Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Is Proposed Policy BEDGA even Legal?

There was a robust discussion about proposed Policy BEDGA at yesterday's board meeting.

The two sharp trustees who pay attention to detail, Lindsay Agostini and Monico Elkins-Johnson (neither a member of the Squad) asked pointed questions.

Elkins-Johnson asked whether Richland 2 had created this proposed policy or if it had come from the South Carolina School Boards Association. Or if Richland 2's legal counsel (Kathryn Mahoney) had written it. Who thought it up?

The superintendent provided a long-winded, convoluted answer. He basically objected to the question.

Then Lindsay Agostini asked who had commissioned the proposed policy? (In other words, who authorized spending District money?)

The superintendent blinked and passed the buck to James Manning. He acknowledged that he had done so. It was clear that Agostini thought the Board should have discussed the topic of the proposed policy and then voted whether to authorize the Chair to engage the attorney for the District to proceed. And spend District money doing so. Instead, Manning just went forward.

There is no doubt in my mind that it was the superintendent who wanted this policy. He wants it so that HE can decide whether a board member's request for information is "reasonable". He forgets that he works for, and at the direction of, the Board.

Agostini asked if such a policy is legal and referred to an opinion of the South Carolina Attorney General. Manning said the attorney wrote it.

Agostini knew, and I agree, that just because the attorney wrote it doesn't mean it is legal.

Look how the superintendent is "bullet-proof" through this proposed policy.

If a board member makes a request and the superintendent doesn't like it, he will deny it. Then the board member must get the Board to approve her request, and then the superintendent will comply. The superintendent knows that a board member (ex., Agostini or Elkins-Johnson) will never get the majority of the board (Shadd, Holmes, McKie, Caution-Parker (even though Holmes and McKie are not even legitimate members of the board)) to approve over-riding the superintendent's denial (veto).

Voters will have a chance in November 2020 to retain Agostini and Elkins-Johnson (if they run for re-election) and replace Shadd. Voters may elect a wise, concerned, intelligent, management-oriented candidate (such as voters in Richland One did on December 31, 2019, when they elected Jonathan Milling), if such a candidate can be found. In November 2022 voters can dump McKie, Holmes and Caution-Parker, and then the Board can once again begin directing the District.

I can almost hear the thunk of the rubber-stamps hitting the bottom of the waste basket.

New Public Participation Procedure

The District's new Public Participation Policy worked pretty well last night. The District had collected 63 comments from the public, and they were read to the board by Libby Roof, Chief Communications Officer for the District.

Had the public been speaking, the first Public Participation segment on the meeting agenda would have allowed 15 minutes for comments and then a second 15 minutes toward the end of the meeting. Each member of the public could have read his/her comment, but the administration decided that the comments would be read.

How does that jibe with the official, written Policy? It doesn't.

Mrs. Roof did a great job of plowing through the comments. She identified the person who had submitted the comment and then read the comment. The submitted comments were shown during the meeting and will be given to the board members. I suspect the board will receive an electronic copy of the comments. This will mean that most board members will never read them.

Unfortunately, the images of the board members were not shown during reading of the comments. Thus, it was impossible to know whether they were paying attention  This should be corrected in future Zoom meetings. The images of the trustees should be visible during the entire meeting.

One member of the public had submitted several comments, which were combined. All comments, except one, were on the topic of schools re-opening.

Two board members will look at the comments and probably even print some of them. The others? Out of sight, out of mind.

How Long is a Moment?

Last night Board Chair James Shadd gave the public (and the board) fair warning of what is ahead during this school year of 2020-2021. He announced that he had appointed (Trustee-elect) Amelia McKie to handle the assignments of inspirational moments.

I immediately wondered why he would pass off such an important duty. Selection of who gives the inspirational moment can set the tone of the meeting. The Chair should set the tone.

Then, rather than merely introducing the speaker, McKie launched into a three-minute introduction of what was supposed to be an "Inspiration Moment". I expected McKie to end with, "And now I present to you, the next president of the United States".

While last night's speaker had accomplished much, she wasn't receiving an award from Richland 2. She was to give an inspiration moment.

One explanation of "moment" on the internet is:

"The length of a solar hour depended on the length of the day, which in turn varied with the season, so the length of a moment in modern seconds was not fixed, but on average, a moment corresponds to 90 seconds"

I recall writing about a lengthy inspirational moment that occurred on March 26, 2019. When I asked the District office recently (and I had a reason for asking) who had been the speaker, several staff members put their heads together and decided there had not been one - only a moment of silence. I knew that hadn't been the case, because I sat to the right and just behind the speaker. She had a soft voice and could not be heard in the room, and her "inspirational moment" went on and on. And I had written a blogpost about that the next day.

For perhaps the only time in history, the first portion of that meeting, through an error on someone's part, was not recorded.

But, back to "moment". The inspirational moment should be just that - a moment. It should be brief and direct. But perhaps that's too much to expect from educators.

Hopefully, James Shadd will tell Amelia McKie to do two things -

1. Keep her own introduction short; the speaker's C.V. is not needed; and
2. Tell the speaker she has 90 seconds.

Text and Email during board meetings

If you watch the video of yesterday's board meeting, keep your eye on Board Secretary Cheryl Caution-Parker.

Notice how many times, and for how long, she keeps her eyes down below the level of the camera on her computer. What could she be doing? Staring at her hands? At her lap? Studying the letters on her keyboard?

Reading text messages? Maybe?

Reading email on her phone? Maybe? Whose phone kept pinging during the meeting?

Use of electronic equipment, such as tablets and phones, is discouraged during board meetings, if not outright prohibited by Board Policy..

Of course, in the privacy of your home, there is no audience to catch you at it, except that evil camera of your own computer.

What is it that keeps a trustee from paying attention to incoming text messages and email? One word.


C.S. Lewis (1898-1963) is credited with having said (or written): "Integrity is doing the right thing, even when no one is watching."

Did she think no one would notice? That no one was watching?

"Squad" member attacks Agostini

During yesterday's Richland 2 School Board meeting, Trustee-elect Teresa Holmes felt it necessary to launch an attack on Trustee Lindsay Agostini.

Board Chair James Shadd should have interrupted her, but he didn't.

The attack occurred at about 1 hour 4 minutes into the meeting. Mrs. Agostini had asked a question during the discussion of proposed board policy BEDGA, which allows the superintendent to veto a request from a board member for information.

While the superintendent is fully capable of defending himself (if word-count is put on the scale), Holmes ran to his rescue. She said emphatically that the job of the board is to direct the superintendent and, if the board doesn't approve of what he does, it can fire him. What she didn't say is that the superintendent is safe in his position, because four of the trustees line up right behind him.

Holmes, like McKie, either has not read or fails to understand Board Policy BBA - Board Powers and Duties. That Policy illustrates 11 functions of the Richland 2 School Board, not just the hiring and firing of a superintendent.

Worse than that was Holmes' insulting manner toward Mrs. Agostini. Listen to her for yourself. It's right on the video, which will be published today or tomorrow. She wound up with what she hoped would be the grand-slam homer of the night, saying she found the previous remarks (by Trustee Agostini) "offensive".

It's a wonder that Holmes didn't rush away from her computer and run into her "safe space" at home. Where would that be? The bathroom? The dog house? The wine cellar?

Read Board Policy BC - Board Member Conduct.

One item there reads, "Work harmoniously with other board members without trying either to dominate the board or neglect one's share of the work."

Holmes' comment yesterday was definitely NOT an example of attempting to "work harmoniously".

Another item is "Vote and act in the board meetings impartially for the good of the district."

Holmes' sounding-off as she did was clearly a violation of the "act ... impartially".

And another item: "Represent the board and district to the public in such a way that promotes both interest and support."

Holmes gets an "F: on that!

Why didn't the Board Chair cut Holmes off?

Holmes forgets that she is not even a legitimate member of the Richland 2 School Board. She has never legally taken the oath of office.