Thursday, February 26, 2015

School Board Candidate Training

A local organization, School Board Leaders for the Future, is offering training for potential school board candidates, and it sure does sound good.

From their web site:
School Board Leaders for the Future is a Seattle based educational non-profit ganization dedicated to training school board candidates about the role of School Board Directors and best practices of effective governance.
That sounds good.

This training is open to potential school board candidates as well as interested community leaders and citizens. Thomas Alsbury, a nationally recognized researcher on school board governance and Professor of Education at Seattle Pacific University, will lead this training with a focus on his model of Balanced Governance.
A professor of education sounds good. I don't know what "Balanced Governance" is, but it sure does sound good.
Through generations contributions from donors this training is offered free of charge to all interested individuals.
Gee. That sounds good, too.

Then I looked at the group more carefully and it didn't sound as good any more.

First, this is how they describe the school board role
"While we respect individual points of view, we believe that excellent school board governance is focused on selecting and evaluating the most qualified Superintendent, creating and adopting policy and assuring fiscal health and fiduciary responsibility for the organization."
You will notice that they limit the Board to creating and adopting policy, not enforcing it. This is a grave failure. The Board can write policy, but if they do not enforce it, then they have not made policy. The district's culture of lawlessness is rooted in the Seattle School Board's failure/refusal to enforce policy. That's governance. Enforcing policy is a critical element of governance and it is absent in Seattle Public Schools.

Second, the "Balanced Governance" is described as halfway between "a disengaged, 'rubber stamp' board" and "a micromanaging board". I don't want a board that is any part of either of those, let alone a blend of them, no matter how balanced that blend may be.

Third, they put a focus on "avoiding community conflict". Here's a description of one of the parts of the second day of training:
3. Avoiding Community Conflict Through Governance Roles. This presentation includes information and a scenario activity where board members learn the importance of the trustee versus delegate role and, more importantly when to enact each one to decrease community conflict. The activity culminates in a series of recommendations on how to detect ensuing conflict and how to respond proactively to reduce damage to district stability and student performance.
I know this is Seattle and people here hate conflict, but it is far healthier to resolve conflicts than to avoid them or try to "decrease" them. I don't think any elected official is going to decrease community conflict by telling constituents that the elected official is not the community's delegate. That's not avoiding conflict, that's just dodging it.

Fourth, take a look at the people who sit on the Board of this organization. I don't think that Mr. DeBell is in a position to tell other folks how to perform the duties of a school board director. He did not adhere to the principles he preaches. Despite his admonitions to his colleagues to stay out of the tasks delegated to the superintendent and not to dictate procedures, he usurped the superintendent's authority to place programs, wrote a procedure rather than a policy for waivers of instructional materials, and, as we all know, refused to enforce policy. I'm not a great fan of Mona Bailey or BiHoa Caldwell either.

So go to the training, but challenge them on the absence of policy enforcement. Challenge them on the meaning of Balanced Governance. Challenge them on their focus on avoiding conflict. And, most of all, challenge them on their own track record.

22 comments:

Melissa Westbrook said...

I had planned to post on this as well. It does sound interesting.

This group is also registered as a corporation with the Sec'y of State.
http://www.sos.wa.gov/corps/search_detail.aspx?ubi=603409463

Clearly, it's grooming for a specific type of candidate. I think most of those people on the Board have something to bring to the table (not so sure about Dexter but he's a young man on the move and I admire that). Mona Bailey is a nice person and I served with her on the Closure and Consolidation Committee - she was largely a figurehead.

I love that home page photo of a very corporate board room with leather chairs.

They have an FAQ page that is very vague and broad.

They mention this: "...assuring fiscal health and fiduciary responsibility.." Well, I would hope so but that's not always the case and DeBell knows that better than anyone.

Also, for such a small website, you'd think they would proofread better.

Remember Silas said...

"Fourth, take a look at the people who sit on the Board of this organization. I don't think that Mr. DeBell is in a position to tell other folks how to perform the duties of a school board director."

I agree.


School Board Leaders for The Future indicates that DeBell was one of the founders of Global Cities Education Network and this network comes directly from The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation:

http://asiasociety.org/education/learning-world/global-cities-education-network

ConcernedSPSParent said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
ConcernedSPSParent said...

I simply cannot take seriously any organization which purports to educate school board members whilst having Michael DeBell on its Board. They may tout his three terms as Board President but lets not forget where that got us. The last School Board evaluation with DeBell still there determined the directors did not know their roles, the Board was widely known as being dysfunctional and DeBell seemed to be consumed with attacking the (then) President KSB in the press. [As an aside I asked my own "Director" Sherry Carr what actions she took in regards to DeBell's violations of Board Code of Conduct and Board policies with his attacks; predictably she refused to answer]. So no, I will pass on this group,

Anonymous said...

Lauren McGuire is on the board? The NE PTSA former pres who helped make sure #Eckstein-area Parents Come First?

Also great buds with DeBell.

Hardly a recipe for district-wide kid success. In fact, if this is what is coming for board leadership training, the split of the district sounds really good.

Not Privileged

mirmac1 said...

The brain-washing is starting earlier now.

This group said in so many words "we're associated with A4E, but not really" and asked for donations, no matter how small "so we can show grassroots support".

This is the latest permutation of the Our Schools Coalition

SameOldSameOld said...

The individual that the document with the Secretary of State for this organization is a member of Our Schools Coalition.

SameOldSameOld said...

I meant to say:

The individual that filed the document for this organization is a member of Our Schools Coalition.

Charlie Mas said...

Take a look at the votes and the decisions that the School Board makes.

By my count, the greatest share of votes, about 40% of them, are property management matters. They are all about approving contracts for construction or renovation at school buildings. Given the preponderance of these issues, perhaps the best qualification for school board would be a career as a property manager.

Most of the rest of the votes are routine administrative items. These are motions that come to the Board because they require Board approval by statute. They don't have anything to do with education issues.

The Board's focus is supposed to be policy, but even most of the policy votes that come to the Board, only about 30 a year, don't have much to do with education issues. Only a tiny portion of the Board's work is policy related, let alone education related.

Board Directors usually aren't very interested in the property management stuff so they don't oversee it very well. That's a real problem. I wasn't kidding about having property managers on the Board. And, given the near-complete disconnect between the JSCEE and the schools and the utter lack of policy enforcement, the Board can't really impact education anyway.

Board training, if it were reality-based, would be all about property and construction and have nothing to do with "governance" whatever that is.

Jon said...

I'd love to have school board members that are auditors by training, but maybe that's just me.

Melissa Westbrook said...

I'd love to have Board members who have training AND have the ability to treat the job as full-time (which would mean paying them). They also need staff with financial/audit expertise.

Jon said...

Absolutely, ideal would be paid school board members with a small paid staff of auditors.

Charlie Mas said...

Strictly speaking the internal auditor works for the Board's Audit and Finance Committee, not the superintendent.

Charlie Mas said...

I wrote to the organization and asked them for a definition of governance and asked specifically about the Board's duty to enforce policy.

I got a reply.

"We will not be providing much detail on your question of how a School Board enforces policy or on property management questions. Our primary interest is in how school boards can improve educational outcomes for students."

So I still don't have a definition of governance, and, since governance has little or nothing to do with educational outcomes for students, I guess they really won't be talking about it all that much anyway.

In truth, I'm not sure what Board's can do about educational outcomes for students. As I think back on the past year of Board meetings for any actions by the Board that speak to this and the only thing I can recall was the adoption of the instructional materials for K-5 math. There is little else that came before the Board that addressed education or students.

Melissa Westbrook said...

If making and enforcing policy is not governance, then I don't know what is for the School Board.

Certainly this group can say they won't be discussing these issues but yes, they are part and parcel of being a board member.

Anonymous said...

What's a sitting PTSA member doing on a board that helps select 'appropriate' board members? What's a newly graduated high school student doing lecturing candidates on good governance. Go live a little, kid, then get back to the adults. What's an ex-board member who participated with another ex-board member in months of personal sniping in and out of the media doing telling adults how to act like, well, adults? And for the rest of them with their resumes...who says their viewpoint is the right viewpoint. Sure, offer guidance as a help to those who want it but this smacks of corporate vetting of the "right" kind of candidate which in turn is exactly the candidate we don't need in Seattle.

Oh, the egos on display!

Unbelievable!

Jon said...

Thanks, Charlie, for the link to the paid auditor staff that report to the Board.

That is what I was thinking, but, looking at their documents, they don't seem to be producing what I was expecting. I was expecting frequent audits, especially of the high level budget, prioritizing the most severe issues where the district is out of compliance with law or policy or where funds allocated do not seem to be yielding promised outcomes.

Do you, Charlie, have anything you could add to that? Do you think these auditors are effective and, if not, what needs to be done to make them more effective?

Gads said...

I wrote to the organization and asked them for a definition of governance and asked specifically about the Board's duty to enforce policy.

"I got a reply.

"We will not be providing much detail on your question of how a School Board enforces policy or on property management questions. Our primary interest is in how school boards can improve educational outcomes for students."

Based on the reply given to Charlie..I would consider this group discredited.

Where is the Washington State School Director's Association? Absent. This is the typical "coalition" formed by Seattle's business types to give them the appearance of legitimacy.


Charlie Mas said...

Jon, I do think the internal auditor is effective - or as effective as the Board A & F Committee allows them to be. They do good, honest work and they are responsive. The A & F Committee does not wield them like a club, which might be cathartic, but would not be good governance.

Jon said...

I'm now confused about what good governance would be then. I thought we were agreeing it was enforcing policy (and legal compliance). I thought the auditors could help with that, no?

I'm not talking about using the auditors like a club, but that they could be part of discovering in the organization with being out of compliance with policy.

I'm not trying to argue. I'm trying to figure out what good governance means and what role, if any, the auditors would play in it?

Charlie Mas said...

The internal auditors focus on financial matters rather than policy compliance. They also track responses and required actions for external audits.

ForTheRecord said...

Hard to believe DeBell is leading this group. DeBell would use his political/ media connections to bully his colleagues. He a)pushed through the Creative Approach schools which turned-out to be illegal b) was charged by the state auditor for failing to oversee district operations and put public tax dollars at risk c) extended the superintendent's contract despite a scathing audit and d) had a scandal on his watch.