"But if it is believed that these elementary schools will be better managed by...any other general authority of the government, than by the parents within each ward [district], it is a belief against all experience." --Thomas Jefferson

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

New Board Member Training

On Saturday, Dec. 4, I attended the New Board Member Training workshop provided by the Utah School Boards Association (USBA) at the Provo Marriott Hotel. 

Until I started running for school board, I was unaware of the USBA, its role or its goals.  For your information, here is what I have learned about USBA.  USBA is an organization recognized by the State as an agency that is representative of the school boards in Utah.  Local school boards are authorized by the state to pay dues and fees for training to USBA.  USBA is also an advocacy group.  ASD is a member of USBA and one of our board members, JoDee Sundberg is the 1st Vice President of the USBA.  In addition to the New Board Member Training, our board will be participating in the USBA Convention January 6-8, the Legislative Day on the Hill (meeting with legislators) on Jan. 28, and a spring and fall training that is provided in regional groups.  We also have 3 delegates that will be assigned to USBA, in addition to a Regional Delegate from our region.  (ASD comprises its own region; whereas other regions comprise multiple school districts.)  And in April, there is a Nation School Board Convention in San Francisco.

Our first workshop was on the legalities of being a board member.  (Another, more in depth, training will be held at the convention in January.)   Education is not a right guaranteed by the US Consitution.  However, the 14th amendment and the Utah Constitution require education for "all children of the state".  Also, the jobs of permanent employees of the district are considered to be property rights, and so, this right cannot be denied without proper due process.  Board Members are protected against personal liability if they are acting as a member of a board with a few exceptions.  Individual board members do not have any ability to make policy or affect change.  It is only as a member of the board, acting according to the board's vote, that any action can be taken.  (This theme was repeated often throughout the day.)

There were 3 work sessions dealing with 1) committees 2) relationship between superintendents and board members 3) managing board meetings.  There was some concern about committees where a board member had run on a particular issue. Would this board member be allowed to vote on that issue without being considered 'prejudicial'?  The advice was if she didn't serve on the advisory committee, she would be fine to vote on the issue.  Committees are to function simply as an advisory body to the board.  They have no authority other than this.  I was told board members can 'make or break' the functioning of the district.  It was emphasized that once a decision is made, board members must be supportive of that decision, even if they disagreed before-hand. The superintendent, also, must follow the decisions of the board, regardless of his/her thoughts on the subject.  Finally, board meetings are for the benefit of the board, but they are held in a public setting.  It was discussed how to manage public comments to provide this opportunity without allowing it to overtake the entire board meeting.

Closed session information was discussed.  These are items about personnel, student discipline, and litigation.  All discussions in closed session are private.  However, any action that is to be taken on a closed session issue must be taken in the open portion of a board meeting. 

We also had a role-playing session. 
1. Board Member disagrees with the cell phone policy, votes against it, and the board approves it.  There was a bit of disagreement as to whether the board member should allow her friends and associates to know that she disagreed with the policy.  The preferred response was to support the policy, saying that it was a pilot program that she was going to follow and see how it goes.

2. Teacher is arrested and a board member is contacted by the press.  The preferred answer is to refer the reporter to the designated district media specialist.

3. Board member wanders around a school without notifying the principal.  It is preferable to ALWAYS call the principal to let him/her know you are coming to the school, even if for something non-board related, e.g. assisting in your child's classroom.

I was left with the follow mantra for board meetings: "Know Before You Go".  In other words, no surprises at board meetings.  If you have questions, call the Superintendent prior to the meeting and get all your questions answered.

On Thursday, Dec. 7, I spent the morning at the district office, getting more specifics on how ASD operates.

Our Mission, Vision, Values, and Goals (MVVG) drive what happens in the schools and filter the decisions that are made onto our Areas of Focus (goals).  This means that the community can trust us with their children/grandchildren and their taxes because we are founded on principles not processes.

ASD also uses a cutting-edge governance model called collaboration.  Most traditional models do not involve board members in district-specific decisions until much later in the process.  With the collaborative model, we are involved much sooner in the process and have the opportunity to contribute and see the overall process.  This process involves no separation between the Superintendent and the Board.  We work together.  It also gets the public more involved in the process, often via the District Community Council (DCC).  The DCC is representative of the ideas and opinions in the public.  We were told of 2 experiences where public hearings were held and there wasn't a single idea that was presented at those public hearings that had not already been reflected in prior DCC meetings.  (Board Members rotate attendance at the DCC meetings that occur every 2 months.) 

The main theme was one of trust--we need to trust each other as board members, as well as the district administration.  A big concern is making private conversations public via blogs, etc. 

We also discussed how communications to the board occur, what our current policies and procedures are. Board Members and the district must follow approved policies until such time as the board changes those policies.

It was pointed out that a lot of people think the board rubber-stamps the district administation.  However, due to the collaborative governance model, the board has been involved in multiple meetings, and has had input from the get-go.  At the point an action is taken in board meeting, it has already been discussed, dissected, reviewed, etc. 

Finally, we spent some time with the Business Administrator, getting an overview of the finances of the district.  The Utah Taxpayers Association (2008 data) shows ASD spends the most per student on teachers and in-classroom expenses compared to other districts in Utah, and the least in administrative overhead.  Our revenue comes from the following sources:
72.4% from the State in the form of Income Taxes
18.25% in the form of property taxes
7.84% from the Feds
1.54% from interest, fees, etc.

An interesting chart shows how much per student we have in assessed property value compared to other districts.  The greater the assessed value per student, the less the property tax rates need to be.  Park City has a very high assessment ($2M/student), whereas ASD has $282,184/student.  The state average is $410,151/student.

I have to say these training have been well-prepared, and helpful for showing current practices.


  1. Wendy, you are already "affecting change," by shining a light of transparency in this district. Thank you for taking the time to inform those you represent.

    I expect each board member, as a representative of the people (not of the administration, or of the board as a body), to voice his/her opinion in both private and public venues, as they each see fit. This can and ought to be done with respect to the opinions of others but it is inappropriate for administration, or for other board members, to ask other board members to restrict their own speech in the name of unity. That is what autocrats ask of their subjects.

    Indeed, as everyone involved knows, free speech is a Constitutional right, and dissent is an important part of our democratic government.

    Wendy, I am grateful for your respectful, and clear, voice of reason.

  2. Great comment! Sums up my sentiments exactly.