During last night’s meeting of the Colonial School Board, School Board member Susan Moore (D) read a letter from former School Board President Alan Tabachnick (D) in which he detailed the behind-the-scenes pressure to reward campaign donors and the ramifications if he did not.
Note that the the “Democrat area leader” referenced by Tabachnick is now Montgomery County Treasurer Jason Salus. At the time, Salus was a member of Conshohocken’s Borough Council. He continues to serve as the area leader for the municipalities within the Colonial School District. He is also now the Executive Vice-Chair of the Montgomery County Democratic Committee.
Here is the text of the letter (the bold emphasis was added by MoreThanTheCurve.com):
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.
So tell us what you think in the comments.