The Pendulum Problem

District leadership style has swung back and forth between two extremes. It needs to be stopped and held at the center.

The Seattle School Board of 2000 - 2003 contributed to the financial fiasco that toppled the Olchefske administration. It was not just their misplaced trust, but the blindness of their trust that allowed things in the district – not just the financial reporting – to spiral down. They could have found the budget problem in the numbers reported to them (Director Bass did find it), but the majority of them lacked the necessary skepticism to look for it.

In response, the voters replaced them with a more activist board. It started with Director Bass elected in 2001. The four board directors elected in 2003 formed a much more hands-on and skeptical board majority – perhaps too much. They found a District that was poorly managed. They found all kinds of problems that had grown over the years and they were blunt and public about exposing it. I won’t say that they were wrong, but they were perhaps impatient. Culture doesn’t change overnight. This Board was accused of micro-managing the district and they were accused of being dysfunctional.

In response, the voters replaced them with a more hands-off board. It started with Director DeBell and Director Chow elected in 2005. The four board directors elected in 2007 formed a new majority that rejected the activism of the previous board. Unfortunately they also rejected all of their duties and responsibilities. Far from micro-managing and taking over the superintendent’s duties, they didn’t even perform their own duties. They refused to provide management oversight, governance, or community representation. Only after the disastrous state audit of 2010 and the Pottergate scandal did a couple of them start to get the idea that they had a job to do.

In response, the voters have replaced them with a more activist board. It started with Director Patu elected in 2009 and now, following the election of two new directors in 2011, a new board majority is emerging.

In the past ten years we have seen the pendulum swing hard from negligence at one end, to excessive activism at the other end, then back to aggressive negligence, and, now, there is concern that the four newest board members (Peaslee, McLaren, Smith-Blum, and Patu) will form a new majority and the pendulum will swing too far back to activism with the negatives that come with that style of board.

It’s a legitimate concern. Let’s not dispute that. The Seattle Times, Crosscut, and Education Reform organizations are, without a doubt, over-reacting. They’re calling out the fire trucks from four stations while there are only sparks and no flames. But we need to be honest – there are sparks.

We do not want a board at either extreme and – even more – we sure don’t want to continue this swinging pendulum from one extreme to the other. It creates instability for everyone and whiplash for the staff. We would like to stop the pendulum at the balance point and keep it stable there. I would like to hope that we can get some agreement on that – from all sides. We don’t want a board that neglects their duty, but neither do we want a board that over-reaches their duty. We want a healthy skepticism, somewhere between the cynicism of Darlene Flynn and the blind trust of Cheryl Chow.

We’ve had a lot of turnover in the superintendent job. Maybe no more than average for urban districts, but that’s still a lot. We’ve had even more turnover in the “C” level staff – way, way too much. The turnover at this level has been far more damaging. We have also had a lot of turnover on the Board. It takes a while for anyone new in a job to figure it out. The cost of high turnover is the mistakes made by someone new in the job. It takes a while for a newly elected board member – any newly elected board member – to find that line between governance and management. New board members, eager to get to work fixing problems, wanting to make a difference, often cross the line. Director DeBell has admitted how he crossed it when he first came onto the board. The line is not clearly or sharply drawn. Until recently, no one paid it much mind. If we are going to slow or stop the pendulum near the balance point, we need to more clearly define that balance point.

That was the motivation behind President DeBell’s proposed board procedure 1620BP. I know that this is his motivation because he said so at his community meeting this morning. I understand his goal and I completely agree that it is a good goal. I share it. I also agree with him that the proper path to that goal is through this public and transparent process of board policy and procedure. So I really like the idea of Board Procedure 1620BP. I’m looking forward to the board’s discussion of it. If there are elements of this proposal that are objectionable to some Board members, I want to know what they are.

I suppose that I could grumble a bit about how this procedure was presented. It seems to be coming from Director DeBell exclusively. It would be better if the Board could come together as a group to say that the line between governance and management needs to be sharper and brighter.

I seek a balance point. At this balance point the Board fulfills all of the governance duties, performs all of the requisite management oversight, and effectively represents the community without stepping over the line and taking on management work. At this balance point the superintendent and the staff fulfill all of the management duties, implement the strategic plan, perform the day-to-day administration of the district, and comply with laws and policies without stepping over the line and usurping the board’s authority. While Board Procedure 1620BP is a step in that direction, I don’t think it gets us there. It needs some work. The good news is that it can be fixed. One of the best parts of fixing it will be a public discussion of it. The Board will have that discussion on January 25. I'm looking forward.


Charlie Mas said…
Specifically, things that I think should be fixed about 1620BP:

1620 BP says: "The Board is charged with setting district policy and the Superintendent is charged with carrying out and enforcing that policy." That's the first problem. Enforcing policy is governance work and the board's duty, not the superintendent's. If the board delegates the duty of enforcing policy to the superintendent then they are abdicating their governance authority. This provision pulls us away from the balance point. I could see a statement that says that it is the superintendent's duty to enforce policy for staff, so long as it is equally noted that it is the Board's duty to enforce the superintendent's policy compliance and to enforce staff's policy compliance if the superintendent fails to do so.

As proposed, 1620BP says "The Superintendent is the Board's professional advisor". It also says "The Superintendent should view the Board as key advisors." I don't like either of these sentences. I particularly don't like the second one, which casts the Board as the superintendent's advisors. They are not the superintendent's advisors; they are the superintendent's boss. But not each individual board member, only when the Board votes and a majority speaks. When any one or two Board members speak it is noise. When four of them vote it is law.

1620BP says that board directors should use the governance tools – policies, the budget, oversight meetings, and the strategic plan to advocate for their positions. I absolutely agree with this. But what if those methods don't work? What if the board adopts a policy and the superintendent doesn't follow it? There is no recourse if the Board delegates policy enforcement to the superintendent. What if the Board is told that they can't move forward with a project because there aren't available funds, and then the superintendent finds funds for another project? What if the board is told that the staff "will get back to them" with answers to questions asked at an oversight meeting, but the answers don't come? What if elements are added and removed from the strategic plan or the timetable for strategic plan projects are altered without notice? What then?

I would like to see something in 1620BP that keeps the superintendent and the staff on the management side of the line. There is nothing there now that expresses this idea. I have seen a lot more line-crossing by the superintendent and the staff than I have seen by the Board, especially in the past few years.
Anonymous said…

You are attempting to conceal your increasing affiliation with the powers-that-be by adopting a tone to sound like the adult in the room.

It doesn't fly. DeBell's orchestration with Crosscut, Seattle Times and Weekly reporters this week to smear newly elected (and already elected board members) had a Newt Gingrich, scorched-earth policy to it, that demonstrated cowardice and reckless behavior on the part of an elected officeholder.

"I suppose that I could grumble a bit about how this procedure was presented. It seems to be coming from Director DeBell exclusively."

I could grumble more than a bit about how the message was delivered (full court pressure, orchestrated bullying and paternalism). I could also grumble more than a bit about how chummy you have gotten with Maria Goodloe Johnson's staunchest cheerleaders.

Get real. You are not the adult in the room at all but have increasingly become a tool. It is very clear that you overly enjoy invitations and conversations with those in power.

--enough already
Charlie Mas said…
I don't have any invitations that everybody else doesn't have. I went to Director DeBell's community meeting today.

I have had no private conversations with anyone - no board members and no staff and certainly not with David Brewster, Lynne Varner, Nina Shapiro or Jordan Royer.

I don't know that Director DeBell coordinated with Crosscut, the Weekly or the Times, and I don't care if he did. I don't imagine his colleagues are much influenced by what they read there.

I'm not going to apologize for sounding like an adult; I am one.

There is a danger of an over-reaching Board. I don't think we have one, and I'm not much concerned about this board becoming one, but it is a hypothetical danger.

There is definitely a danger from these hard swings in leadership style every four years.

No one in Seattle has much experience with applying this Governance/Management line to our public school leadership. The line is unclear. We could all benefit from better definition of that line and so could future boards.

For example, I don't think that the Board should ever have voted on the Teach for America contract because I think it improperly interjected the Board into hiring questions where they have no business. The board has delegated that authority to the superintendent and she is free to hire whom she likes.
Anonymous said…
Charlie, want to believe you. Have been following DeBell around for 6 years now, but action speaks or in the past 3 days, DeBell speaks and boy is it confusing. I am not getting that he's aiming for the middle right now. In fact I'm not getting much, but a lot of coy hints of private conversations and stuff that you can't put a pulse on. That kind of stuff makes me nervous.

Why throw in Dr. Enfield right now? She wants out right? If she changes her heart/mind, then welcome her back into the pool of candidates. Done. Don't tell me this stuff get into the press without a vetting from the main players. As for the activist board label, I guess I'm not seeing anything "active" going on. But then again maybe the newbies are asking for time sheet and who eats what for lunch at district HQ.

It is just 3 months and I wish all "caring" parties would go on a lobbying hiatus (isn't there a junket in LV or Hawaii we can send them on) and let the board jell. Let them figure out the working relationship with each other and the Super and district.

Anonymous said…
ummm... yeah, Debell is about policy - NOT about repeating the fabrications (lies) of the Ed-DeFibbers, de-Fibbers who are worried about losing their 6 figure ++ a year jobs peddling snake oil du jour.

When it comes to Debell & Crosscut et al, you won't catch me

Anonymous said…
I for one, appreciate that Charlie sounds like a grown up. There's enough hysteria these days. A thoughtful approach is the right approach, and I don't think he's said anything, ever, that would indicate he's a tool of either side in this polarized climate, so lay off, enough already.

And Tinkerbell's right. They should all to Hawaii, put their swimsuits on, have a poolside cocktail and work their stuff out.

mirmac1 said…
Yeah, Charlie, what enough already said.

Why the hell should I want our elected board to abrogate its duty and responsibilities to play kissy-face with the next princess-in-waiting?
KG said…
Stop the Central Administration monster. They spend way more than needed on this part of Seattle Schools and everyone knows it.

If this is not taken care of then
the pendulum will never stop being broke on educating kids.
Enough already, ha, ha, ha.

You were kidding about Charlie, aren't you?

Because if there is anyone who can't be wooed over to the powers that be side, it's Charlie. He has no patience for that kind of maneuvering or mouthing.

Yes, we should be talking like adults and what is happening now is a lot of gossip, innuendo and behavior unbecoming a Board director.

I wait for common sense to take over and hope to see plenty of it on display at this week's School Board meeting.
Anonymous said…
Mounting a full court attack in the press probably isn't the best way to get a policy like this passed, especially when the people being 'pressed' form a voting majority.

Two editorials within 24 hours aren't a coincidence. DeBell made a misstep here.

Just Sayin
anonymous said…
I was thinking about this myself just yesterday, and I couldn't agree with you more Charlie. This sums it up best for me "We don’t want a board that neglects their duty, but neither do we want a board that over-reaches their duty."

And this follows your thread last week regarding finding common ground with charters proponents.

Bravo! To working together and finding common ground! If we can do this we can move forward and be productive.

Anonymous said…
Oh please. I don't want a board that points to paper and a trumped up new policy, (another one) which purposefully hides behind "governance"... and says:

"Sorry, that's not my job. We can't get in the way of that superintendent, might be interfering. I can't do anything about it."

They already do that WAY TOO MUCH as is. We want to elect people who can and will act. Jeez. If they act even less than they do now - they might as well not even show up. We need SOME activism.

And jeez, and what's all the crying over civic discourse climate? Everyone who shows up at a board member's office hours - has some sort of beef. Are people supposed to show up to do cheerleeding? That is an unreasonable expectations. And, it's unreasonable to expect civic discourse to change. We don't hear the Republicans (who are now in the democratic primary process) whining about that. And guess what? There are still plenty of candidates that want to be president. You don't hear congress crying about how "mean and negative" everybody is. Of course they are! Why complain abot it?

Anonymous said…
We would like to stop the pendulum at the balance point and keep it stable there.

Well Charlie, who could disagree with that statement? Nobody except for the politically-advised Ed Reformers who will pounce on it to accuse and demonize you for defending the verboten "status quo."

Aside from that, you sound just like Obama before he was elected. And remember how big our dreams were at that time? I haven't forgotten.

While I'd never accuse you of being a tool, the temptation to soften one's stance and aim for middle ground will be exploited and seized upon by those with an unquenchable thirst for power, and that's the Ed Deformers in a nutshell. We must remain eternally vigilant and never let down our guard on that front. The price of gaining back what we risk losing is simply too high. We cannot yield, trade, or risk trust. Public officials must earn it.

I agree the pre-2007 board was too activist, but it wasn't it's "activism" that ruined it. It was its dysfunction.

And how can we say the 2007 board wasn't activist? They were actively negligent, rubber-stamping accessories to more change than the district had seen in decades, much of it for the worse. Let's not malign and turn the word "activism" into a dirty word, especially while the ed reform crowd has already hung it around Marty and Sharon's neck. Don't fall for that narrative, and certainly don't propagate it.

Charlie: I can understand an attempt to harness the energy of this blog and put a more congenial face on it to the public, given it's status and influence as the "real" district information clearinghouse. And I see your point that while we may have scored with the recent election, we shouldn't be tap-dancing and spiking the ball in the end zone with so much important work - the real work - still to be done.

But again, lets not forget how Obama's conciliatory tone and attitude served to hold the chess pieces right where they were on the table, and we haven't seen any meaningful improvements or changes of direction since '08 on that front.

The same people who said "change is hard" while stepping on our faces in 2008 onward will now accuse those in power who seek to make change as "activists." Maybe we should instead refer to Marty and Sharon as "balancers" or "thinkers (or "humans" versus "MGJ Zombies").

Look to what's happened in the Judiciary, for example. If a corporate interest loses a case on appeal, suddenly the judge who ruled against it is an "activist judge." Translation = Leftie, anti-establishment, pot-smoking, former hippie, gay rights supporter, defender of the poor, you know, not one of us!

That political trick never dies, and lets be careful to defend Marty and Sharon from having that, or any label branded on their hides unless or until they earn it.

In the end, most of this discussion centers around the sport of politics, while the underlying grabs for money and power via privatization march on. Don't accept the other sides' view or narrative, or the battle will already be lost. Marty and Sharon are neither activists or insurgents. They were better candidates. Let's recall that.

Let's not beat ourselves up too much for venting anger and wanting some push back against a board and administration that have damaged and destroyed many cherished schools, programs, and lives over the past few years.

I'll play nice when the pain goes away. Until then, I'll fight those who continue to inflict it.

Anonymous said…
@reader: I agree with a lot of your post, except this:

You don't hear congress crying about how "mean and negative" everybody is.

Congress's favorite trick is to drive a dagger through somebody's heart, then complain they are being "uncivil" when they cry out in pain and protest. It's all about "changing the narrative" to distract the public. Happens all day, everyday. WSDWG
Anonymous said…
“New board members, eager to get to work fixing problems, wanting to make a difference, often cross the line."

Where’s your evidence for that statement?

“Director DeBell has admitted how he crossed it when he first came onto the board. The line is not clearly or sharply drawn.”

So, he is projecting his own inability to know boundaries onto the new members? He actually did overstep. Did his then board president tar and feather him in public?

“…now, there is concern that the four newest board members (Peaslee, McLaren, Smith-Blum, and Patu) will form a new majority and the pendulum will swing too far back to activism with the negatives that come with that style of board. It’s a legitimate concern. Let’s not dispute that.”

It’s a concern of whom? What makes a fear or concern legitimate, rather than irrational?
Maybe the so-called "fear" is actually manifested rage coming from sore losers (who are not used to losing).

You rightfully called David Brewster on the carpet for such unsupported and dubious claims earlier in the week, Charlie. He was also writing on the heels of a conversation with DeBell. Sounds like “Michael” charmed you both into doing his dirty work. A passive-aggressive power-hungry
type is always in need of tools.

--enough already
Charlie Mas said…
reader, I do want the Board to action in response to problems, but I want them to take Board action, not to snatch the work out of the superintendent's hands and do it themselves.

They should use their governance tools - policy, budget, management oversight, and strategic plan - to guide the direction of the District. They should also strengthen these tools because, right now, they are too weak.

Just as we say that the superintendent and staff needs to trust the teachers and allow them to do their jobs, the Board needs to trust the superintendent and the staff and allow them to do theirs. There is plenty of opportunity for Board members to express their preferences to the superintendent in an appropriate venue and for them to take action in appropriate channels.

For every problem there is an appropriate board action.

Concerned about standardization? Director DeBell has pushed hard for a materials waiver policy and we're getting one. That was the right way to go about it. If the policy doesn't work then the Board can take further action.

Want language immersion and Montessori programs to be option programs? The Board can make that happen with policy (assignment plan is policy), budget (for transportation), oversight (capacity management), and strategic plan (equitable access to programs).

Don't like the math materials? The Board can adopt different materials. The Board can also do dual adoptions.

Don't like the spending on the Central Administration? The Board is seriously deep in the budget development and they can, by committing funds to schools through the WSS, limit the funding available to the JSCEE.

Want to see more reliable interventions for struggling students? The Board can direct the superintendent to make a plan to address the problem and the Board can vote to fund it.

The Board can take action to address problems, but they should take board action to address these problems.
Charlie Mas said…
enough already, I'll try to answer your legitimate questions as best I can.

“New board members, eager to get to work fixing problems, wanting to make a difference, often cross the line."

Where’s your evidence for that statement?

I suppose the only sufficient answer to this question would be a list of Board members through history and their early missteps. Is there anything less that would satisfy?

If the system works, and it typically does, the over-reach is corrected outside the public eye. When a board member tells the superintendent to fire someone it doesn't happen in a public meeting. We're not on the line when a board member calls a staff person and directs them to take a specific action. These things don't happen in public and they are not documented, so there is scant evidence that I can provide here.

I would encourage you to contact individual board members, present and past, and ask them to recount tales from their learning curve. I'm sure they all have stories to tell. If we accept the history in the proper context of someone new on the job learning the rules, rather than pouncing on their missteps as unforgivable sins, then we're likely to hear lots of these kinds of stories.

I presume the question about tarring and feathering was rhetorical and doesn't require a response.

Do you believe that Director DeBell has tarred and feathered one of his colleagues for a perfectly understandable newbie mistake?

It’s a concern of whom? What makes a fear or concern legitimate, rather than irrational?
Maybe the so-called "fear" is actually manifested rage coming from sore losers (who are not used to losing).

It's a concern of those who would like to see good governance from the school board. It's a concern of those who want a strong board and a strong superintendent working in concert.

What makes is legitimate, rather than irrational, is the recent history available to us. First the recent history of the 2004-2007 board, and second the actions and statements by current board members. Inappropriate board member actions - actions that step over the line - are disturbing but only truly harmful if they are ratified by a majority of the board. So, no, a board member who steps over the line should not be tarred and feathered, but should be corrected by their board colleagues. If they are not corrected, or, worse, if their inappropriate action is supported by a board majority, that is a pendulum swung too far.

Maybe you want a board that over-steps it's proper role. I don't.

I want a board that does their job - the previous board did not. I do not, however, want a board that steps over the line anymore than I want a superintendent that exceeds his or her authority.

There is a rational middle here. That's what I want. That's what is best for the district, the community, and the students.
mirmac1 said…
"We don’t want a board that neglects their duty, but neither do we want a board that over-reaches their duty."

Well, we've had the former and you see where it left us; poorer and in a dysfunctional, overcrowded mess. What is the proof we will have the latter? A bunch of twisted editorials and questionable blog postings?

Yeah, I don't want a cowboy board. But I don't think we'll have one, either. I KNOW we have a board president who's got dairrhea of the mouth at the moment.
Anonymous said…

Concerned about standardization? Director DeBell has pushed hard for a materials ... []

Don't like the spending on the Central Administration? The Board is seriously deep in the budget development ..[]

blah blah blah

Look, we've already GOT lots of policies. You already CAN do all those things. Guess what? The superintendent does not listen to the board. She does not do the policy.

And now, Michael wants to write a new policy? The "We promise to do nothing whatsoever, because we might interfere. (sniff, sniff) " policy? And then he says... "We've got too many policies". I will fix that one by adding "just one more policy, the one that abdicates the electorate from any relief."


Anonymous said…
Inappropriate board member actions - actions that step over the line - are disturbing but only truly harmful

What "oh so horrible" board member action are you even talking about? Does it out weigh the years and years of inaction>? I guess I'll wait to hear about the actions.

Anonymous said…
Thank your for your response, Charlie.

My comments:

If a learning curve is always (I'm taking your word for it), then why should it suddenly become the basis for policy change--except that perhaps the views of the newly elected are a threat to the powers that be. Therefore, so called "governance" is an attempt to trump free speech. If a member is out of line (which occasionally happens, even at board meetings), then other members simply need to call them on it (like they already do).

Yes, DeBell "tarred and feathered"
his colleagues by going to several (so-called) media outlets and talking about them in a gossipy, cowardly and innuendo-ridden manner. The most eggregious case-in-point was his using Peasley's legitimate question (about the state law basis for school board oversight on principal hirings--as clarified by Melissa in her comment in the ST) and presenting it like a power grab.

His need to "protect" Susan from an apparent (again based on DeBell's gossip) board member's request for her to fire someone is an example of the pathetic chivalry and implicit paternalism/ sexism that is part of this narrative (the targets of this mess are all strong women). Enfield can more than take care of herself but it looks like she went and complained to Michael, who felt the need to put on his superhero cape and protect the damsel-in-distress Susan (again, this is all based on DeBell's gossip and innuendo).

All it called for (if it happened) was for Enfield to say no to the request and tell the person it was out-of-turn. Let's grow up, here.

You are assuming that the board would not be on the middle ground by itself and its own judgment. These are elected members who were trusted by the citizens through a democratic process. They have barely had time to warm their seats yet. The fact that you are trying to preempt them is based on DeBell's gossip (you didn't call for this policy change before talking with DeBell). This, folks, is micromanaging and manipulation.
It's not fair to the board, the voters or the employees of this district.

--enough already
Anonymous said…
--If a learning curve is always presumed

--enough already
Anonymous said…
Then of course, there's that other problem lots of our public officials have with enjoying the spotlight and attention that comes from the needless drama. Nothing provides "exposure" to social climbers like a crisis! Grab your capes! KOMO News wants an interview!

Along with the years of snickers and smirks from disingenuous staff at board and community meetings who clearly find the inside baseball and fixed "decisions" exhilarating, I've seen enough canned, media-trained statements from board members over the years to make me yawn & toss the remote.

So, how much of this hand-wringing is real, versus political posturing? How much is drama to keep up appearances? I can't be sure.

The one thing I can be sure of is that this discussion centers around POWER, plain and simple.

We can yak about interference, meddling, micromanagement, etc., til the cows come home, but the issue is power. How much independent authority does the SI get? The board makes the rules the SI follows. The idea that if the SI will be crippled if they don't get 10% of the power they demand, is patently ridiculous on its face.

This is not Rocket Science. This IS political posturing setting the stage for somebody's pre-packaged agenda.

I'll go out on a limb, but I don't buy this philosophical argument. I see somebody trying to fit their plan into our box, prying and scheming to make it happen, while blackmailing the board into concessions with claims of "impossibility" if they don't cave or concede.

I'm in full conspiracy mode at this point. What is DeBell or Enfield, or whomever is pulling their strings NOT telling us? Something is deliberately being kept under wraps at this point.

Anonymous said…
Worrying too much about "crossing a line" can only increase the reticence of board members to act. I'd rather have a board that acquires inforation, risks and is held accountable by community. Asking new members to hold their tongues or steer clear of "crossing" an unclear line won't benefit parents, teachers and students in the long run. That's part of the learning curve for new members. Let them have their space to learn just as DeBell had his. They are informed adults who were elected because the old board (including DeBell and Carr) wasn't appreciated.

Anonymous said…
I meant 100% of the power they demand, btw. WSDWG
Anonymous said…
"For a guy who wants to project unity and stability on the school board to attract strong candidates for the superintendent job, Mr. Brewster sure does relish the opportunity to publicize any dis-unity and instability - even if he has to invent it. His article works at cross purposes to his stated intention.

His presentation of the facts is also wrong. The proposed Board-Superintendent Relationship Procedure is only a clarification of the current policy. Funny how he neglected to mention that the elements of this procedure are already in place. Here is the current policy:

The existing policy already sets the boundaries. The new procedure mostly repeats them."

--by Charlie Mas in Cross 1/19/2012

--enough already
Anonymous said…
Sadly, at this point in time, in this diary you're just enabling the [disinformation | subterfuge | misstatements | LIES ] of the downtown crowd are are p.o.'d that their BFFs Steve & Peter & MGJ & CAO Enfield are gone, or suffering setbacks.

Jack Whelan pointed out how Sherry had mentioned this "micromanagement" [disinformation | subterfuge | misstatement | LIE ] at her swearing in, and, here we are in the 3rd week of Jan., 2 month of 48 month terms, and we have the same complaint bubbling up in 3, 4? different Big Media outlets this week.

Sorry Charlie, but,

Jack Whelan said…
CM says: "In the past ten years we have seen the pendulum swing hard from negligence at one end, to excessive activism at the other end, then back to aggressive negligence, and, now, there is concern that the four newest board members (Peaslee, McLaren, Smith-Blum, and Patu) will form a new majority and the pendulum will swing too far back to activism with the negatives that come with that style of board.

It’s a legitimate concern. Let’s not dispute that."

There are a lot of things to be concerned about, but why don't we wait to see what happens? This proposed procedure is a solution to a problem that does not yet exist, and probably won't. If a need develops to draw stronger boundaries, let it be dealt with when it has become a problem, not now because it might become one.

We have every reason to assume that Sharon and Marty will work like adults to build consensus in open dialogue with others others on the board who are genuinely open to developing the best solutions, but they shouldn't put up with any manipulative, preemptive nonsense hatched by any party who has "concerns" about things that "may" happen.
Policy Question said…
Policy number 1620 states (#7): "Because the Board must act as a single entity, it is a good governance practice for individual Directors to avoid publically expressing opinions about staff members or the Superintendent's personell decisions."

Yet, in a recent Crosscut article:

Debell takes it upon himself to publically announce the new board was "the catalyst" for Enfield's departure. Did DeBell violate his own policy? Remember, Enfield never told the reason she was leaving. I suspect DeBell is in violation of his own policy.
Linh-Co said…
It looks like we finally have a board with some balance. A 4-3 majority isn't the same as a 7-0 majority. Some disagreements and compromise will be welcomed as supposed to a rubber stamping board.

And I'm sick of all of the pleaing for Susan Enfield. I thought she was leaving due to personal reasons having to do with her marriage. It seems she is playing the press by staying mum about her decision to leave in order to make Marty and Sharon look bad. Let's not forget it is her personal choice to leave.
Charlie Mas said…
All rules are made to regulate behavior which has not yet occurred.

The fact that I have not yet lit fires does not mean that there should not be laws against arson. It's sufficient that lighting fires is wrong and that other people have lit fires. I don't take the arson law personally. I don't say "Hey, we don't need a law against arson because I haven't lit any fires. Let's wait and see if I burn down some houses before we go making a law against it." And the arson laws don't keep me from cooking or even having a little fire in my backyard firepit.

The current board should not take it personally that there are rules about appropriate board member action. The rules are not for them personally but for all board directors, current and future. And they should not take it personally if those rules are periodically amended, extended, or clarified.
anonymous said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
Well, as I say in the calendar listings, Kay Smith-Blum checked around and out of 25 urban districts, she could find only four that had such a policy.

I'm not saying they don't need it - maybe so.

But I think this has been blown up into a much bigger issue than it should be. And there are those who are fanning the flames for their own agendas (and not because they truly want a better relationship between the superintendent and Board).
anonymous said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
anonymous said…
Jack Whelan you have absolutely no idea what has, has not, or may have happened between Marty, Sharon, Betty, Kay or any other school board director and the super/staff behind closed doors. Michael DeBell probably does. You may want to consider what he has to say since he is ON THE BOARD, working with these folks, and hears and sees things that you do not.

Dorothy Neville said…
Every district is going to have some sort of procedures for the relationship between board and superintendent. Some won't be in writing, but you can bet there is an expectation and culture. How many are healthy?

What strikes me as sad and ironic is that Michael's intentions from all I have witnessed is that he wants to help the new board members -- current new ones and future members -- to be more effective earlier in their term. His whole reason for his anecdote of his stumbling is that it wasn't effective. A board member individually trying to influence staff, to manage staff, is not really going to accomplish much. Perhaps they will accomplish something in the short term, but probably not.

A board can only really be effective for lasting change by setting and enforcing policy. And the way it sets and enforces policy is in open action, votes. So a board member will be more successful at governing the district by remembering that and devoting their time to learning that.
mirmac1 said…
That rationale is lame. As many have noted, a policy on Board/superintendent relations already exists. Charlie, I would think you would not push for an excessive number of laws a la the tax code - this kind of intemperance of rule-making does not improve oversight and governance. In fact, it does just the opposite.

Wording like this disturbs me:

"The Superintendent should view the Board as key advisors."

I don't view my employer as "key advisors". They're my bosses. I am paid to carry out the mission of my employer. If I hide something from them, I deserve a reprimand or termination. They have every right to ask to see my work, read my emails, talk to my clients.

DeBelle's embarassing very public rebuke of his fellow directors, performed at the behest of outsiders, and soon-to-be outsider Enfield, is a disservice to the Board, the district, the students and families, and the electorate. SHAME on you!
mirmac1 said…

How does this whisper-campaign, played out in the media, "help" our new board members? It is blatant intimidation. I know DeBelle's got more savoir faire than what he's displayed recently. He simply wants to ram this thing through - to hell with damaged relationships and trust. Why's he playing the schoolyard bully? What's in it for him? Another MGJ? Less angry calls from the would-be Masters of the Universe?
Dorothy Neville said…
What whisper campaign? Did DeBell (not DeBelle, btw) contact Brewster and Varner and beg to get this written this way? I suspect not.

So folks here are suspecting that the evil board members are starting the micromanaging meme early on so that no matter what, the new board members will get accused of micromanaging.

I think the same thing is happening here with respect to DeBell. Just because the usual suspects want to push an agenda does not mean that Michael is part of it. Folks are slamming Michael really hard with the bully meme. I don't think it is accurate nor is it helpful.
Dorothy Neville said…
And Charlie gets thoughtful and nuanced and all of a sudden, he's a tool for evil.
mirmac1 said…
Dorothy, this is not just a spontaneous blossoming of media umbrage, innuendo, and slander, which happens to appear alongside ill-advised on-record remarks by DeBell(sp thx).

As for the micromanaging meme, I believe I've heard Carr start this (Nyan Cat) refrain at the 11/30 board meeting, repeat it at the Board Retreat, and then again at the December Board meeting. Okay, we get it. But where's the beef? Without the pickle and innuendo please.
another arnold said…
I'm copying this from another string. I found this comment pertinent and beautiful:

And please remember, this is what we said when adopting the PRA by initiative in 1972, by a vote of 72% to 28%:

"The people of this state do not yield their sovereignty to the agencies that serve them. The people, in delegating authority, do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know. The people insist on remaining informed so that they may maintain control over the instruments that they have created. This chapter shall be liberally construed and its exemptions narrowly construed to promote this public policy and to assure that the public interest will be fully protected. In the event of conflict between the provisions of this chapter and any other act, the provisions of this chapter shall govern."
Anonymous said…
If all this weren't happening under the spotlight and microscope of the Ed Reform bullies and their carnival barkers in the press, it wouldn't look so much like puppet strings and razor wire were binding and controlling DeBell.

Perhaps Strategies 360 should re-advise some mouthy blow-hards to shut up, back off and let THE BOARD work through this without having shots fired across its bow from multiple directions.

I'd like to get back to the issue at hand and chew on Charlie's points and insights, but it's pretty hard to do while the usual suspects are doing all they can to create the appearance of infighting and chaos on the Board, in order to lay the ground work for what? Charters? Mayoral Control? What?

I haven't before seen this level of bullying and tampering with the board by the local press. It couldn't be more obvious they are trying to soil the reputations of new board members, whether a policy is adopted, improved, or rejected. The policy debate is just the firing pin for the anti-Marty & anti-Sharon campaign.

Where was THIS kind of scrutiny when Steve and Peter were on the Board? Ever? The irony, hypocrisy and bullshit is nearing the ceiling.

Big Ed Reform: Call off your lap dogs already.

Chris S. said…
Yes Dorothy, DeBell has probably not turned evil. Yet, as the senior member of the board, can I expect him to lead by example? And leading by example for me would include being very circumspect in talking to the press about his fellow board members.
Anonymous said…
And btw: "The Superintendent should view the Board as key advisors."

Why waste time with non-binding, unenforceable, easily disregarded "rules" like this toothless statement? On its face, "should" means "but never has to." Hello?

So, we're needlessly wasting time, money and effort to delude ourselves into feeling better by seeing things that aren't there. WSDWG
Anonymous said…
Can we just call it a misstep all around and move on? DeBell- not the smartest move for talking publicly or even nodding yes/no to the press. The newbie who missteped, please stop and take note. It is a learning curve for all including the seasoned vet. Golden rule, if you're going to chastise/correct someone out, do it in private. I rather board members develop some trust among themselves. We need them to get along and figure out how to work together. Please do that. And stay away from the press and loose lips.

StopTFA said…
another arnold,

I agree. I often cite that language in my battles for public records. It is pretty cut and dried, isn't it? But you wouldn't believe the obstacles some agencies put in place.

In fact, I will again cite that language when I file a PR lawsuit against the UW for withholding the COE's grant requests to fund its rump TFA-only alternative route program. Wow, the extent some public servants go to protect their private funders.
Chris S. said…
OK, I kind of take it back. I don't find any hard evidence that DeBell is the source for the rumor and innuendo. However, he could lead by example by having a nice chat with Brewster et. al. in his therapist voice about hyperbole and accuracy and what is REALLY NOT HELPING him create a functional board.

WV says "scessit" - I would just say STFU, but I'm rude.
Anonymous said…
But mum, here's the thing -

What newbie mistep? If that refers to the question about school board involvement in hiring of principals it has already been clarified that RCW allows for that, and that many districts across the state do that. As far as the Times and their "reports of a board member requesting the superintendent to fire someone" I fall firmly on the side of "show us or shut up" to the Times.

Dorothy Neville said…
Something interesting to me is that I have not heard anything about new members asking Susan to fire two people. Perhaps they have, but I haven't heard a whiff about it.

However, at the executive committee meeting where they discussed these procedures, Ron English brought up an example from ages ago, long enough that even Michael didn't know it. He said that two board candidates campaigned publicly with the goal of firing two people. They got elected and demanded that the superintendent fire those two people. Ron gave no other details.

I am conflicted and sympathetic to the notion that the board of a district this size should not be involved in hiring and firing of employees besides the Super. The board is supposed to monitor the results, not the individual management decisions that are to lead to the results. If a board member undermines the superintendent's decisions, pushes the superintendent to hire a principal against the judgment of the superintendent, then who is accountable for the performance at that school? If the school under-performs, then can that be factored into the superintendent's evaluation?
mirmac1 said…
Actually Dorothy, Ron's example would support the opposite of what DeBell's pushing. If officials are elected based upon their stands on certain issues, then their counterparts should respect them and the electorate and act accordingly. (Like curriculum choices, for example)

That's not saying that is what happened here. What Brewster, Varner et al spew is idle speculation and slander (with DeBell's acquiescence). That has been their raison d'etre since the board campaigns started. "Insurgents!, Activists, Unqualified! Bat-sh*t crazy!"

What do we want here? The quiet discussion and deliberation among equals on the direction our schools must go? OR the public destruction of good people's reputations and efforts in the interests of the Players' agendas?

I won't let the latter happen without a very public fight.
"Did DeBell (not DeBelle, btw) contact Brewster and Varner and beg to get this written this way? I suspect not."

He did speak with them - did he expect quite the language he got in their writing? No. (I asked him.)

Michael has made very few mistakes in his 8 years but this was a big one.

Mum, I e-mailed the Board and told them exactly that and encouraged them to work collaboratively towards compromise and consensus.

Want this policy? Fine, hammer it out TOGETHER, not separately and not in the media.
Charlie Mas said…
Let's try this again.

Calmly. Without the distracting subtext or ill-will created by David Brewster, Jon Bridge, and Lynne Varner.

Let's just take it statement by statement.

* There is a division of duties between the Board and the Superintendent.

* The Board should focus on governance and refrain from active involvement in the management of the District.

* The superintendent should focus on management and refrain from active involvement in the governance of the District.

* Within the past ten years we have seen times when weak superintendents have failed to manage and we have seen times when weak Boards failed to govern.

* In fact, those have each been the case for the majority of the century.

* Nature hates a vacuum, so there have been times when strong Boards have crossed the line to perform management duties that were not addressed by the superintendent and there have been times when strong superintendents have crossed the line to perform governance duties that were not addressed by the board.

* The District will be best served by a strong superintendent who fulfills the management duties and by a strong board that fulfills the governance duties.

Can we all agree on those points? Is there any disagreement on those?

The line between governance and management is not sharp and clear. Was the contract with Teach for America a governance issue or was it strictly a hiring question within management? Is the District high school's continued membership of KINGCO a management question or a governance question? The line is fuzzy. Tools that clarify the line, help each party to do the work on their side of the line, and help each party stay on their side of the line are beneficial.

Policy 1620 is intended as just such a tool.

There is some concern, however, that Policy 1620 wasn't getting the job done. A lot of things that were part of the institutional memory or the culture but were not codified were getting lost. In an effort to retain them and assure their transference to future boards and superintendents, items that were tacitly known needed to be explicitly stated.

Director DeBell attempted to codify some clarification of the board-superintendent relationship with Board Procedure 1620BP.

I support his intention. He just got some details wrong - I list them in the first comment on the thread.

But who does not want this line between governance and management more clearly defined? Address your opposition to that or to the specific language of the effort. Let's not allow the politics of personality move us to deny truths because we don't like who said them. I don't agree with Chris Korsmo on a lot of education issues, but I won't disagree with her when she says that the Packers lost. Because the Packers did lose.

No matter what you think of Michael DeBell - or even David Brewster - you can agree that new board members can only be helped by clearly defining the line between governance and management.
Anonymous said…
"The fact that I have not yet lit fires does not mean that there should not be laws against arson. It's sufficient that lighting fires is wrong and that other people have lit fires."

The immigration law in Arizona is based on presumption--stopping people because they look like they might be alien or illegitimate.

This would be a much better analogy for this situation. Once such sentiment(revenge, fear, etc.) drives legislation, any legitimacy to the legislation becomes secondary to the passion
that initiated the action.

--enough already
mirmac1 said…
Right on, enough already. Last night I just happened to watch the History Channel's episode on the Nuremberg Trials. Not to imply that this, in any way, possible compares but I remember hearing that the first arguments offered were "if no law existed then why couldn't I commit these crimes against humanity" (check for yourself on NetFlix).

I read the Board Action Report. They make the point that, HEY, the Port of Seattle did it! That has yet to be seen, and I am happy to share my research, soon....
Kate Martin said…
I just don't think Michael's work is ready for primetime.

"I suppose that I could grumble a bit about how this procedure was presented. It seems to be coming from Director DeBell exclusively. It would be better if the Board could come together as a group to say that the line between governance and management needs to be sharper and brighter."

Michael got ahead of himself which is certainly forgivable, but this is not what collaboration looks like and he of course knows that. I'm not sure what his role in the media frenzy is, but if he is feeding that, it is quite unbecoming of a board member.

I hope he remembers how to collaborate when everyone is no longer holding a rubberstamp. I appreciate the directors making the time to get unified agreement about the articulation of this policy and I sure hope that these deliberations can be in good spirit and not adversarial.

We've had a useless pile of mostly defunct policy that is getting updated. What's the rush all of a sudden? I never subscribe to the always enough time to do it over, but never enough time to do it right syndrome.

Let's hope that Michael, as president, can acclimate to the new context he's in and that he will cultivate a great working relationship with everyone. I'm embarrassed watching his power struggle play out at the moment. I certainly hope he will not obstruct the process of getting to know this new board and that he will do everything in his power to work productively.

-Kate Martin
mirmac1 said…
The School Board Action Report stated the following:

* Not approve this motion. This is not recommended because specific processes are needed to help staff, the Superintendent, and the Board should (sic) implement Policy No. 1620 to ensure that the Board and Superintendent are able to effectively perform their responsibilities.

* Series 1000 drew on the experience of the Port of Seattle which involved clarification of the Board CEO-relationship.

Well, naturally I went to the Port and checked to see what changes it, in fact, put in place after the, equally, disastrous audits of '07.

The Port's current policy is here.

First, I'll call BUNK that DeBell or staff looked anywhere beyond Don McAdams and his navel.

I have no problem with this language in amended POS Resolution 3605:

"The commission and the CEO shall regularly inform and consult each other on the execution of Port policies, Port operations, and information relevant to the Commission oversight, by methods mutually agreeable to the commission and the CEO. Since the citizens of King county electy the Commissioners, public oversight is inherent in the Commission position. The oversight function cannot be delegated away, and nothing in this Resolution shall be construed as doing so." Do you see that "oversight" is different than "governance"? To be the overseer is to retain the authority to ensure policies and procedures are followed. Governance sets policies and (yes, Superintendent) procedures.

The rest of the Resolution outlines what the CEO SHALL do. NOT what his/her bosses SHALL do. See the difference? Who's on top here? The rest is "for the purpose of establishing administrative authority for the CEO and his/her designees." First and foremost, "The CEO derives authority from the Commission acting as the governing body. The CEO is responsible for carrying out Commission policies." Nuff said.

I speak from firsthand knowledge that the Port Commission does not wring its hands about scaring off the bridegroom.

Sure, I'll be an adult too and say let's stick with the laws and best practice. Enough philosophizing about how best to "help" our freshman directors. How about we worry about not codifying poor practice and opening the door for more crappy superintendents.
mirmac1 said…
BTW, read the original Port Resolution 3605:

"Whereas, the Port Commission formed a Commission subcommittee on January 22, 2008, directing two Commissioners to undertake a public process to review and revise the master policy directive delegating administrative authority to the CEO" etc. etc.
mirmac1 said…
Latest on latest proposal that ties the Board's hands.

Hurray! The Moms will not go down without a fight!

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