to reconsider these obligations and burdens.  The second group, is focusing on ways to communicate with the community on the budget.  They are thinking about ways to get information out to the community as well as to get information.  One idea includes a community survey.  The third group is crunching numbers and looking at our district's number versus a similar cohort in Westchester County.  They are also trying to analyze our own spending to see if there are any outliers.  They will also use their work to present information to the community.

Y'all missed some important informative meetings.  For example, at the December 22nd meeting, David Shaw, CCSD's counsel and one of the most experienced and knowledgeable people in the entire state of New York with regards to collective bargaining and the Triborough amendment, spoke for 45 minutes on Triborough and other state mandates as well as answered questions for another half hour following his presentation.  When 75% of our budget comes from compensation in one form or another, a discussion on the driving forces and laws regarding collective bargaining is quite frankly  critical to appreciating and understanding the budget.  Yet no one chose to report on it or attend.  

It is easy to sit back in a state of ignorance and tell the board how it "oughta be done", but if members of the community want to be productive, they will get informed and participate. Get to know the limitations on the district in what can be changed.  Know that collective bargaining agreements prevent certain outsourcing of jobs, that the State mandates many of our obligations and that our staff including maintenance and custodial, teachers, and administrators, regardless of your opinion on compensation levels, are the best in the business.  

Those who attended the meeting on December 22nd (the Advisory Committee) heard as Mr. Shaw explained how NY State requires all school districts to participate in the State's defined benefit pension plan.    Mr. Shaw also described the Triborough Amendment that says in essence that in the event that there is no agreement on a new contract, the bargaining unit will automatically be granted whatever step raises were negotiated in the previous contract until a new contract is negotiated.  This was designed as an offset to the units inability to strike.

The BoE's next regular meeting is this Tuesday, January 11th at 8:15 in the academic commons at the high school.  At that meeting, the Board and the community will be presented with the second part of the budget preview.  While the first draft of the entire budget will not be presented until February, in December and now again in January, the administration has been previewing some of the bigger items and issues they face when creating the proposed budget.  On Tuesday, the topic of staffing levels, both support and instructional, will be addressed.  

The next Budget Advisory Group meeting will be on Saturday January 22nd at 3:30pm also in the academic commons.  At that meeting we anticipate discussing the January 11th presentation, outlining the February 15th Board budget presentation, taking suggestions on both presentation and content as well as reports from the three working subgroups of the committee.