During the Board Comments section of the Board's regular legislative meeting of September 21, 2011, Director Carr delivered an update on the Board's Governance improvement efforts since the disastrous audit of July, 2010.
Director Carr seemed very pleased and proud of the progress the Board had made in the past 14 months. I am less impressed.
The presentation begins with the pyramid of governance structure. That's followed by a slide for each level of that pyramid.
At the base of the pyramid is a clear governance structure and operating rhythm. Seattle Public Schools does NOT have a clear governance structure. A closer look at the work the Board has been doing to create a Governance Structure reveals their weakness: there's no governance there. Everything they call governance is actually management oversight. They cannot - or will not - distinguish between them.
In their new governance policies they never actually address governance. Instead, they are all about management oversight. Governance is policy work, and the bulk of policy work is enforcing policy. This Board has tried to delegate that work to the superintendent. That's just foolish. The superintendent is the person most regulated by policy. They are expecting her to self-police. It won't work.
Not only have they no appetite at all for governance, they haven't much appetite for management oversight. For three years they requested any of the annual reports that they were supposed to get. For three years they utterly failed to conduct any management oversight. And they failed to do it because they refused to do it. Then, suddenly, with the disastrous audit in July 2010, they became converts to the idea that they had to perform some sort of oversight. But they haven't exactly shown the sort of zeal that we usually see from converts.
They were supposed to adopt a practice of annual reports from every department. It has been fourteen months since the audit - over a year. Yet they have had annual reports from only two departments: Human Resources and Procurement. What is taking them so long? Why haven't they gotten started?
Oh, right, they had to develop a template and expectations for oversight work session presentations. Really? How long did that take? Even with all of the people they wanted to consult and all of the other things they are doing, and with the infrequency of their meetings, I'm thinking this should not have taken more than three or four months - tops. Not fourteen.
And, of course, they had to develop an annual reporting calendar. How long should that have taken? I'm thinking about four hours. It took them over a year.
They are still working on setting standards and expectations for Board Action Reports. So far they have removed the section on Community Engagement. So, how long should this take and what - exactly - was wrong with the old template for Board Action Reports? As with everything else, the problem isn't setting the expectations, the problem is maintaining them. When the application for the Highly Capable grant came to the Board for approval, the Board Action Report did not include the application as an attachment. How the heck is the Board supposed to approve a document they haven't had the opportunity to read? I don't know, but the Board didn't have any trouble with it.
They are also - supposedly - developing a Board-constituent communications protocol. I have seen no sign of this. There is no reference to it anywhere in any of the minutes of any of the committees. Of course every single candidate for the Board promises to improve communication between the Board and the public and the only one who ever did it was Mary Bass. This action item on their list has taken them four years and they have made no progress whatsoever.
On the good side they have restructured the Board office. We haven't seen any benefit from this re-structure yet, but they say that they have done it. Likewise, they say that they have changed the reporting structure of the Office of Internal Audit. The Internal Auditor will now report to the Board. Wasn't that the way it was before? And, if not, why not? For all of the talk about how the internal auditor's work is so important, the Board went about seven months without one.
They say that they will collaborate with peers (Mayor, City, Port, ESD, WSSDA, CRSS, etc.). I have no idea what benefit we can ever hope to realize from this.
They say that they will continue Board training. Yeah, that would be good. They need it. They need to learn the difference between Governance and Management Oversight and they need to learn how to get their work done (hint: start doing it)
Supporting Policy Framework
The next layer of the pyramid is policy. Once again, they dance around the critical issue: Governance is Enforcing Policy. All of their talk and paper-shuffling around policy doesn't touch on the simple truth that policies don't mean diddly if they aren't enforced. Instead of doing the work of enforcing policy, they have been very busy re-numbering them. They still haven't done much about actually revising them. The Board passed a resolution on April 6, 2009 to complete a policy audit by September 1, 2009. They didn't do it. The Board also set a calendar for policy revisions this year. They didn't keep to their calendar. Now they once again promise a pass through the policies, and once again they are procrastinating.
There are a number of words that, as soon as you hear them, you know that the person who used the word is not worth listening to. One of those words is "robust". Seriously, unless the person is talking about some animal's health, what the heck does "robust" mean? How are robust procedures different from ordinary procedures? I don't think they know. They are still developing them. This work remains undone over a year after the state auditor sharply criticized the District for the huge gaps in their procedures.
Culture of Compliance
This was the item that really set me off. They think they have done something to foster a culture of compliance when there is no enforcement of policies at all. The compliance that they reference here is compliance with the current ethics policy which, they acknowledge, is totally inadequate.
This is what it comes down to: the governance work is the Board's work. The governance work is primarily policy enforcement. The Board refuses to enforce policy. So long as the Board refuses to enforce policy there will be no meaningful governance in Seattle Public Schools.