Comment on New Clarke County School Board Policies


A boatload of new policies are about to be voted on by the Clarke County Board of Education in August and you have the opportunity to review them and make comments and suggestions before the vote on August 9. Public comment ends on July 27 (this Friday)!

 

Why is it important to care about these new school board policies?

The school board has undergone a comprehensive review, revision and updating of all board policies in the past couple of years. This step was in response to recommendations from a consulting firm’s audit intended to help modernize the district’s policies and help improve the effectiveness of our school board. The new policies and revisions have been modeled on existing policies from other school districts and rely heavily on the text “Improving School Board Effectiveness: A Balanced Governance Approach.” Although no one would expect our school board members to draft a new set of policies from scratch, it is our duty to ensure that these policies actually work for our district and community.

 

Feeling overwhelmed by the sheer number of policies (42 total) and the density of language?

This post is intended to guide you through what our Education Initiative team has identified as the most relevant to the community interest. Although we encourage everyone to read the policies in their entirety, we realize that many people do not have the time to do so. At least two members of the A4E Education Initiative read every word of every policy and suggested that the entire committee focus on the following three.

 

Which policies should I focus on?

The three policies linked below are all related in the sense that each policy details processes for and limitations on interaction between school board members and community members. Informing and engaging with the public is an essential function of a school board member and is absolutely critical to serving the best interests of the community. If you have a limit to how much policy you can handle at one time, focus on BH – Board Code of Ethics as it is the most densely detailed and most likely to raise objections. Under the links for BIFBG and BBI, you will find a brief summary and explanation of why they are worth reviewing. Policy BH – Code of Ethics has so many domains, sections, headers and details that we felt compelled to paste excerpts from the policy with commentary listing potential concerns. Each excerpt will include the domain and section header so that you can locate it within the full policy.

 

How do I make sense of all the shading, strikethroughs and highlights?

Shaded portions of policies are the parts that have been newly written. Strikethroughs are portions that have been essentially removed and will disappear when the policy becomes official. Strikethroughs within shaded portions of text mean that the school board collectively agreed to remove or revise newly written language during open discussion in a work session. Strikethroughs allow the public to witness the editing process. Highlighted phrases represent language crafted during or in response to policy discussions during work session.

 

How do I submit a comment?  

On the Clarke County School District home page, hover over “Board of Education.” Then, select “District Policies Pending For Public Comments.” You can view the three we identified as most relevant to the public interest by clicking on the links below, but you must go through the CCSD page in order to complete the Google comment form.

 

Policy and Language Concerns as Identified by A4E Education Initiative

 

Policy BH – Board Code of Ethics

This policy is very dense and wordy and took us several readings to process fully. If you are skilled at editing and trimming repetition, I encourage you to explore the entire document and recommend reductions or omissions. Even parts that seem fine include a bit of repetition.

 

Domain I: Governance Structure

3. Honor the chain of command and refer problems or complaints consistent with the chain of command.

Historically, the phrase “honor the chain of command” has been used to shut down complaints, isolate individuals and prevent employees from expressing valid concerns. As evidenced by the incident at Cedar Shoals High School just over two years ago, simply forwarding information along a chain of command does not ensure that any action will be taken. Our board members should not be discouraged from following through on valid concerns that could affect the safety and well-being of students. Robotically adhering to a “chain of command,” in our opinion, is not in the best interests of the community without some assurance that the chain will end with an effective analysis of the problem and a solution.

 

Domain II: Strategic Planning

1. Reflect through actions that his or her first and foremost concern is for the educational welfare of children attending schools within the school system. Board members engage in open dialogue focused on general interests and welcomes various viewpoints, but makes decisions based on the best course of action for the entire school family/community. Board members avoid open debate focused on activism or special interests and ​value collective consensus over individual viewpoints in their decision-making and governance protocols.

Although the bolded phrase above has been struck, “value collective consensus over individual viewpoints” is still bothersome to us. There is already significant focus on the board speaking with one voice and acting in the best interests of the community in this policy. This entire sentence seems repetitive and presents an opportunity for a group of school board members to pressure an individual to vote against his or her convictions. Although we do not believe this is the intention of the board, this policy will govern for many years to come and policy language can be manipulated. “Collective consensus” of a group of elected officials does not necessarily equate with “best course of action for the entire school family/ community” so we think the policy would be healthier without this phrase as this sentiment is implied multiple times elsewhere.

 

Domain VII: Financial Governance

Conduct as a Board Member

3. Communicate in a respectful professional manner with and about fellow Board members. ​Board members use their voice to seek to hear and understand each other’s interests and support mutually beneficial resolution and reconciliation. Board members avoid actions to tell and sell their position.

The last sentence seems repetitive and irksome and adds neither strength or clarity to the policy. Board members should absolutely have the right to sell their positions to other board members as long as their presentations honor mutual respect. Individuals “selling” or presenting their positions with conviction while carefully considering the positions of others is the foundation of healthy discussion and debate and is essential to healthy policy making.

 

Domain VII: Financial Governance

Board Member/Superintendent Progressive Response Protocols

2. Board member/Superintendent Conflict:​ ​Concerns regarding school Board member/Superintendent communication or implementation of policy and procedures shall be addressed with the Superintendent through the Balanced Governance™ Progressive Response Protocols listed below:

d. Finally, the Board should address concerns over Superintendent response or action only through the formal Superintendent evaluation.

It seems ineffective for the board to wait until the end of the year to address and resolve concerns over specific responses and actions of the superintendent. If the board is in agreement over a concern with the superintendent’s actions, this addition will tie their hands and prevent them from addressing their concern directly with the superintendent until, at minimum, the end of the year.

 

Domain VII: Financial Governance

Duties of Individual Board Members

Board members and the Superintendent shall engage in professional public communications to respect and ensure an unobstructed process of Board deliberation and policy approval. This includes:

  1. Refraining from speaking individually to the media or posting public comment on social media ​regarding​ ​that expresses a position of​ Board or District matters that are under policy or program deliberation, and prior to a discussion and vote by the Board. Individual Board members shall defer Board inquiries on such matters to the Board President, who shall prepare a statement speaking on behalf of the Board. The written statement shall include the vote count and the reasons behind any dissenting votes.

Board members should not simply be receptacles and forwarders of public comment. They should engage with and inform the community about major changes being considered in the district before these matters are voted on. If board members never engage with the media or post anything about a major upcoming vote or decision, how will community members even know about important decisions being considered by our leaders?

 

Domain VII: Financial Governance

Duties of Individual Board Members

Board members shall refrain from individually and privately monitoring the implementation of policy, programs, or operation processes.

Although the intention here is to keep board members from interfering with implementation and operation due to a personal agenda, this sentence seems unnecessary as there is already a bit about not interfering. It is the duty of board members to make sure that policies are being complied with and that operations are carried out as agreed upon by the board and superintendent. How can board members be responsible and hold the district office accountable for effectively implementing policies if they are prevented from inquiring about and monitoring the process of implementation? Monitoring simply means paying attention to how something is being done, which is absolutely a responsibility of school board members.

 

Policy BIFBG – Board Member Computer and Internet Use

This is an informational policy for board members pointing out that emails and attachments about board business are public record, reminding members about the implications of social media posts without prohibiting them, stating expectation of confidentiality of employees/students/families in electronic communications and restricting the board from making official decisions through any electronic media. We have no specific concerns, but it is well worth examining.

 

Policy BBI – Board-Staff Relations

This brief policy addresses and explains the procedure for school site visits by school board members.

 

We hope you found this guide helpful. Happy commenting!

Athens for Everyone Education Initiative
7/25/2018

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