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Thursday, June 21, 2007

Town Hall forum (Revisited)

I finally got around to viewing the video of the Town Hall meeting in late May with panelists discussing the School Board. I was alternately amused, amazed and annoyed. I'm going to note a couple of interesting comments and then bring it around to why it's valid to revisit it.

-Dean Wasley of UW clearly likes the idea of appointed boards. She likes that over in Bellevue things are steady and sound. She's right on that point and it's worth looking into how the relationship between Superintendent Riley and his Board works and what makes it work. I wonder if any of the SB candidates have looked into this. But then she went on to explain that if a Board member is stepping down, the member steps down BEFORE the election to allow the Board to select the someone to fill out their term (and thus giving that new person a huge "in" come election time). That's handy if you are a Board that only wants a certain type of person on your Board. Cathy Allen, a political consultant, quipped, "Sounds like Russia." I agree.

Dean Wasley also claimed that the Board has "tons" of training and I'd have to ask Brita if that was tons offered or tons that each member took upon his/herself to get. I know that Brita attended numerous Board Director meetings (state and national) to get a broad view of what is happening elsewhere but I don't that it happened for every director.

-Lynne Varner of the Times had some funny/odd things to say. She's against appointed boards but said if the Board were to go to the Legislature next year whinning about money, the legislature would probably be more likely to vote in appointed boards. Huh? Every single district in this state faces the same financial future that Seattle's does. It is a function of lack of state funding (which is being somewhat corrected by the next budget). Getting mad at any board for talking about the financial crunch and then saying they need to be appointed makes little sense.

Ms. Varner waved off the idea that the Board needs staff. She said that any Board member can ask a head of a department or the Superintendent for information. School Board policy 60.1 (partial):

"A. The Board and its members communicate with the administration of the school district through the Superintendent or the Superintendent’s designated representative and not through subordinate administrators.
B. Board members shall not request from the Superintendent the preparation of a report or compilation of material not readily available and involving significant staff time unless the Board by motion duly made and adopted shall have approved the preparation of the report of the compilation of material."

So, informally, maybe, the Board members could ask department heads but that's not Board policy. It also allows the Superintendent/CAO/COO/CFO to take as long as they want to answer questions. She also forgets that it isn't just district information/stats that are important. There is other research out there from a local/regional/state and national perspective that Board members can't necessarily do on their own .

The smartest answers on the panel came from Cathy Allen, a political consultant. She sure knows this district and the players. She got gasps from the audience when she said she believed that the new superintendent will be gone in two years or less because she is likely to be pushed out by new Board members who will say they didn't pick/hire her. I agree that Dr. Goodloe-Johnson is unlikely to last more than 2 years but I don't agree with Ms. Allen's reasoning.

So I bring this back up because of discussion mostly between Dean Wasley and Lynne Varner. They seem to be under the impression that the School Board director job is an about 10-hour a week job. No kidding. Dean Wasley said that the Board of Regents works perfectly well in a shorter time period. She should know better than anyone but K-12 is not the same thing as post-secondary. The Board of Regents is appointed and largely serves at the request of the President of UW. The Superintendent serves as a hire of the School Board.

They both rolled their eyes and suggested that Board members who spend more than 10 hours a week on the job should "get a life" or " get friends". Dean Wasley even said if only the district could offer free football tickets to Husky games like UW does to the Board of Regents, you could get better people. (I thought she was kidding the first time but she said it twice.)

Okay, so let's do a rough, back-of-the-envelope estimate (and Brita help us out):
3 hours a week in committee meetings (the Board members serve on at least 2 committees each)
2 hours a week meeting constituents, answering e-mail and phone calls
2 hours a week visiting schools
2 hours a week in other meetings either within the district or outside (city meetings, etc)
1 hour a week doing reading for the job

That's 10 hours. I believe I lowballed every single one of those categories and probably didn't include some that should be there. I know people who believe SB members are on the job full-time (and have no hesitation coming up to them in the grocery store and launching into a problem). I honestly believe that any candidate running right now who said, "I would be willing to give 10 hours a week to this job" could not be elected. I went and looked at the websites of various candidates and 1 says he will work fulltime at the position and several other allude to being able to give large amounts of time to the job.

There's a difference between micromanaging the district (not part of the Board job) and doing due diligence. So I ask you, for a job that pays around $4800 a year, with multiple constituencies around an urban district with about a half-billion dollar budget, how much time should a Board member be putting in?

17 comments:

Jet City mom said...

just speaking on the time issue- just from the last public board meeting two weeks ago to the one last night- I spent 3+ hours at those meetings( at each meeting), and I left well before the meetings agenda was half over each time-

I don't see how any board member could put in less than a fulltime job, if they were trying to keep their constituents happy, by holding community forums, by returning emails. letters and phone calls, by visiting schools and meeting with community leaders,researching issues, reading what their constituents send them, attending meetings, attending conferences ad naseeum ( you can say that again)

Anonymous said...

On my one lone PTA I put in more than 10 hrs a week. I'm guessing that Brita puts in 4x that amount, as do other committed Board members.

Anonymous said...

Speaking of board members (who may or may not be committed)... did anyone else notice that Sally Soriano did not answer any of the questions on Linda Thomas' blog today? And that Charlie did not ask her any questions on that blog?

Anonymous said...

Notable, in that both Soriano and Flyyn did not participate, and that Charlie (aka
coolpapa) gave Sally the old pass. Certainly hurts his crediabilty on being anti-Peter because he does not "have specifics." At least he showed up, which is far more than Sally can say. But, perhaps she was too busy planning her next attempt to undermine the District.

Anonymous said...

HA HA HA!!! anonymous at 12:29 suggests that Charlie lacks credibility! As if anonymous had any or showed impartiality!

Brita said...

Folks,

I'd like to ask people to suspend judgment on my colleagues. I frankly doubt that either Darlene or Sally reads blogs or understood there was an expectation to read and comment on people's comments to their posts on Linda Thomas's blog asap (despite any email instructions she may have given all candidates).

I sense that those who are impatient or frustrated waiting for these board members to respond to their blog comments have very little understanding of the crushing load of work we each face. Take a look at the agenda for our board meeting two days ago and you'll see what we have been spending our time on this week. In order to vote intelligently, we need to read a lot of material, take in a lot of input from staff and public, think critically about all we hear, and come to some sort of conclusion in light of what we believe is best for all children in the district. The topics on a given school board agenda range from soup to nuts and we need to be up on all of them.

On Wed. we made crucial decisions on overhauling student assignment for the entire district and finalized our bond sale (half a billion dollars). IMHO, responding to blogs should be a lower priority than doing board business, for any incumbent.

Yes, people did decide to run, and that means campaigning. Four years ago, blogging was not part of school board campaigns and obviously people are still getting up to speed.

Please do not jump to conclusions.

Anonymous said...

Brita said, "Please do not jump to conclusions." (about her colleague board members and their lack of response on Linda Thomas' impromptu candidate forum on her PI reader blog Educating Mom

We can certainly jump to conclusions about Charlie's inconsistent application of heat to candidates - I don't mind too much if he gives Sally a pass on her lack of response, but I'd appreciate a pass here (and there) on the strident soliloquies about candidates. Raising questions is fine, as is consistent application of his standards - the rest is wearing.

And while Brita's appeal is earnest, and we appreciate the demand on board members' time, many of us do 40 and then some at high-pressure jobs; then the 10 and then some for PTAs, CPPS, or other public education service; plus our families with young children, and more.

Sally, as a single person with no children and no job other than school board, doesn't get my pass for not responding to constituents looking for information on Educating Mom.

She obviously "got the memo" enough to post a guest blog - indicating she was made aware of the expectations for response(unlike Darlene whose guest blog may have been posted without her timely understanding - and who in not reading most of her email on a timely basis, would thus not have understood the expectations.)

Speaking of Darlene, I can't give her a pass either when it comes to public engagement or response - she does have a job with the city, but her children are adults.

And in the case of both of them, they sought the job of school board director, know what it entails, pledged public engagement, and are seeking it again - no pass.

Anonymous said...

Brita, thanks for shedding light on the weight of the duties that the board members carry. They are certainly busy, and it is understandable that Darlene and Sally did not respond to the blog questions. I think most of the posters are actually more frustrated with Charlie than with Darlene and Sally. Charlie constantly picks apart Peter Maier, and even Steve Sundquist for the very same things that Sally does. He takes every opportunity to point the finger at Peter, but refrains from any comment when Sally does the same.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Okay, so I seem to be hearing that many people do get that the School Director's job is not a 10-hour a week job. So, please, keep that in mind when the powers that be, in government and/or media, start spouting off about it being a part-time job akin to sitting on a board for a corporation or university. Tell other voters that when they are looking at candidates to beware of anyone who thinks it is a small part-time gig. Tell Lynne Varner at the Times the next time she puts that idea forth. It's serious work even if, like teachers, they don't get paid nearly enough.

Anonymous said...

I was the anonymous 12:29 poster, and you are right, I am not impartial, but unlike Charlie, I don't claim that I was impartial or being objective as he was.

Charlie Mas said...

Julia et al,

What is it that Sally, Peter, and Steve Sundquist all did?

Peter Maier made campaign promises that piqued my curiosity. I was, at first, unduly negative about how I asked about those promises, but I have acknowledged that mistake and apologized for it. Since then I have continued to ask about the promises but without the negative tone. Mr. Maier has yet to explain how he would achieve his stated goals, although he has sort of sketched out some elements of an answer.

Did Director Soriano done the same? Has she made campaign promises that appear to exceed the powers of the Board? I don't think so. If you think she has, then why don't YOU point them out to her and ask her about them? Feel free to use whatever tone you think appropriate.

Mr. Sundquist gave a list of schools his daughters attended and named the school they will attend in the fall. I asked where they attended school in 2006-2007. It was not an attack; it was not an accusation. It was the sort of question that people ask each other all the time "Where do your kids go to school?" I did not raise the topic of where his children are enrolled - he did. I did not criticize him for his choices. I'm much more interested in why he believes that neighborhood schools will be more accountable to families.

Did Director Soriano do the same? Has she told us where her children have been to school and made that part of her campaign? I don't think so. If you think she has, then why don't YOU ask her about it?

No, I didn't ask any Director Soriano any questions on the Educating Mom blog. I don't have any questions for Director Soriano. She has a three and a half year track record that shows how she will perform as a Board member. Love it, hate it, or have mixed feelings about it, her job performance is known. I have had three and a half years to ask her questions and get answers. What is the question that I'm supposed to ask her? And if the question was missing, then why didn't you ask it, Julia?

I'm no different than any of you. I'm not a public service; I have no duty to produce blog content. I make no claims of authority - I'm just another student family member and voter/taxpayer. I don't claim to represent anyone other than myself. How is there any special obligation on me to do anything?

I'll write it again, not that it will do any good since my stalkers don't appear to read my words.

I am not opposed to Mr. Maier's candidacy.

He appears, to me, to be highly qualified for the position of School Board Director. Mr. Sundquist as well. I may end up voting for either or both of them. That said, they have each made statements that have piqued my curiosity, and - because I have taken an interest in their campaigns - I asked them questions about their statements. I want to learn more about them.

I notice that I am not criticized for failing to ask questions of Maria Ramirez, Patrick Kelley, Sherry Carr, Lisa Stuebing, Harium Martin-Morris, Dan Dempsey, Edwin Fruit, Darlene Flynn, or Courtney Hill.

The criticism only comes for not asking Director Soriano questions. More than that, the criticism is that I didn't "attack" her or apply "heat". This puts me in a no-win position: the same people who criticize me for being aggressive in one case are criticizing me for not being aggressive in another. So I'm not moved by that criticism to change.

I was moved to change by the criticism about how I wrote to and about Mr. Maier. Not because there was a lot of it, but because one piece of it worked. I'm open to the possibility that I'm wrong about things, but you need to support the contention with facts and details.

This blog, however, is not the place for that conversation. My email address is charliemas at msn.com. I will be happy to entertain constructive criticism privately.

Anonymous said...

Hey Anonymous at 12:29 -

When did Charlie claim to be impartial or objective?

Anonymous said...

Charlie, I see your points. I think most of the animosity comes from your previous post where you called Peter Maier names and challenged his integrity. It did not appear (to me) that you were mereley interested in his campaign, and asked questions because he "piqued your interest". That being said, it seems as though you have taken enough heat for your words. And you apologized. Please, lets move on folks. Stop "stalking" Charlie now, let's shake hands and move on.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Julia.

Charlie, I don't know you but I genuinely appreciate the example you set for us all when you adjust positions or tack based on obviously diligent consideration of feedback.

I do consider you strident sometimes but I absolutely salute your intelligence, diligence, and willingness to consider more information -

Anonymous said...

Brita-

I appreciate your input and your service to Seattle. You didn't really address the main issue of this post, which is "how many hours (per week/month/year) did you spend on school board issues."

I really am curious to get your opinion on this issue.

Brita said...

Hello,

Not trying to dodge the question. My first 3 years I spent 40-70 hours a week. First year was learning curve and being VP, then 2 years of being president (3rd year was also point person for phase I school closures, which was time consuming).

This year so far has been much more manageable-- I'd say 20-30 hrs/week Our committee structure works well to divvy up the work load (and frankly, I've cut back on attending events because of family needs).

I do attend about 8 full days (usually on weekends) of meetings and trainings by the state school directors' association during the year because I think it is critical for Seattle to be actively involved at the state level (and the training is excellent).

Besides the tasks others have mentioned I would add that I spend time in meetings with district staff, reading education background info, and yes, thinking and mulling things over

Charlie Mas said...

When I was running for the Board six years ago, I called in to a KUOW radio show, probably The Conversation, when Joni Balter was on and talking about the Board races. When she found out that I was calling from work, she essentially said that no one with a job could serve on the Board.

I lot of Board members have been people who worked for the City (Irene Stewart, Darlene Flynn, Dick Lilly, Jan Kumasaka, and others). I think their employer is extremely generous when it comes to allowing time off for Board duties.

I've been around long enough, however, to remember Michael Preston, so I know that you can keep your Board duties down to ten hours a week. You just can't do much.