I will cover three topics:
- the board’s role in hiring administration officials
- a clearly unconstitutional attempt to silence criticism of the board
- the Chairwoman’s response to the Post & Courier article about fraud in the district.
Hiring Decisions (I abstained)
We promoted two folks to positions in the district administration. Consistent with prior practice, the administration only provided the board with the applicants’ CVs. I don’t think that’s enough information; therefore, I abstained from voting. I believe we are being put in the position of acting as a rubber stamp. Indeed, despite arguing that we are not a rubber stamp, one board member acknowledged that the board had always gone along with the district’s recommendations. It begs the question: why is the board involved if we’re simply going to approve every request?
More importantly, in the context of one of the hires that involved a promotion from principal to Executive Director, the superintendent indicated that leadership was one of the qualities they look for when making that hiring decision. I asked whether the administration asked for feedback from teachers when evaluating a principal. The answer was “not really.” I then asked whether teachers are involved in evaluating school leaders in any other context. The answer was again no. This discussion begins at about the 31-minute mark in the video.
So, once again, we don’t ask teachers for their perspectives when evaluating their principals. I think this is a huge blind spot. In response to my criticism, the superintendent indicated that teachers are welcome to contact the administration with concerns. I have problems with this response. First of all, historically, the administration has not welcomed criticism. Indeed, I believe it has specifically tried to silence teachers in some instances. So, I think we need to do more to show teachers we genuinely want to hear from them. Second, why do we put the burden on teachers to reach out with concerns rather than have a systematic and consistent way of gathering information from them? I think we would be shocked at how helpful it would be to meet regularly with teachers and get feedback from them. And I believe teachers would appreciate the opportunity. In fact, I know they would.
News Media Policy
There is a proposal to amend a policy that governs board members’ contact with the news media. The policy currently designates the chairperson as the official spokesperson of the school board. The amendment would require that other board members indicate they are speaking only for themselves when speaking to the media. I think this proposal is unnecessary and unenforceable, but I don’t believe that it is unconstitutional.
However, Chairwoman Harris explained that she believed that the amended policy would prohibit a board member from providing their opinion about board actions or criticizing another board member. That’s simply not how the constitution works. It’s also not how we should want our elected boards to operate. Each board member should have the opportunity, if not the responsibility, to respond to questions and explain themselves and their positions.
Chairwoman Harris’ interpretation is blatantly unconstitutional and is another example of the district trying to control what people say about the district. I think that’s a problem. We should welcome criticism. Four other board members sat silently while the Chairwoman espoused a clearly unconstitutional limitation on our right to speak. That should not go unnoticed.
I encourage folks to watch this section of the meeting. It begins at the 1:47:00 mark. You can also read a news article about this issue here.
Response to News Article about Fraud
Finally, Chairwoman Harris spent quite a bit of time responding to an article (click here about the purchase card issues that I and others previously raised. At one point, Ms. Harris declared, “there was no fraud.” That’s simply not true, and I can’t imagine how anyone could say it. The district called the police to investigate a former employee because they alleged that he defrauded the district of tens of thousands of dollars. There was fraud, and I believe there are additional questions we should be asking.
- Is there anything about the hiring process of this manager that deserves attention?
- What precisely were the “control breakdowns,” who was responsible for these problems, and exactly how are they being addressed?
- Do we need to change or add any policies around procurement generally or purchase cards specifically?
Finally, it is unconscionable that the district allowed this employee to resign while we revoke teacher licenses when they ask to be released from their contract. That’s exactly the sort of double standard teachers have rightly complained about for years.
Chairwoman Harris’ lengthy discussion of the Post & Courier P-Card article begins at the 2:18:00 mark. Suffice it to say that I disagree with most of her conclusions.