The Board Evaluation

The evaluation was requested by the Board itself.  It was done by the Mercer Island Group and they apparently did interviews with the Board and Cabinet (with an additional online survey of the Board) but it is unclear to me what questions they asked or if they just used an attribute list for the respondents to vote on and then, asked for their comments.  (Also, Appendix Four isn't quite clear as to who made the statements in this section.)

(The cabinet consists of Jose Banda, Bob Boesche, Ron English, Michael Tolley, Duggan Harman, Pegi McEvoy and Paul Apostle.  I have to wonder what the Board might have said about how the Cabinet works but that was not part of this evaluation.)

I'll let you read the whole thing and be the judge.  But here are some thoughts (followed by what was said at the meeting):

- my biggest surprise was not the comments but the ratings the Board gave itself.  They were pretty low.  I have to wonder if it is really about morale or maybe about a few people trying to skew the results.  Or both.

There were 29 attributes - 18 had "meets expectations or higher" but not one had "exceeds expectations" or "outstanding."  They did best in areas of responsibility, maintaining a strategic plan and laws/regulations and communication protocols.

Their two highest scores for themselves?

-Uphold all applicable federal and state laws and regulations.
-Maintain a strategic plan for the district that clearly defines success and accountability for the Board, the staff, and our students.

Their lowest scores for themselves?  (Of the 29 attributes, 11 had a rating of below "meets expectations.")  They had the lowest scores for working effectively with each other, the superintendent/staff and communications.

- Is the Board working together effectively?
- The Board maintains a close relationship of trust with the Superintendent and strives to facilitate district success.

That last one was a surprise because I thought the Board was doing those things.  But, looking at what they think works and what they think doesn't work, you see a clear conflict.  Meaning, they feel they do well on communications protocols but not communications.  Hmmm.

They did have good marks for themselves (in unity except for one abstention - no idea who that was) with budget development, audit response and policy review.

So what did the Cabinet think of the Board?

Good - passionate and dedicated, focus on students, do homework/come prepared,making efforts to improve, in-tune w/community, respectful and appreciative
Bad - Board needs to address its dysfunctions, engage in "appropriate lines of communication and adhere to Policy 1620", provide a unified front/collectively define "the role of the Board",  and several others.

The overwhelming issue seems to be trust, both within the Board and between Board/Cabinet.
Both groups believe the Board needs to work on trust issues, have a unified purpose and move past differences and start anew.  One interesting item that both groups feel the Board struggles with (and rightly so) - "find a balance between regional advocacy and big picture focus."

Please consider this going forward with the School Board elections.  It has been a constant source of confusion for candidates because the RCW says one thing BUT every Board director in this state probably has his or her own ideas about what ELSE a director can/should do.

Understand that while you elect a director from a region, they are truly city-wide directors.  So this yin and yang of regional advocacy and big picture focus is one they all have to make peace with. 

As I mentioned previously, the Cabinet feels "past controversies have left the Boad hesitant to trust the Cabinet."   Some quotes:

"They feel because of past indiscretions and scandal that they can't trust staff.  It doesn't make it a great place to work."  

"Staff feels threatened by Board"  

"We have all made mistakes and sinned.  But what can we do to make a fresh start and move forward?"

"Moving forward"- I've heard that many, many times.  I think it is a difficult thing for a Board member for a couple of reasons.  One, mistakes - big mistakes - keep happening over and over.   Staff makes excuses and yet things keep happening.  Two, it is the Board's job - whether a new or continuing director - to give oversight.  Sorry, every single person has a boss and, if you work in government, likely also an elected official who also is charged with oversight.  There is no getting away from it.

You'll have to read all the comments.  They are telling.  I will again say that I believe that a few Board members and Cabinet members may have overstated or expanded on their thoughts for effect.  It is especially telling in the Board members remarks (and you can play a parlor game of "who said it?" as you read along).

For example, some in the Cabinet feel the Board comes prepared and asks good questions.  Others say, "the unnecessary requests for data or meetings...need to stop."  Another Cabinet member says, "They ask questions.  And they should."  Adjustments of volume of data or timing, sure, but don't get peeved at the Board for doing their jobs.

One Board member says, "We used to have meetings with the City Council."  I can guess who said that but I was told, by more than one councilmember, that they got tired of the dog and pony show the staff would put on instead of consulting the Council on ways to help the district.  I'm not sure it had anything to do with personalities or Board dysfunction.

The Cabinet feels the strains between Board members - "open hostilities", concerns over "committee assignments", "I hear but don't see" that Board members don't like each other and "sometimes they disagree with each other just for the sake of disagreement." 

About the public.  Some Cabinet members give them a lot of credit - "take it seriously", "want to hear from constituents", "listen to parents in their district and are advocates".   But then there was this - "They feel they have to represent their constituents and they respond to the bloggers as well."  Well, in our defense, some of the bloggers are SPS parents and all of us are Seattle taxpayers. 

The Board also disagreed about their own role.  One said lined up the duties like this "policy and governance, ambassadors at large and being the best possible advisor to the superintendent without directing him or her."  

Meanwhile, another Director had this to say, "Governance should only be three things: making policy, performing oversight (that is not looking over the staff's shoulder all the time - it's once a year looking at performance) and budget (we approve the budget - so we need a formal process for prioritizing what is cut and what new spending goes to.)"  He/she continues on, "The other thing - which is a little more abstract - is advocating for SPS.  But that is not a primary responsibility.  It's an optional area that some Board members pursue."  

Clearly, that Director goes by the RCW but it is quite surprising that he/she doesn't think advocacy is an important part of the job.  I'll bet he/she didn't say that on the campaign trail.  

Other thoughts:

- on trust, someone on the Cabinet said this, "I wonder if the mistrust and fall out that came from the undisclosed previous review (by the Alliance) was worse than the actual sharing of that review."  Right this minute, I am blanking on what review is being referenced here; I'll have to ask.

Someone on the Board said this, "Who do Board members listen to for advice and insight?  This is a problem we have as a Board.  The majority of the Board feels inclined to listen to outside entities rather than trust the other Board members and the staff."  

That's a big statement and one that is hard for me to believe.  I think the Board very much listens to staff.  I also don't know what the person means by "outside entities" which would make me think of groups rather than constituents.

From the meeting:

- Marty McLaren seemed flummoxed by the evaluation results.  She said the Board IS getting things done.  And, she's right.  They have and their votes have been more 7-0 or 6-1, than 4-3.
- Michael DeBell referenced some list that Bob Boesche had of Board micromanagement that Boesche presented at the Board retreat.  I'll have to ask for that one.  DeBell dramatically said that "Careers are at risk with this Board."  I think that is nonsense.
- Sherry Carr said this was tough but a "gift" to the Board for the feedback it gives them.  She agreed with Marty about the work they had gotten done.  
- Sharon Peaslee said she comes back to the micromanaging and that she keeps asking what that looks like or examples of it.  Facilitator Bob Ness said that Sharon had asked for this information before. 
- Kay Smith-Blum said they need to look for ways to support each other especially if they change roles (moving from Vice-President to President, for example).  
- Carr also called out her concern - and she has voiced this previously - that every committee needs an annual calendar and clear training/guidance for chairs.  
- Superintendent Banda said he felt the Board was courageous in asking for this feedback and looking for ways to do better.


Anonymous said…
Melissa, this is very interesting and as always, I greatly appreciate your expertise at bringing this forward. I never question YOUR expertise. So what does this really say? If I was an enemy of elected boards I'd say this sets up an elected board to be replaced.

Cabinet? When did this nonsense start? Look, the people who want reform are the same people who are squeezing school funds. Combine that with the usual cast of eff ups and the profit model is ready to roll. I think the Cabinet should start donating their paychecks.

Mr White
mirmac1 said…
First thing that comes to mind is, how does this naval-gazing help our students NOW? I view this survey as a back-handed way to shot down the board members most responsive to their district (if not them, who else would listen and heed an issue raised by constituents?!) Uh, no one!

Based on your report Melissa, I don't see Banda using this unscientific survey to rub his bosses' nose in the dirt. I don't think that's in his modus operandii (to his credit). At the same time, I think he has to rein in his Cabinet. If some worry about their jobs...well, I think some should.
Mr. White, I don't know if you mean electing new people to the Board or having another party (like the Mayor) appoint some of them.

We are getting two new members no matter what.

I think the discord is largely over personalities (with one member seemingly wanting to make points with the establishment crowd - at all costs).

I think they are all mature people who want to do better and will. Whether that happens in the next six months is important but even if it doesn't, it will after the election. No new Board member wants to be treated as Sharon Peaslee and Marty McLaren were when they were elected.

But get ready for an interesting battle in Michael DeBell's district - that's the real race and baby, I think it's on.
Anonymous said…
I'm surprised to learn about the "cabinet." This is an incredibly narrow group of advisors who produce the silos that Banda says he wants to overcome. I think their rating of the Board is quite patronizing as well. This is an unpaid board. They hear from us peons -- constituents. They have to ask questions and if you've ever spent time asking questions of individuals in this "cabinet" they specialize in bland and vague brush offs. So it is the way of SPS. There's always somebody else to blame.

Anabelle said…
How Tolley and English got to be in any insider group is a testiment to just how lacking the District is of leadership.

Where's that "Superintendents Men" poster now? Both of these MGJ minions have no place even voicing opinions about elected officials.

Both should be gone....yesterday.
Charlie Mas said…
Going through the evaluation, I first stopped on the slide called Board Evaluation Online Survey with the four point scale and the statement that midpoint on a 1,2,3,4 scale is 2.55.

Huh? Isn't it 2.5? Not only is that halfway between 2 and 3 but it is the average of the possible scores.

The Cabinet says that the Board should work on:

"Work Together and Find Common Ground
Focus on Building Trust within the Board and with the Cabinet
Address the Divisions Amongst the Board

The Board thinks that the Board should work on:

"Focus on the Work and Identify Unified Purpose
Focus on Building Trust
Aim for Fresh Start

So they both put a high priority on building trust. How to build trust?

"Demonstrate Accountability
Start Fresh
Identify a Unified Purpose
Work to Understand and Relate to Each Other

I have a little problem with this. The first two steps are contradictory. Think about it. People who have a good track record never ask for a fresh start. Why do they want a fresh start? To evade accountability. You cannot both demonstrate accountability and start fresh.

The path to building trust comes again on the next slide and includes:

"Share information and listen to feedback from the Cabinet
Be Accountable
Go Through Proper Communication Channels
Speak with One Voice

To me, this means that Director DeBell should stop giving interviews and all of the Board members need to stop contacting staff directly.

I'm pretty troubled by these types of comments:

"Having constructive conversations around disagreement is necessary - but it shouldn't happen in public. In public they should represent a unified front."

Hell no. That is contrary to the value of transparency. Public debate is healthy and positive.

There is a fair amount of talk about how the Board Committee assignments were distributed. This is something we have noted. The faction in the majority have more committee assignments than the members of the minority faction.

Directors Martin-Morris, Carr, and DeBell, the current minority on the board, are each on just one Committee each, and for two of them it is the same committee. They have been marginalized. No doubt about it. Directors Smith-Blum, McLaren, and Patu are each on two committees. Director Peaslee is on three committees.

There are four committees. They each have three seats. That's twelve seats to be divided among seven Directors. In an even distribution five directors would have two committee seats and two directors would have one. I think it makes sense for the two directors with only one committee assignment to be the Board President and the Board Vice President. They are automatically assigned to the Executive Committee.

Here's another telling passage about trust from a cabinet member:

"We made some adjustments to a certain policy. I didn't think it was ready to go forward, but we brought it to the Board and presented it. They said to go ahead and move it forward. At a public meeting a school Board member basically attacked the policy and tore it
(and us) apart bringing up public concerns. That member tore apart his/her own policy from a committee he/she had been sitting on. He/She had voted for it at committee. We, as staff, were embarrassed. We felt set up. We could have pulled it if he/she had come to us. Or he/she could have prepared us with questions. Those things cause staff to not trust Board members.

I know of a policy that moved forward in this way and I know how it happened. The Board member bears only part of the blame. The policy development process has since been improved, but not fixed.
Two things:
1)Committee assignments. President Smith-Blum did this deliberately and in consultation with the other members of the Board. She had sound reasoning based on the amount of work AND travel built into the assignments (not just committees) that each director had. One member was unhappy but all of them had ample opportunity to talk about this before the assignments were made.

2)There is a comment in there about how well the Board handled MAP vis a vis staff/the Superintendent. They do speak with one voice when they find agreement.

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