Spin vs. Substance

A few questions worth asking: What is the source of all of the drama? How did we get here?  Did the district “do” something to PCS?

PCS representatives talk about modeling leadership for the students.  So let’s take a closer look at that concept and PCS’s role:  Failure to take responsibility for their actions.  Constant media spin.  Evasiveness with governance and process.

Taking Responsibility

The district did nothing and has done nothing “to” PCS.  Per the signed facilities agreement, lease renewal negotiations began last fall. SCCS (the landlord) expected a good faith renewal offer from the tenant, PCS.  That is not what they received. Instead, SCCS received an offer from PCS to pay less than half the current rate.  What renter does that?  After five years?

Per the facilities agreement, which states that current market rates would be taken into consideration, the district asked for an increase over the rate set in 2003. PCS did not respond. After the agreed-upon window for negotiations closed, PCS offered to pay the 2003 rate.  Period.  Negotiations ended with not one single good faith offer from PCS, and to date they have not once made a new offer—let alone one that is even one penny more than the 2003 rate.

Negotiations ended without an agreement because of actions taken by PCS.  SCCS has been consistent in saying a market rate is needed because the district is seeking to capture all potential revenue sources in order to mitigate against cuts resulting from the state budget crisis—a move that benefits both students and local taxpayers who have voted to support parcel taxes that keep class sizes small and ensure art, music and science programming.

With PCS’s budget reserve running at approximately 50%, ending what is in effect a subsidy for PCS by SCCS (and local taxpayers) appears to be a reasonable move.

And then there’s the Proposition 39 application.  PCS leadership made the decision to apply for Prop 39 space that, by law, can only accommodate 60% of their student body—raising the specter of splitting the school between available facilities.  The district must, according to the law, respond with an offer of shared secondary school space. This is obviously a terrible and divisive option for PCS.  Initiated by?  That’s right, PCS.

Yet they stand before their parents, the community and the school board repeating the spin and rhetoric endlessly.  Not once have they admitted in public that the loss of their current facility and the uncertainty they face is solely the result of their own actions.

The Spin

Last May, following the collapse of negotiations, PCS discussed their public relations strategy and tactics to “apply public pressure” to SCCS (PCS minutes, May 2008). From those discussions came the spin: a call to return to the table for interest-based negotiations. Interest-based negotiations presume that you start out in good faith.  A half-price offer does not signal an intent to reach a mutually acceptable agreement.  The call for a “return to interest-based negotiations” is disingenuous.  PCS failed to negotiate in the first place.  Repeating the mantra, coaching their parents, misleading the COE—it’s all spin. The opposite to their spin would be to choose a path of substance, and that would be to present a negotiable offer.  Yet, they refused to make one.

Most disturbing however is the tale spread by PCS that the district has some malicious intent—an intent to destroy PCS.  When, in fact, every step (or misstep) in this conflict has been initiated by the PCS leadership. The whisperings about the mean school district wanting to close PCS does no one any favors—and it harms greatly the PCS student body who have no responsibility for, but are terribly affected by, the uncertainty they face.  This is modeling leadership for students? Shame on every board member or parent who continues to create divisiveness in this community through a malicious whisper campaign.

Evasiveness

The “interest-based negotiations” sought by PCS also presume that both parties will lay their cards on the table, good and bad.  PCS refuses to acknowledge to the community, to their parents and to the district the full extent of their resources—their ability to pay a fair rate. PCS refuses to acknowledge that they have not once offered one dime more than the price they agreed to pay in 2003.  PCS owes this community and the taxpayers who support it a public explanation of the source, the size and the intent of their full cash reserves.  The state requires a 5% reserve.  PCS’s bylaws seek a 17% reserve.  Yet PCS continues to hoard cash at an increasing rate—about 50% this year, creeping up to over 60% a couple years later.

There is a great deal of drama, emotion and turmoil in the community around this conflict. Students are anxious about where they’ll attend school.  PCS parents are concerned about the school’s viability.  SCCS parents and students are concerned about the impacts to its high schools.  None of this would be an issue had PCS made a reasonable offer during the months-long negotiations period.  All of the uncertainly and anxiety are a direct result of actions taken by PCS.  PCS could have — and should have — ended it before it all began.

Our coda?  It may be too late for PCS to find their own way.  Hopefully the COE will step to the plate to offer them guidance in good governance and to help them apply their considerable resources to fund and find a permanent home.  And by the way, having a rogue and lame-duck member of the COE board call for a blue ribbon panel to shame SCCS into “interest-based negotiations” is not stepping to the plate.  The community deserves better leadership than that.

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