Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Who Runs Richland 2 School District?

The School Board held a retreat on Saturday, June 20, 2020. After a lengthy executive session to discuss the superintendent's annual evaluation, which was not broadcast, the Board reconvened in open session.

Attorney Kathryn Mahoney was present for the executive session but not for the open session. The Board failed to acknowledge her presence before the executive session. Caution-Parker was not present for the beginning of the executive session, and no mention was made later of her presence or absence during the executive session.

The first item of business in the open session was a discussion about board requests of Administration for information. Manning said that a(n unnamed) Board member had brought up "fairness" and how the board gets information from the Administration, and so he (Manning) had worked with the superintendent and the attorney for the school district to look at policies and how things are done in other districts and when the board or the superintendent can ask for information and "how that works".

Manning then referred to a policy "in front of" the board, except he realized it wasn't attached. The proposed policy had not been distributed to the board or to the public. Manning's comments were muddled and almost incoherent, as he stumbled through the explanation. Manning and the superintendent had (I would call it "conspired") to come up with a policy to be presented to the board, without any prior discussion by the board or direction from the board to do so.

Then Manning tossed to ball into the superintendent's court to discuss how the (proposed) policy is structured.

Let me stop right here - before I even listened to the rest of the discussion.

Trustees Agostini and Elkins-Johnson have often asked for information and reports from the superintendent; i.e., from Administration. They haven't always gotten them. Maybe they have never gotten them.

Who runs the School District? The BOARD is responsible for directing the District. The Board tells the superintendent what to do. It might "ask" him, but he should understand that it is telling him, not asking. He doesn't have a choice. And if he doesn't do what they tell him to do, then they ought to mark him down when it comes time for his evaluation and any recommendation as to a change in compensation and benefits.

The superintendent started off with, "It is structured in such a way that, if the Administration feels that the request is outside of what is ordinarily requested by the board, umm, that that would require the majority of the board to ask me for that information."

You'll want to listen for yourself as the superintendent stumbles through his explanation.

Basically, Manning and the superintendent are contriving to blindfold the board members and to keep them from getting information from Administration.

Admittedly, the board members should not be micro-managing operations. That is not their job. That is the superintendent's job.

But to create a policy like this that slaps handcuffs on the board members is Wrong.

During a meeting, when a board member makes a request, if the Chair feels that the member's request is excessive, then the Chair can say so at the time. And then he can ask the full board to consider the request. A nit-picky Policy for this is not needed.

The next question is, WHO authorized the Board Chair to initiate such a discussion with the superintendent and to authorize expenditure of staff time and resources (the expense of the attorney for the School District). No one did, because it was never discussed at a board meeting. The correct procedure would have been a motion at a meeting and, if approved, then the Board Chair would sit with the superintendent and begin to come up with a proposed policy.

Manning made a statement that was incorrect, when he said that such a policy would put in writing the way he feels the board should operate or the way they have all discussed the way they would operate. ONLY they haven't discussed it!!! Why didn't anyone challenge him?

There is nothing within the operations of the District that can be withheld from the board.

Trustee Agostini mentioned that the Board did not have the proposed policy in front of it. Why wasn't it attached to the agenda??? Later that was explained.

Manning moved into the territory of defending the superintendent, rather than of leading the board. He is one of the seven equal board members (except there aren't even legally seven, but that's for another day (again)).

Finally, the superintendent and Manning clarified that this was not a First Reading of a proposed policy. They clearly did not have their ducks lined up about how this was going to be presented.

Caution-Parker virtually accused Agostini and Elkins-Johnson of being on a "power trip" of thinking the superintendent answered to them. That has never been the case, and any reasonable person would wonder why Caution-Parker woke up and became so angry about this.

Why did Shadd replace his live-feed with his blank ID without briefly excusing himself from the meeting? Did he take a bathroom break? Why did Caution-Parker vanish during the discussion? Does she need to buy a more-reliable internet signal for her home?

Elkins-Johnson made an impassioned plea for respect and cooperation between board members. She said it very nicely, unlike the previous combative comment made by Caution-Parker.

The superintendent then provided the example that triggered the proposed policy. A Trustee had requested a specific email from him to staff. The Trustee's request was absolutely appropriate, and then he launched into a smoke-and-mirrors dodge.

The problem is that this board is abdicating its responsibility of Leadership, Authority and Responsibility. And they should not let the superintendent get away with using 500 words to say something that could be said in 15 words.

He asked what the "line" is for asking for information, Well, the Board will tell him what the line is; he doesn't get to draw the line. Not even for $230,000/year he doesn't get to draw the line. The Board employs the superintendent; not the other way around.

Manning then asked if any board member would be against preparation of the proposed policy that was under discussion.

Wait just one minute! That is not how the Board makes decisions!!!

Unfortunately, everybody clammed up. And with that silence, the Chair decided to go forward.

And that took up the first 23½ minutes of the retreat. What a waste of time!!!

Why wasn't Teresa Holmes live on this video-conference? Was she really there, or did she just sign on and go back to sleep? Her video-feed needed to be on, or the Board Chair should have asked the board for approval for her to attend without showing her face. She didn't say a word. Was she really there?

If anything of interest to the public was addressed in the remaining hour and 14 minutes of the retreat, I'll write about it in a subsequent article.