Thursday, July 21, 2011

Governance

The Board has recently written and adopted new policies that define the duties of the Board. Among these new policies, the 1000 series, is this one, Policy 1005, Responsibilities & Authority of the Board, which speaks most directly to the question.

Unfortunately, it does not speak in clear, definite, or enforceable words. This policy is a puff of hot air without any meaning whatsoever.

There is a lot of detail in Policy 1010, Board Oversight of Management, but that detail is curiously deficient.

The stated goals of the policy are to:
 Evaluate each Oversight Area’s implementation plans, goals and objectives.
 Enable the Board to perform appropriate oversight of management of each Oversight Area by monitoring progress toward performance indicators.
 Ensure the district has qualified personnel overseeing its programs.
 Ensure compliance with state law and Board policies and procedures.
This is followed with exhaustive detail about information that must be included in annual reports to the Board from various departments. Review that detailed list of data points to be included in the various reports, however, and you will not find anything that speaks to the fourth goal of the policy: compliance with state law and Board policies.

The process should focus the Board on each department's plans, performance, and personnel, but it fails to focus the Board's attention on policy. This fourth goal of the oversight effort, and the Board's primary governance opportunity, is absent from their process. In short, the Board's policy pays lip service to governance (policy compliance), but carefully refuses to take any action on it.

The Board delegates policy compliance to the superintendent. In Policy 1640, Responsibilities & Authority of the Superintendent, the Board charges the superintendent to:
Carry out and ensure compliance with all policies of the Board of Directors through administrative procedures.
That might sound like a pretty good idea, except for two things:

1) Assuring compliance with state law and Board policy is an indelegable responsibility of the Board

2) When policies are violated, it is nearly always the superintendent who is violating them. The board is expecting the superintendent to police herself. That's bad policy.

Let's take an example.

Policy C56.00 Requires the superintendent to make an annual report to the Board on all program placement decisions. The report is required to provide the rationale for each decision and describe how the decision meets the criteria set by the policy. The policy also requires the superintendent to have a procedure for program placement decisions and to make that procedure available to the public. The superintendent did not make the annual report and required by the policy and the program placement procedure is not available to the public as required by the policy.

So now what? Does anyone really expect the superintendent to catch herself violating the policy and compel herself to comply with it? The superintendnet has made her choice. She has chosen to ignore the policy. Now it falls to the Board. The Board has been informed of the non-compliance with the policy, but they have taken no action. Indeed, what action could they take? They have no process for addressing policy violations. They have abdicated their governance responsibility.

So now we see that all of the talk about governance was just all talk.

17 comments:

Anonymous said...

You'd think that someone with "interim" before her title would be at least be pretending to follow law and procedure.

However, Enfield was hired by MGJ, and went into the job knowing the type of superintendent she was choosing to work with. Then, each threw the other under the train with it all hit the fan (Enfield looked too eager to become interim; MGJ made some snide remarks about her successor in print).

--This is how unethical (and criminal) people behave. We have had enough of this in SPS.

Charlie Mas said...

I often feel as though I am the only person in the whole town who cares about this at all.

Does it matter that policies isn't followed? It clearly doesn't matter to the Board or the superintendent. Does it matter to anyone?

Anonymous said...

It's the new normal for many people because it has been going on for so long in SPS and there are so rarely any consequences.

I do think, however, that even the jaded people should be paying careful attention to the behavior of Susan Enfield, the consummate politician.

The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior (and current "interim" behavior).

--this may explain it

seattle citizen said...

I care, Charlie! But I've cared for years, nothing seems to change...What to do, what to do...

David said...

Definitely care too. And also donating to challengers to the school board to try to get a change.

Jan said...

I think many of us who are unhappy with SSD management care -- but I confess, Charlie, it is the mismanagement that makes me care. There really seems to be a sense out there (left over from all those Broad-style/Nielsen influenced board retreats) that the Board's SOLE function is to pick a supe -- and then go to sleep (waking occasionally to rubber stamp something, do PR for the staff's initiatives, or say rah rah for a bond levy or two, and to fire their picked person when the torches and pitchforks, or the press, shows up.

So, I am guilty a little of maybe a little governance sloth. Unfortunately, during the several decades I have lived here, the Board has never picked such great superintendents that they could afford to "govern" this way.

I think that your instincts here are right. This is important. If the Board signals, by refusing to care about their policies, that they don't matter, entrenched, bureaucratic BS is what follows. And this District has got it bad.

It's almost like the Board thinks they are really just an electoral college -- and not a board.

Here is hoping we can get four new members who think otherwise.

dan dempsey said...

Well let me say this about that.....

" Does anyone really expect the superintendent to catch herself violating the policy and compel herself to comply with it? The superintendnet has made her choice. She has chosen to ignore the policy. Now it falls to the Board. The Board has been informed of the non-compliance with the policy, but they have taken no action. Indeed, what action could they take? They have no process for addressing policy violations. They ahve abdicated their governance responsibility."

Yes I care but the Board does not and the Superior Court does not care either.

In the NTN contract the Board clearly violated state law by failing to provide a certified correct transcript of evidence to the court upon appeal. ... The directors took a "NOT my Job stance" in direct contradiction of state law. P Maier and friends in depositions went on to say this responsibility of providing a certified correct transcript of evidence is "Staff's Job". .... For a lawyer P Maier has a remarkable ability to ignore state law. .... Oddly the Staff member that this fell to was Susan Enfield who failed to submit a certified correct transcript of evidence to the court ... and submitted a document that was not what it purported to be.

For her screw up P. Maier voted to make S. Enfield interim Supt. ..... (accountability SPS style).

Now we shall see if attorney Scott Stafne can get the appeals court to enforce state law.

dan dempsey said...

Little wonder there are so many in central admin in the SPS .... it takes a lot of people to write policies this bad. ..... Holly Ferguson can not do it all by herself.

Brita said...

I care. When I was elected to the board I was aware of the lack of enforcement of board policies. Principals complained that there were too many policies and that many were outdated. I pushed the board and Superintendent to begin a review and overhaul of the policies (many had not been reviewed or updated since 1984). The Superintendent tasked Holly Ferguson with leading an effort to identify the most outdated, useless, counterproductive policies, which she did. We eliminated many of them by a board motion. Departments were asked to update their policies in compliance with changes in federal and state law--a project that fell by the wayside. When I got on the student learning committee after serving 2 years as board president, I initiated a review of policies relating to student learning. The other board members on the committee chose several areas for us to focus on: special ed, bilingual ed, student discipline. That summer I met regularly with staff to supervise the update of policies in this area, and the board voted on them. Had I stayed on the board, I would have continued this project. It is unacceptable for staff not to follow board policy but it is also incumbent on the board to have updated policies which are coherent and reflect board values. The board has plenty of work to do in this area, which I see as necessary if not sufficient for enforcing policy. My 2 cents.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Brita, thanks for responding and maybe you can help expand our understanding further.

It's interesting that you answered because I was going to write to the Board and ask them why they don't enforce their policies.

If I understand you properly, you are saying that there are probably too many and/or outdated policies so it would be difficult to enforce them. But should we wait until the entire policy review is done to expect enforcement?

Charlie properly points out how the program policy is never enforced. This hurts school communities.

So why can't the Board do that? For the most major of policies, why can't the Board say that they cannot act if their own policy is being ignored/circumvented?

It makes the Board look weak and like toothless lions.

Charlie Mas said...

I hear Board members complain that there are too many policies and they are too confusing.

First of all, I don't buy that. I have read the policies. There aren't that many of them. You could read them in an afternoon.

It is true that many of them are meaningless and un-enforceable. That just makes it easier to pay attention to the few that can be enforced.

Secondly, the number of the policies doesn't inhibit the Board from enforcing policy when a specific policy and violation has been pointed out to them, as I have done with the Program Placement policy.

When I say "Here. This policy. This policy was violated in this way at this time." it doesn't matter how many other policies there are. It doesn't matter how confusing some of the other policies may be. There is no excuse for not enforcing the policy that was pointed out to them.

I don't buy this excuse at all.

That excuse isn't relevent to this case.

Brita said...

Hello again,

Charlie, believe me, I agree with you that the board needs to ensure that their policies are enforced. All I meant was that this is not only a problem of staff not doing their job but board not doing theirs in setting/updating policy in the first place.

The board has only one (1) employee. Thus,not enforcing board policy (or any other direction from the board) must be reflected in the Superintendent's evaluation. Of course, the board can also call out staff at public meetings, refuse to vote for staff proposals, meet with Superintendent to clarify how important this is in reaching goals, etc.

There are hundreds of policies on the books. Many should never be at the level of policy--they belong in a procedures handbook updated regularly by relevant staff to match state and federal laws and best practices and current board policy.

You are absolutely correct that the number of (outdated) policies is no excuse for not enforcing a policy which is brought to the attention of the board.

That Passionate Teacher said...

Thanks again for your input, Brita! I may not have agreed with everything you did as a director, but I knew you had the best interest of our students in your heart and you always asked good questions in the right moments. It's nice to have your perspective here on this forum.

Charlie Mas said...

Sorry, Brita, I know how grumpy I sound, and I am not grumpy with you. I think you and your board made good efforts to ensure compliance with policy and took action when you got reports of policy violations.

I remember, in particular, the Board's response to the proposed split of Washington APP in 2006. When reminded of policy D12.00 you held a Board review of the decision as required by the policy, and the Board review was legitimate - no just for show. In fact, when the staff utterly failed to make the case for the split at that Board review they withdrew the proposal.

That's all I'm asking for. I want the Board to care enough about the policies to take action when they get reports that the policies are being broken. Your board did it. The current board doesn't.

PolicyWonk01 said...

Did anyone besides me notice Phyllis Fletcher's story this week about the candidates for District 2-where Sherry Carr is the incumbent?

http://www.kuow.org/program.php?id=24019

Excerpt:

The incumbent for District 2 is Sherry Carr. She says the board changed some things after a scathing report from the state auditor.

For one, the district's own auditor used to work for the superintendent. But she says in the future, district auditors will work for the school board.

Carr: "So it's an internal checking function and testing function as well as some additional expertise to provide guidance on what improvements need to be made."

If future district auditors report ***directly to the board***, this is a potentially huge improvement. I don't know if it is primarily Ms. Carr's accomplishment, but it definitely bears some additional scrutiny.

SP said...

At a Board committee meeting several years ago I remember listening to Harium say how overwhelming it was to have so many policies that were outdated, but he then said it really didn't seem to make any difference because it was rare when either the district or the Board seemed to follow the policies anyway!

District leaders were there, including Susan Enfield and Holly F., besides the other Board members on the committee, but no one objected or commented. A very sad state of affairs to hear that comment, and it made me realize what an uphill road there is for all of us dealing with various school issues that affect our kids in so many ways.

Charlie Mas said...

PolicyWonk01, it does sound encouraging, doesn't it?

Yet it has been seven months since the previous internal auditor was forced out and no replacement has been hired. If this is such important work, then how can we allow seven months to pass with no one doing it? And why are they continuing to delay the hiring? The job is not posted.

So the board may claim to have some enthusiasm for this idea, but they are not showing any enthusiasm for this action.