Michael DeBell and Sherry Carr have been the lead directors around this work. This work is slated to be finished and voted on by the Board by May./June 2011. Karen Reed led and guided the discussion.
This retreat was around revisions/additions to core policies around the Governance and Oversight Policy. Basically, what is the work that the Board does? Namely:
- Board Oversight of Management - purpose, oversight roles and responsibilities, goals, oversight actions, committees, roles and powers,
- Responsibilities and Authority of the Superintendent
- Board-Superintendent Relations
- Board-Superintendent Communications
- (1) To employ for a term of not exceeding three years a superintendent of schools of the district, and for cause to dismiss him or her, and to fix his or her duties and compensation;
- 2) To employ, and for cause dismiss one or more assistant superintendents and to define their duties and fix their compensation;
- (3) To employ a business manager, attorneys, architects, inspectors of construction, superintendents of buildings and a superintendent of supplies, all of whom shall serve at the board's pleasure, and to prescribe their duties and fix their compensation;
- (4) To employ, and for cause dismiss, supervisors of instruction and to define their duties and fix their compensation;
There was some discussion around this as Harium said that the Board's power flows from constituents and state law but that some of the RCW is vague. Noel said that from a legal perspective where the Board delegates that power/work is most important because the RCW give the Board all the power.
So the two important documents here are the Governance and Oversight Policy and the Stakeholder Interviews. Please note that the Governance and Oversight Policy document was the one being reviewed and wordsmithed. There have been agreed upon changes since that meeting and so this is pre-changes.
Michael opened the meeting saying that "governance has swung from too much from individual (members) to to too little as a body. We want to land in the middle ground and have a baseline of governance that staff and the public will understand." Susan said she was "a big fan of policy governance" and that she hoped that around communications there can be clarity on how staff and the superintendent respond to you and the priorities around that response.
One issue brought up early was who should oversee the work of the newly hired Board analyst, Erinn. (Her last name has slipped my mind and I can't easily find it at the website.) Kay asked why Holly Ferguson was supervising her work rather than the Board. Steve pushed back (as he did several times this meeting especially with Michael) saying the Board doesn't have the time. Michael suggested trying the way it is currently for six months and then revisiting it. Kay seemed satisfied with this.
Steve also pushed back on being specific about accountability which is something Michael wants.
Also Harium was absolutely not giving any license to the idea that staff can't get work ready for Work Sessions in enough time for Board members to review it before the Work Sessions. He said people at Boeing have to do this all the time.
Karen first went through the Stakeholder Interviews which I found quite telling and interesting. I was one of the stakeholders and so my thoughts were reflected in this document. (I will say I was trying to lean towards the positive rather than pointing fingers and calling out anyone. Not everyone took this path as you will see.)
STAKEHOLDER INTERVIEW document highlights
Directors and Lead Staff:
- Directors, on average, spend between 20-30 hours a week on school district business. About 2/3rds of that time is official meetings. Directors worry about keeping this level of effort up.
- Directors receive most of their input from constituents via e-mail, one-to-one interaction and community meetings.
- On the Board's role there were some striking statements. One was that "being an ambassador to the community on behalf of the district." On the face of it, sure, they go out and make sure the message from the district on initiatives and work is clear. But, as Charlie pointed out, they don't work for the district, they work for constituents so it's a little bit of odd phrasing.
- Both the directors and lead staff had positive feelings about the abilities of the current Board and their effectiveness.
- There was consensus on the Board and Lead staff working as a single leadership team. They did point out a "tension" between the Board and the Superintendent (this would be MGJ). "The Lead Staff were very clear that the Board’s role is to set policy and the Superintendent‘s role is to implement it. Lead Staff also look to the Board to provide important direction on values, principles and vision."
"Most Directors and Lead Staff agreed it is very important that the Board spend more time on policy and governance and less on day-to-day management of District operations: some Board members noted that they need to have more faith in management and oversight systems in order to be able to do this."
And this is key because under MGJ it was difficult, as time went by, for the Board to have "faith" in what the staff was saying and doing. I was glad that this was said out loud because it is at the core of the work the Board does.
One issue brought up (and this is good as well) is the briefings that staff bring to the Board, whether in Work Sessions or at Board meetings. This seems to have been an issue of conflict between the Board and Lead Staff.
- The quality of staff briefings was noted by both Board and Staff as being variable, in terms of the quality of both written materials and presentations.
- Staff noted the lack of systems and processes to support the timely development of information that the Board wants to see. (Note: The new Board briefing templates and internal review protocols are specifically designed to respond to some of these issues around Board briefing materials.)
- Several Board members noted concerns about the lack of adequate advance review time for meeting material, as well as noting the sheer volume of material they are expected to read through.
Highlights from other stakeholders:
- Auditor - the district is very large and complex for a part-time Board; the Board needs to focus on oversight of management;senior management seems to "turn the corner" in addressing needed changes but that it doesn't seem to have flowed down to lower levels;budget cuts affect operations and there needs to be forecasting;the Board should review administrative procedures established by the Superintendent
- Me - concern over facilities; getting the district's financial house in order;staff may be bogged down with too much work from initiatives;listen to parents and teachers;confusion over the role of the Board, Superintendent should enforce Board policies,new Board members need more training
- Patricia Hunter, principal at Maple Elementary/PASS president - principals have no direct communication with Board and is the Board interested in what they have to say; not good structures and feeback between Central and principals on major decisions; information flow from schools to Board is too tightly controlled; transparency is lacking in budget decisions; too many new initiatives.
"Why is the academic scorecard based on “projected” data rather than actual data?"
"In terms of education policy issues, a major continuing concern is the elementary school report card: it does not communicate effectively to parents."
- Lauren McGuire, Seattle Council PTSA president - concerns over financial transparency, more input from parents on budget development;concern over communications protocol between staff and Board; good community outreach on NSAP;briefings to Board seem late;weak communication across the board; varying facilities information especially around functional capacity;feedback from parents is ignored (Everday Math); Board needs own analyst; program evaluations such as ICS program;
- Dave Westberg and Mike McBee, leadership for Local 609 - the Board needs to ask more questions; how to get employee concerns to the Board if other channels are exhausted; late action on agreements made in committee meetings; members treated badly by principals and supervisors/internal complaint processes don't work;want more involvement in budget development and problem solving; issues around participation in complaints of harassment/discrimination. "We would like to see unions again participating in a meaningful District-wide budget development team, similar to what used to be in place. Then, we were on the inside, helping to find answers, bringing our perspective to the challenges. Now, we have no input on the budget."
- Olga Addae/Jonathan Knapp, SEA leadership - want to go back to when unions were invited to table at work sessions and participated in discussions; their input gets to the Board too late; issues around CBA and current performance management policy;legality of governance team concept ("the superintendent is not an equal; she is an employee"; no confidence vote was around the Superintendent's "controlling" management style; Alliance has a conflict of interest and is not a primary stakeholder; big corporate interests are pushing their own agendas; Board should do its own state lobbying
- Sara Morris- head of Alliance for Education -
Yes, "hopefully." Sorry but the Board HAD to step up when issues were getting to be of more and more concern. They actually did ignore/put blinders on the Small Business Works issue and look how that turned out. I want my Board to step in forcefully when there are signals of trouble. That some may think it micromanagement is their problem.
Consider expanding the role of the Board staff in constituent services: couldn’t Erinn or Therese answer most emails for the Board so the Board doesn’t have to do this?
I suppose Erinn or Theresa could answer factual e-mails but I suspect very few e-mails to the Board are factual. I think most of them are about concerns around policies and programs. This could be done but it adds a layer between the Board and their constituents and what gets said.
Re-concept public testimony. It lasts too long and the lack of interaction between Board and
speakers and harsh tone of the testimony is destructive on all sides. Surely there are ways to invite
more authentic and productive interactions with community members.
Oh gee, too long and not very pleasant? This is the ONLY time and place where the public can make statements that both the Board and the entire city can hear. I think we can give that right to the public for two hours a month. Don't like it - come late or don't watch on tv. That it is sometimes unpleasant well, I have been to many Board meetings. Most of them are fairly boring affairs with nary a raised voice or tears or shouts. That is certainly the rule and not the exception. But politics is a messy business and sometimes the gloves have to come off.
You'll note that Ms. Morris doesn't offer any solutions. So I put that out to you: what would you suggest for more "authentic and productive interactions" between the Board and community?
Consider re-assigning the new Board office director to report to the Board president. S/he needs to
be independent of the rest of staff in analyzing issues and getting help for the Board.
Stop reading the blogosphere, or at least recognize that those few bloggers do not represent
majority public opinion. The bloggers are never going to be happy no matter what the District does.
The Alliance is eager to find ways to better support the district in conducting legitimate public
opinion research that can inform district decision making.
First, I seriously doubt that even half the Board reads any blog including this one. Two, I love that "bloggers are never going to be happy" because that is not true in two ways.
One, I always marvel at the inability for anyone in government or the powers that be to see that if you (a) clearly state what you are going to do and do it that it undercuts a LOT of arguing from the public. If you are large and in charge and state your policies and follow them, there's not much the public can say to that. And (b) throw people a bone. Make them feel heard.
Here's an example of (a) and (b) together. I recently told Dr. Enfield that if she wanted to show parents she's listening she would create a policy that CLEARLY explains principal selection and then stick to it. It would show that she's listening and that the district does indeed have a policy that anyone can look up and understand.
Two, I recently told a writer from a local magazine that if I felt like the district was in good hands, I'd probably go away. Having a well-run district would undercut many of my arguments. I may not like the direction or the policies but if the district was operationally sound and students were achieving, well, there's not much left to argue with is there? That we continue to flail around as a district means no, I won't go away.
Legitimate public opinion? You mean like that push poll the Alliance conducted with parent phone numbers that were likely illegally obtained? No, I don't think so. I would go along with the Alliance and their polling IF there were outside observers like SEA or PTSA who gave direct input that was used.
Lastly, Charlie and I have NEVER purported, anytime or anyplace, to say we represent majority opinion. You will not find it in any statement we have ever written or said. I am always careful to state that our blog does have a wide readership but that I can't say for sure where everyone lives or what schools they are affiliated with. That our readership is only increasing is helpful to disseminating information but I would never say that we represent a majority opinion for the community or parents.
I had to smile at that "few bloggers" statement. Feeling a little worried about your power base, Sara? You shouldn't because you represent business interests and other foundations. Your organization, of all people, shouldn't throw rocks because you surely don't represent majority public opinion either.