Petition to obtain the resignation of Leslie Finegold and Felix Raimondo from office.
Petition to obtain the resignation of Leslie Finegold and Felix Raimondo from office.
**10/10 Update - The reference to kids being taught in trailers is now unlikely. This update is based on this update from Dr. Christian "In the announcement about the school, Dr. Christian stated that the new school will be built behind the existing structure. Students will continue to attend the existing school until the new one is completed. The old school would be demolished once the students start using the new school building."
Felix & Leslie's actions have resulted in an erosion of trust between the Colonial School District's parents/tax payers and the school board majority. They have mistreated residents and passed discriminatory policies that resulted in a law suit against the school district. The lawsuit claims an African American female business owner was discriminated against as a result of the policy they championed. This law suit could potentially lead to children currently in the 5th, 6th and 7th grades to spend time being taught in trailers instead of classrooms. Residents, including myself, attempted to get Mr. Raimondo removed from office legally; however, those efforts were unsuccessful since what they did was technically legal (though not transparent). A former acting Pennsylvania Attorney General described the potential political motivations associated with these types of polices in the below email. This is not a political issue, both children of democrats, independents and republicans will potentially be negatively impacted by Felix & Leslie's actions. I ask, for the good of the community, that they resign immediately. This petition does not hold any legal authority, it is just intended to highlight to the board president, Mr. Raimondo, and the vice president, Ms. Finegold, that the community has had enough of their attempts to politicize our school board.
Dear Mr. Martin,
I reviewed your below email and attachments. I understand that the Colonial School District recently passed what is commonly referred to as a Responsible Contracting Ordinance (or policy). I am familiar with this concept. Some consider it to be a means to grant an advantage to union contractors over non-union contractors in the granting of contracts for construction projects commissioned by the District. Often, RCOs become political footballs with the allegation that Democrats use the enactment of RCOs to provide an incentive for labor unions to contribute to Democrat candidates for office who, upon election, enact RCOs as “payback” for union support during the campaign process. On the other hand, it is often alleged that Republicans receive political support from so-called "non-union shops” and/or organizations made up of non-union contractors. Republicans say that RCOs make it so non-union contractors cannot compete for work and are thus contrary to American principles of competitive bidding designed to keep prices low. Projects performed by union labor, critics say, are simply more expensive leading to higher property taxes adding to the property tax burden on especially those, like the elderly on fixed incomes who over time own their homes, but have limited cash flow because they are retired. Property taxes go up as they almost always do in school districts, at a rate faster than a retired homeowner can keep pace. Over time, the school tax burden on the homeowner reaches the point where the homeowner cannot afford the taxes and has to sell their home. Democrats and union supporters say that union labor is better because the union workers are more highly trained through advanced apprenticeship programs superior to non-union workers and that are taught more specialized concepts. So, while union constructed projects might cost more, it produces a better product that over time holds up and is less costly to maintain for the taxpayers in the long run.
Your specific question concerned the action of the Board President working privately with the District Solicitor to create a proposed Responsible Contracting Ordinance. Obviously, the District Solicitor charges fees to the District for his or her time meeting with the Board President. Incurring these charges, however, is not contrary to law. While some might argue that the Board President was not “transparent” in how he/she was spending taxpayer dollars on this issue, the fact that the Board President is an elected official and was chosen by the other board members to act as president, grants the president the authority to confer with the District Solicitor as often as he/she chooses to do so. If the president spends too much of the District’s funds on such meetings, his/her fellow board members are free to replace the president with another member. A corollary to that is that other members, too, may confer with the District Solicitor as needed and also incur fees. Ultimately, the remedy for a Board that spends too much on anything, including legal fees, is to be voted out of office.
As for RCOs, my recollection is the non-union contracting companies also have specialized apprenticeship programs they believe are every bit as good as the ones the unions have. (As an aside, when I was a county official, I thought we have very capable union and non-union labor who really did try to do good work for the county and produced quality products). The “apprenticeship” claim (unions have good ones and non-union not as good) has been the main argument. I always thought that was the wrong metric. I think the better metric is to contact other government organizations that built projects, with union and non-union labor, and ask how they liked the quality of the project. If the Board is consistently hearing union labor built projects were satisfactory and long term costs upkeep reasonable, the Board might think the higher upfront cost of awarding a building contract to a union operation is worth it. On the other hand, if non-union projects were the same quality and same long term cost to maintain, but cost less to build in the first place, the Board should go with the non-union firm.
I personally think competitive bidding open to everyone keeps costs down and is a better value for the taxpayer. I think the quality of union labor is good in Montgomery County. I also think non-union work is equally good. So my recommendation is that they all compete, and the Board do its due diligence by finding out how other projects, union and non-union, fared over time in other government-issued contracts.
Bottomline is what your president and solicitor did was legal in the ordinary course of government work. Whether RCOs are good long term for taxpayers is another matter. I think anything that drives costs up f or the same quality is a waste of taxpayer money. I suspect the RCOs as currently written do just that.
"My family and I lived in CSD for 19 years and I volunteered almost 8 years of my life as an elected member of the Colonial School Board, proudly serving 2 years as Board President.
I worked with a diverse board made up of members from both political parties, and we came together as a team, putting any political differences aside as we worked closely with the administration to improve the quality of education for our children in the district. What mattered was whether the child was being provided with all the tools they needed to succeed. That was always our focus.
There were differences of opinion, but we all worked together towards a common goal of putting the children first – above all else. Although pressured from various outside influences, we managed to work through complex situations and achieve outstanding results for the children and the Colonial community.
Over the months I have watched the operations of the new Board, and how their approach has created division, mistrust, doubt, and cynicism, and the needs of the children seem to have been lost in the process. The reporters at More than the Curve have been reporting on a wide web of shadowy connections between political parties and elected officials in various roles: substantial financial contributions to campaigns, the appointment of law firms to various local municipalities and school districts that happen to donate large amounts; the selection of engineering firms that contribute to candidates who then get appointed to be the firm of choice in that local community, and many other similar scenarios. There is no question that “pay to play” is alive and well, and can be seen in every decision made by the majority of the Colonial School Board.
I would be the last person to come out and say that political parties and financial support are not a critical part of running a campaign and being elected to an office. … When I became involved with the Democratic apparatus in the area, I came to realize that with the solicitation of funding for a campaign, came an understanding on behalf of the donors that something was expected in return. I was naïve and really did not think about these issues at the time. I was excited, energized, and full of drive to get onto the Board and change the system for so many children.
It was in the summer of 2009 when our Democrat area leader and campaign manager first introduced the concept of a Responsible Contractor Ordinance (RCO) to me, suggesting it was a very good thing to push for in the district. I soon came to realize that although there were many positives to an RCO, it was seen largely as a payback to Unions for their contributions to a campaign. Union contributions would flow to candidates, but in return, the candidate was expected to “play the game” and push for an RCO.
It took me a number of years to come to this realization, but it really came to a head when Beth Suchsland and I were planning on running for reelection after a very successful first 4 years. We found out that there was no guarantee that we would be on the Democratic ticket in the spring of 2014, largely due to the fact that we had not enacted the RCO nor had we generated any substantial work for firms and/or organizations who contributed to our campaign. Beth and I were forced to call for meetings with the Democratic area leader and other major party members to make the case for our being on the ticket, that we were doing great work for the district and the community, and were well liked by the teachers and the administration. The budget was in good shape, the taxes remained low, and performance by the students was strong. The state of the district was sound.
I brought the idea of the RCO to the other Board members in accordance with standard procedures. I raised the issue at an FMT meeting for discussion amongst the board members. I gathered data from various sources in order to evaluate the RCO concept. This included a meeting with staff at Montgomery County who had an RCO, Whitemarsh Township, as well as a number of school districts who also had RCOs. The reason I brought the RCO concept to the Board was due to strong suggestions from the local Democratic party leader, who continued to push this approach through all my years on the Board. I understood the rationale behind the RCO, and how it could benefit Unions, and there are substantial positives to enacting an RCO. However, in my role as Board member, and head of the FMT committee at that time, I needed to accumulate a substantial amount of information, weigh that data, obtain input from the administration, and then share that information with my board members for discussion, PRIOR to developing any policies or pursuing further. At that time the majority of the Board was not in favor of moving forward with an RCO, and thus the idea was tabled.
I listened to the audio recording of the recent committee meeting, hosted by Jen Dow, where she impugned how I brought up this concept, how it was investigated, and that I undertook some sort of clandestine operation to introduce an RCO to the district. In fact, it was just the opposite, and it is the current Board majority that decided on its own to push for an RCO, direct the District’s legal counsel to draft up an ordinance in May of 2018, and then push it forward as a done deal in July, without even consulting the full board for any type of discussion, nor taking the concept to any of the appropriate committees for initial vetting. Coordinating a new policy, behind the scenes, amongst a cabal of board members, without any committee meetings or input from the public, and against the wishes of the administration, is an abuse of power and authority, and violates almost every tenet and guideline laid out by PSBA relating to how Boards should operate. The fact that Jen Dow spent 4 minutes of the meeting laying out her “case” and “evidence” to show how my process back in 2014 was flawed, is simply a song and dance routine to distract attention from her efforts (driven by Felix Raimondo, Leslie Finegold, Adam Shupack, and Eunice Franklin-Becker) to implement the same pay to play payback scenario that I was pushed to move forward back in 2009 as a new candidate, and then again in 2013/14 in order to stay on the ballot for re-election. Ms. Dow’s lengthy defense of the current Board majority’s alleged open and transparent process, involving the public, and having many open meetings, is simply a smokescreen to cover up a done deal to repay donors, and is after the fact. The policy was planned and written in secret, without full board input, without discussions at publicly accessible committee meetings, knowing that the ruling faction had 5 votes and simply had to execute a CYA strategy to make things look legit before voting on and adopting the policy. That is not transparent, not appropriate, not legitimate, and definitely not in the spirit of what the Colonial School District stands for.
I am proud of my record during my seven+ years on the Board, and my 2 years as President. It was an honor and a huge responsibility to serve the community in that role. Some members of the board have mentioned many times at meetings how “transparent” their new process is, and how much public participation has increased. I have seen the meetings and have seen that passion shared by the community – it isn’t due to the smooth functioning of the Board and the excellent policies and
procedures that they have enacted. It is due to the total lack of trust, lack of communication, lack of courtesy, refusal to listen, and inability to take a step back to take a deep breath, reflect, and ask the real questions – Why are we doing these things? Who is going to benefit? Who is going to be hurt? Why aren’t we listening to our professionals, the administration?
I strongly urge all Board members to not act on an RCO policy until it has been fully vetted, discussed, and open and honest communication and examination allowed. There are enough questions without answers that deserve studies and investigation. I also urge the Colonial community to demand answers, justification, explanation, and not be mollified by the current Board majority. This is your school district.
These are your children. This is your community. You elected these Board members to serve you, to represent your interests, not their own. You elected them to support an agenda driven by the administration’s goals to give your kids the best education, and the best environment to learn, as possible. Do not allow a politically driven agenda to dominate and corrupt the mission of the Colonial School District. Don’t accept this “new normal.” It is not acceptable. Stand up and be heard."
Alan Tabachnik Former School Board President (D)
Well said. Like Alan, I proudly served on the Colonial School Board for 16 years (1993-2009) and was President of the Board for 9 of those years (2000-2009).
Sadly, the greatest harm from the manner in which this RCO policy was adopted won't be the taxpayers. The true harm (and much more dangerous) is to the integrity of the Board and the necessary trust that has long existed in Colonial between the Board and Adminstration. Without this trust, which has now been shattered, true collaboration will no longer exist. Instead of working together in the pursuit of continued excellence, fear of reprisals and hidden political paybacks will drive the agenda.
The District has been blessed with outstanding leadership for almost 20 years. Beginning with Dr Vincent Cotter in 2000, followed by Dr Mary Ellen Gorodetzer and now Dr. Michael Christian, there is, and has been, a bound of trust between the Board and the Administration. Make no mistake, many of the achievements and wonderful opportunities that exist in Colonial are a result of outstanding teachers, support staff and the Board and Adminstration working together in a collaborative manner with the student's interest as the top priority. The actions of this Board majority, despite their hollow words of denial, have laid bare that their loyalty lies elsewhere.
I have no doubt that the members of the Adminstration and staff will continue to give their best for the District and attempt to "tip toe" their way through the shattered trust. However, having served on the Board for 16 years, I am certain that no matter how dedicated these professionals are, the culture, environment and trust that they have been accustomed has been broken. Mere words will not remedy the harm that has occurred. It will severely impact the future.
There can be no other reasonable conclusion. The protests from the community are not about a policy to set forth guidelines to ensure responsible contractors are selected. If that were the case, there would have been wide consensus and a likely unanimous or near unanimous vote. Everyone is for safety. Everyone wants to get the best contractor. Everyone wants to keep taxes low. The community is against specific terms of this particular version of the RCO because (i) it was conceived and drafted without going through the normal vetting process, (ii) restricts the Board's existing legal authority that it already has to reject bids when it deems the contractor irresponsible (this has been the law in PA since at least 1933), (iii) limits competition and intentionally excludes an entire group of qualified contractors from bidding by narrowly defining what an acceptable apprenticeship program means, (iv) ties the hands of the adminstration who are in the best position to determine and assess a contractor's credentials and (v) will unnecessarily increase cost. When these objections or concerns were repeatedly raised by countless comminity members, they were met with silence or canned "talking points" about safety.
No doubt that the political strategy to rush this through is based on the belief that once the action is taken, the anger and outrage will subside and business will return to normal. Whether this is true is solely up to the community. As Margaret Meade once said,... Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.
Marc Orlow, Former School President (R)