Saturday, May 25, 2019

About the school board's attorney

Following is the School Board Policy that describes its attorney's relationship with it. See if you can spot the immediate problem...

Policy BDG Board Attorney/Legal Services

Issued 8/17
The complexity of school board operations requires the frequent procurement of legal services. Consequently, the board, by majority vote, may designate an attorney or law firm to counsel the board and administration on legal matters involving the district’s welfare.
The attorney will serve at the pleasure of the board and will be paid for services rendered.
The board may ask the attorney to attend such board meetings or other meetings as may be needed. A decision to seek legal advice or assistance on behalf of the school system may be made by the superintendent, the board, or may take place as a consequence of formal board direction. Such action will be taken as consistent with board policy and as it meets an obvious need of the board. It may take place as a consequence of formal board direction.
Except in unusual circumstances, the board will make all communications to the board attorney through the superintendent or board chairman.
Adopted 10/1/72; Revised 1/28/75, 8/12/97, 3/25/03, 8/8/17

Got it? It shows up in the last paragraph, just above the dates of adoption and revisions to the policy.

Part of that paragraph makes complete sense. An organization can't allow seven trustees to be calling the board's attorney all the time. When the phone rings, the attorney starts the meter; when the attorney hangs up, the meter stops. Well, then there is that other meter that keeps running.

Most legal questions should be funneled past the superintendent or the board chair (if there is a board chair). In the case of the Richland 2 School Board, there is no legal Board Chair.

The attorney for the District and the attorney for the legal work on the $468,000,000 bonds simply cannot know that the Richland 2 School Board has been operating since November 13, 2018 with two vacancies. Mrs. McKie is not a legal board member (and, thus, cannot be Chair), and Ms. Holmes is not a legal board member.

I would say that these two vacancies create the "unusual circumstances" under which any Board member should have already called the attorney for the District.

Board to self-evaluate annually

Two years ago, on April 18, 2017, the Richland 2 School Board adopted this Policy. Has it been followed?

Have three board evaluations (2017, 2018, 2019) been conducted? Has a summary report been presented to the public after each evaluation? Have two? Has one? When will the next evaluation be conducted?

How detailed is the questionnaire offered by the South Carolina School Boards Association?

Policy BAA Board Self-Evaluation

"Issued 4/17
"The school board is committed to quality, excellence, growth, and leading by example. To that end, the board will conduct annual self-evaluations during a special meeting.
"Self-assessment by the board provides valuable information, discussion, and communication in an effort to build a unified body of effective leaders. The evaluation will assist the board, as a governance team, in continuous improvement of the following areas:
  • providing a starting point for effective goal setting and long-range planning
  • allowing new board members an opportunity to understand board processes, roles, and responsibilities
  • identifying strengths and weaknesses of the board as a public body and steps for board development
  • improving decision making by enhancing a common understanding of philosophies and goals
  • fostering open communication
  • holding the board accountable to themselves and the district
"SCSBA will assist the board with the annual evaluation by providing the assessment instrument, analysis, and feedback on how the board may improve its operation.
"Following the evaluation, the board chairman will make a summary report of the process at the next regularly scheduled board meeting.
"Adopted 4/18/17"

Note that the Policy, as written by and adopted by the school district, states that the SCSBA "will" assist the board. That's just shy of "shall assist", and the degree of assistance is greater than "may assist" or "might assist" or "is available to assist" the Richland 2 School Board.

What are "self-evaluations"? Does each board member evaluate himself? Are the evaluations 360ยบ; i.e., each board member evaluates himself and is evaluated by each other board member?

Can the Richland 2 School Board really evaluate itself? Honestly? This is not a rhetorical question. I mean, can they do an honest evaluation of themselves? Some of them can and will. Others? Not so sure.

What happens if one or more board members gets negative feedback from the other board members?

Is the superintendent absent from the board evaluations process? He should be (absent). He shouldn't supervise, coach or monitor the evaluation process.

Is the assessment instrument available for review? How about the individual assessment results? Nothing in Policy BAA says the information is private. It should all be available upon request or by FOIA.

Note that the Policy reads "during a special meeting"; it does not read "during executive session". This means that the evaluations are to be done in public. And the special meeting should be recorded and published on YouTube.

Read carefully the accountability requirement, which is "to themselves and the district". By "district" (lower-case), does this policy mean to the taxpayers, voters, parents, students, community members? Or does "district" mean to the school district, which they govern?