New Tyranny at Timberlane: Policy Committee Under Attack

Policies fundamentally affect the way the district is run.  As I have been told many times, the primary function of the school board is to set policy.  As of this morning, the school board’s Policy Committee has been shot in the knees.  Dr. Metzler and the other co-chair of the Policy Committee have unilaterally decided that deliberations by the Policy Committee should not exceed 10 minutes on any one policy at Policy Committee meetings and that topics to be discussed will be pre-screened.  The notice came down from on high  without any previous discussion by the Policy Committee.

Hello Policy Committee Members:

Co-Chairs Peter Bealo and Dr. Metzler shall institute the following process for policy review as a means to foster more productive and efficient committee meetings.

Policy meeting packets will be distributed at least two weeks in advance of the meeting to encourage individual policy review prior to the meeting.
1.      Committee members are encouraged to submit their comments and suggestions about the policies to the co-chairs ONLY by the Monday before the meeting.  These comments and suggestions will be considered for meeting discussion.  Copying to a quorum of the committee could very well constitute a meeting, and as such, this practice is strongly discouraged.
2.      A time limit of 10 minutes for discussion shall be given to each policy under review.  This is where comments and suggestions to the co-chairs will be helpful in driving that discussion.  It will be up to the co-chairs to determine if additional time is necessary to address a policy.
It is important to note this process is not intended to prohibit a healthy discussion about the policies of the school district; just the opposite, it is to help direct the discussion and keep the meetings productive and moving along as charged by the school board as its chief function, along with providing the resources for the successful implementation of these policies.
Please find attached the December 4th Policy Committee meeting packet.  You will notice the first item on the agenda is the goals for 2014-15.  Your ideas and suggestions for goals for the current year can be emailed to Dr. Metzler and Mr. Bealo as well.

Have a good weekend,
Cathy

Recent policy changes at Timberlane no longer require a large number of contracts to go out to competitive bid.  As of a few days ago the administration can now move up to $25,000 around for different budgeted purposes without elected official knowledge or approval.  One policy change being proposed will limit public comment at school board meetings to items on the agenda and only on the agenda.  (This has the happy consequence of stopping budget committee members from making public comment at school board meetings, and parents from bringing up issues.)

Since I’ve joined the Policy Committee, the number of policies we have been able to advance for the laughable “first and second readings”  has gone from 6-10 policies a meeting to 2-6.  Is this because I am disruptive?  No, it is because I ask us to really think about what these policies mean.  Mr. Bealo said just a few days ago at the most recent school board meeting that our discussions are productive and important.

The committee is large.  It consists of eleven people only four of whom are school board members.  Our policies are a mess because they have gone through many agenda-driven revisions without any real attention to detail.  They have inconsistencies and in at least one case outright unintelligible sentences. So far as I’ve been able to observe, the Policy Committee’s primary purpose is to transfer as much authority to the superintendent as possible in the shortest time possible.

The Co-chair is asking for goals.  Here’s mine:  Disband the Policy Committee and let the superintendent write the policies to his liking.  Then the yoke of checks and balances will be lifted from our shoulders.

P.S. Policy Committee meetings are just one hour long once a month.  Not much time to devote to the Board’s most important function, is it?   Lack of deliberative time is the chief ploy the district uses to control outcomes. This is in keeping with giving the Budget Committee the district’s full budget with only two meetings remaining in their deliberative schedule (three if you count Dec. 23 which is invariably cancelled).  The second most well-used ploy is withholding information and surrendering it when it cannot be useful as is done during budget deliberations.  More on that soon.

UPDATE 11/17/14:  Listen to radio commentator Rich Girard’s take on this: Girard on Limiting Debate

 

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3 Comments

Filed under School Board Behavior, School Board Functioning

3 responses to “New Tyranny at Timberlane: Policy Committee Under Attack

  1. Cathy

    At this point I can no longer read, in full, your blogs.

    It would be nice if we had a SB that understood THEY manage the Superintendent and not the other way around. But I suppose this is what we get when the SB admits, during public session, they are **just** moms and dads; an insult to all moms and dads IMO. Most people have a clear understanding of roles and responsibilities of any position we nominate ourselves for and accept. The assumption (and perhaps the voters were mislead) we have the skill set to meet the requirements; not public admission of incompetence.

  2. Peter Bealo

    I already responded to you privately about how your assertions and assumptions are incorrect. I will post my response verbatim publically here. But before I do: you requested to be on Policy Committee and that request was granted. If you wish to disband it now because you don’t like it anymore, just resign your position. Nobody is forcing you to be on it. Your choice, not mine.

    Donna,

    Allowing committee members more time to read and digest proposed policy changes prior to a discussion and having proposed comments early will only help us to accomplish more in our limited time. That does not preclude offering comments “live” during the meetings, it only suggests that many can be made earlier to help drive an efficient use of time. Note that the email states “encouraged” NOT “mandated”.

    That said: I will be cutting discussion time to encourage decisions to be made or other policies to be reviewed. So the more work we all can do upfront, the more efficiently we can go through policies.

    We do have the authority to change how the meetings are run in this manner. It is not counterproductive, just the opposite, it is an attempt to accomplish the business of the committee and ultimately the district. As for being autocratic: yes, we are using the power of the chair to move policies along quicker or at least get more policies through the committee, but this does not in any way affect the ability of members to have the same level of input. In fact, if anything, it provides the members with additional time to make well thought through suggestions. A committee chair has the responsibility to see that the committee’s business is accomplished. If needed, the co-chairs can either allow discussions to go longer than 10 minutes OR table discussions, go on to other policies and get back to the tabled policy at a later time or date. It helps ensure that a long list of policies do not get held up by one policy that may require additional discussion due to complexity, controversy or any other reason.

    I can tell you that my intention is NOT to “screen out” suggestions. All those brought to me before the meeting, at least by the Monday before the meeting to ensure I have sufficient time to compile them, will be brought to the full committee. Nowhere in Cathy’s email, which I pre-approved, does it state that comments will be filtered out, that is your incorrect assumption. You may choose to believe me or not, the veracity of my statements have nothing to do with your belief set.

    Best Possible Regards,
    Peter Bealo

  3. Providing sufficient time to fully understand, digest, and make decisions is an act of respect, first to the voters and taxpayers, and next to committee members and the public in attendance.

    If Mr. Bealo might provide some evidence that can substantiate the 10 minute limit is a best practice, here is a nice forum to do so. I know that these arbitrary measures are in fact poor practice. Having worked in several organizations with strong leadership supportive of vibrant discussion, and a few with little to no interaction, which do readers suppose were more successful overall? Of course, comparing government operations like schools and businesses in the free market is somewhat unfair. School boards do not have to compete on performance, but instead perception, and when opposition to hedonistic spending gains traction, those in power use “the future of our children” as their human shield. Hence the hiring of P-R, squashing and harassing of internal critique (which we read in these pages), and the elevation of those who are otherwise unemployable by any standard, all to keep the game in play.

    The thinking public knows: time limits for discussion and all the other nonsense simply points to leadership lack. So get it together, or find other work.

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