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Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Governance

When the new Board majority was elected in 2007 they started their terms of office talking a lot about Governance. It was all just talk; there wasn't any action associated with it. Then, after the first few months that talk faded away. Back then it was code for staying out of management and restricting themselves to "policy issues". After the audit was released six months ago, they started talking about Governance again. I'm not sure what it means this time around, but not only are they talking about it a lot, they are also claiming to take some action. I'm not sure those claims can be proven.

There was a discussion of Governance Priorities at the December 15, 2010 Strategic Plan Update work session.

One of the Governance Priorities is Budget development. They say that they will implement a comprehensive budget development process that reflects the strategic plan priorities and includes both internal and external engagement. Why isn't this what they were doing all along? I'm not asking that as an accusation, but to focus the attention on the obstacles to this sort of work. If they say that they are going to start doing this then they will have to identify and overcome those obstacles, won't they? I think that they have already found and addressed one of the historic obstacles, the budget timeline that put the central administration budget ahead of the schools' budgets. I suspect there are others.

Second of the three Governance Priorities is the audit response. I found the initial audit response to be anemic. It was filled with delays and inaction verbs. That remains the case for the most part. Although the District claims to have addressed approximately 75% of the audit issues, I know that some that they count as "completed", are not, in fact, complete. Other parts of the audit response have yet to even get started. The first governance work session to provide management oversight of the district’s business systems is tentatively scheduled for January - six months after the audit report was presented. And that presumes that they actually do start that discussion within the next two weeks.

The third and final element of the Board's Governance effort is a policy review, which they have been talking about for over a year without taking any real action on it. They say that they want to develop governance policies and a governance structure to allow appropriate management oversight. I'll believe it when I see it. None of the Board committees is keeping to the timeline for Policy review. None of them. The Board claims that governance policy development is in progress in the Executive Committee, but that just isn't so. They claims that review of the Board Governance policies and practices is underway, but - six months after the audit - they have yet to get started on it.

I've mentioned it hundreds of times before, but it is just as true today as it ever was: the Board can write policy, but if they do not enforce policy then they have not made policy. The Board cannot enforce policy. They have no mechanism or process for it. Think of it. Suppose you were to report a policy violation to a Board member. What would they do about it? Probably nothing. What could they do about it? Probably nothing. No individual Board member speaks with the authority of the Board. The Board would have to vote to act as a body to enforce a policy, and what vote would they take? "Moved: that the superintendent take action to comply with Policy C54.00"? That would be stupid since the superintendent is, supposedly, already under instruction to comply with policy. Besides, they wouldn't call her out or show her up like that. As a result, the Board is perfectly incapable of enforcing policy. Consequently, they are completely incapable of governance. Until they have a means for enforcing policy they will continue to be an impotent figurehead with no real authority or meaning.

5 comments:

seattle citizen said...

I disagree with one of Charlie's assertions. There IS a mechanism for seeing that policy is followed:

The board is the superintendent's boss. If policy is broken, the board COULD take any number of actions, from a mere censure to firing.

True, this is not so simple on the ground: If policy C54.00 (to use Charlie's random example) is not followed, would the board fire the supt.? Prob'ly not. But they COULD call her out, demand a timeline for alignment to policy, and THEN fire her. Politically difficult, yes, but the mechanism exists.

A strong board could use censure to some effectiveness, and resort to more serious repercussions if need be.

MAPsucks said...

Frankly, if the Board and district fail to rectify the failings in audits like, say, the lack of meeting minutes, we have every right to ask the State Auditor to refer this to the AG for prosecution. Taking this further, we have every right to demand the AG prosecute this. If they refuse, sue the district under the RCW and Public Records Act. They will be liable for legal fees when they lose.

Anonymous said...

MAPsucks,

Better yet, insist the Board hold her accountable. When they go on record for refusing to follow their oath to comply with state and federal laws, ask the AG to prosecute. When the AG office refuses to take them to court, sue their *ss.

Mr. Ed

Charlie Mas said...

seattle citizen, I think you are theoretically right, but for the Board to "call her out" and "demand a timeline for alignment to policy" would require a vote of the Board. Can you see this as an item on a Board meeting agenda "Require a timeline for compliance with Board Policy C54.00"? What timeline, other than immediate, would be acceptable? Again, if the Board has to introduce and adopt motions directing the superintendent to comply with policy, then what will make her comply with the directives?

Jan said...

I actually agree with seattle citizen. It is sort of like being in default under an agreement. Maybe the agreement blows up, but often, there is a procedure for notifying the defaulting party, and giving them time (30 days, 60 days -- it depends on the nature of the default) to "cure" before a true "Event of Default" is deemed to have occurred. And many employee evals work the same way. You get notified of what you are doing wrong, and you get X months to fix it.

I don't doubt that MGJ would be offended, scandalized by being told by the board that she had XX days to actually do something. She generally uses the board only as a rubber stamp, or for cover (the Board - not MGJ - is responsible for adopting all those policies -- NSAP, alignment, etc. -- and spending all that money on worthless contracts, which is technically true, but misses all the staff complicity in leading the board around by the nose). But, they have to start somewhere!