My Thoughts on the February 8th Board Meeting

My Thoughts on the February 8th Board Meeting

We held a board meeting on February 8th. You can view the meeting here (on the Richland One website) or here (on YouTube).

Here are my thoughts about a few of the issues discussed at the meeting.

Teacher Turnover Per School

A board member requested information about teacher turnover for each school. This is an essential data point because it can help us focus on the schools that need more support. I was disappointed to learn that this data is in storage and will take time to compile. I think it would be worthwhile to ensure that this information is digitized and easily accessible.

Open School Board Meetings

The board decided that the next meeting will be open for in-person attendance by the public. The district will provide any rules or guidelines about this before the next meeting.

Purchase Card Questions

Near the end of last year, I became aware of a memo that, in my mind, raised important questions about the district’s use and monitoring of purchase cards—credit cards that the district provides to certain district and school administrators. Because purchase cards are easy to abuse, they are subject to several limitations and reporting requirements. This memo also included an August 2021 Richland One Internal Auditor report that raised serious questions about whether we are following the policies and procedures associated with these cards.

Because this memo (and the included auditor report) have been widely disseminated, I am including a link here. I want to be clear that Internal Auditor reports like the one included in this memo are not confidential documents and are subject to requests through the Freedom of Information Act. In other words, it was certainly okay that folks requested this document, and the district was correct to provide it.

Because of the obvious questions raised by these documents, at my Administration Committee meeting, I moved that we add this topic to the agenda of the next committee meeting. The other committee member agreed. However, sometime after this meeting the chairwoman of the board indicated that the committee is not permitted to set its own agenda or review district policies, so we could not address it at the committee level.

So, at last Tuesday’s board meeting, I briefly summarized my concerns and asked that we set it on the agenda for the next board meeting or schedule a work session. Instead, the internal auditor was called up and questioned. I was not expecting this and was not prepared to go through his report or ask him questions, because this was not on the agenda for that meeting.

While I did the best I could, I could have done better. To some, my questions came across as attacking the auditor. I understand that but want to be clear that I wasn’t and didn’t mean to leave that impression. I have spoken to the internal auditor before and after that meeting. We are both on the same page.

If I had it to do over again, I would have continued to request that we schedule this matter so that everyone would have time to prepare. Also, someone who criticized my questioning suggested that I should have directed my questions to the administration. I agree. I should have. Indeed, the internal auditor conducted his audit and, I believe, did a good job. The questions he raised need to be addressed by the administration.

I also do not believe we should have so quickly dispensed with this issue. There are legitimate questions that we need to answer. For example, I specifically raised the issue of over $2100 being spent at a local hotel on December 22nd. That seems strange to me. Could there be some explanation? Sure, but I think it’s okay to ask questions, especially given the internal auditor’s concerns.

The perception that we are not monitoring these cards and are not fully transparent in answering legitimate questions about them is harmful. For example, I spend some of my time at the state legislature advocating for public schools. This purchase card memo (along with the auditor’s report) was apparently sent to a large number of legislators. This is the type of information folks use to argue that the state should not more fully fund education. While I have issues with this line of reasoning, the appearance that we are not careful with our funding or aren’t willing to be transparent when we make mistakes makes it harder for me, and others, to advocate on behalf of our schools.

I also see a real double standard here. For example, if a teacher engages in misconduct, we will investigate and discuss the appropriate steps. And if the teacher is disciplined, the order will be posted on the Department of Education website for everyone to see. But when questions are raised about the administration’s monitoring of purchase cards, we don’t seem to be as open. We can’t afford to do that.

At the end of the day, we are going to have to do more than simply say “trust us.” As our awesome middle school ELA teachers often say to their students when they are writing essays, “show, don’t tell.”