School board at odds over proposed policy languageThe conduct of school board members and the policies that govern them were at the center of a contentious five-hour school board meeting Tuesday night. Board member Gehrke says changes would limit free speech and input from the public.
By: Meg Heaton, Hudson Star-Observer
The conduct of school board members and the policies that govern them were at the center of a contentious five-hour school board meeting Tuesday night.
In the end, no action was taken to change the wording of the policies at issue but the board voted give the new language more study through an ad hoc committee.
Even before the meeting began, school board member Sandy Gehrke issued a public statement citing concerns that the revised policies would inhibit free speech, public input and district transparency. While the policies were set as action items on last night’s agenda, Gehrke said the impact of the policy revisions needed more time to be studied by board members.
At the meeting board member Lynn Robson said that she would like more time to review the new language and in the end the board voted to postpone any action by a vote of 5-2.
School district attorney Mick Waldspurger presented the revisions to the board. He said the changes did not substantively change the policies but updated language and clarified the roles of board members and district administrators. Waldspurger said the changes spelled out more clearly how board members should behave.
The policies in question and proposed revisions included:
--School board expectations and ethics—recognize that the school board is responsible for the overall management and control of the district and the superintendent is responsible for its day-to-day operations; that the superintendent does not “serve at the pleasure of individual board members…the board encourages the superintendent not to respond to questions or requests from individual members that are unduly burdensome or otherwise inappropriate.”
This policy revision also states that a board member shall take no action that could reasonably be viewed as an attempt to undermine the district administration . The new language also calls for the a board member to “accept that the board acts by majority vote and speaks as a body with one voice through the vote it takes, and not through individual members,” as well as “refrain from taking any action that may undermine an action or initiative that has been approved by a majority vote of the board.”
--Public suggestions and complaints-- board members should document their conversations and refer any complaints for suggestions to the superintendent. Board members should not individually investigate a complaint.
--School personnel complaints—personnel complaints should be referred to the superintendent for investigation through a chain of command.
--Board-staff communications – Staff communications to the board and from the board to staff should go through the superintendent. Individual board member visits to schools or classrooms must be requested through the superintendent. If a visit is to inspect or evaluate a school, program or employee, the visit must be pre-approved by the school board.
--Citizens requesting to have an item placed on the school board meeting agenda must provide summary information about the topic. The school board president and superintendent have discretion in determining whether the item will be added to the agenda.
--Board use of electronic communications. Members may not use email to gather information or discuss district business as this may violate the Open Meeting Law. Board members may not forward, disclose or copy all or a portion of any emails from the superintendent, the board president, board counsel without authorization from the superintendent, full board or board president or legal counsel. Board members must use an email account supplied by the district to communicate with each other, the superintendent and with citizens regarding district business.
For more information about the proposed policy revisions and the boards’ review of them, contact the superintendent’s office at (715)377-3702.