"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

Friday, January 4, 2013

Transparency, New Leadership, Code of Conduct, USBA

Welcome to 2013!  For two years, I have had the privilege of serving you on the Alpine School Board.  I want to thank you for your trust, your input, and your involvement.  I have never believed I had all the answers, but I believe you can help guide us and direct us to become even better than we currently are.

I would like to give you some information on a few things for the start of the New Year and ask for your feedback. 

State School Board
As part of my desire to be "information-rich", I plan on keeping you updated on the actions of the State School Board, since they have considerable power and most of us aren't aware of what they even do.  (I know I wasn't.)  In short, they dictate the minimum standards, graduation requirements, and number of school days/hours required by every public school in the state.  They maintain a committee to review/approve educational materials for use in the schools.  This year, the State School Board will be addressing standards for Social Studies and Science, as well as working through any new state testing issues in preparation for the new Common Core tests in 2014-15.  The State Board holds public board meetings on the first Friday of every month.  The meetings are live-streamed on their website: http://www.schools.utah.gov/board/Meetings.aspx  The audio of all their meetings, as well as their minutes, are available a few days after the meetings take place.  I have found the minutes and the audio to be quite informative. 

Code of Conduct
On Jan. 30, the Board will be discussing our Code of Conduct.  When I first came onto the Board, I was told the most important thing for me to learn and follow was this Code of Conduct.  The Board hasn't formally voted on it, but every year in January, we review it and make changes.  At one of the first Utah School Boards Association (USBA) meetings I attended, drawing up a Code of Conduct was discussed and encouraged.  One of the board members (not on our board) suggested a Code of Conduct would be important, "since there are now infiltrators among us."  I found that comment very insightful.  To my knowledge every board member in this state has been elected or appointed consistent with state law.  So, the concept of an "infiltrator" is more of an ideological infiltrator and not an actual infiltrator.  I want to make sure that our Code of Conduct is consistent with allowing the disparate voices in our community to be heard and represented on the board.  I want to make sure you are well-informed and able to see the workings of your School Board.  Since you are the ones who are, ultimately, supposed to be in control of public education in this district, I would appreciate your feedback on our Code of Conduct.  

New Leadership and Transparency
"You have to be prepared to make those decisions in view of the public ... and while it may be uncomfortable for certain members and maybe it would be easier to do it in a secret session, expediency and comfort are not the prime values served by the Open Meetings Act. Transparency and accountability are." --Salt Lake City Attorney Jeff Hunt

The above quote comes from a Salt Lake Tribune article about the Utah State School Board's recent Leadership election. They used secret ballots in a Open Public Meeting that may have violated Utah law (the Open Meetings Act). I found it interesting for two reasons, and I'd like to share them with you.

First, on Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2013, our board will also elect new Board Leadership.  The President and Vice-President have no more voting authority, but they do set the agendas, preside at the meetings, sign all legal documents, maintain our Code of Conduct (see above) and represent the Board to the media. 

Our Alpine School Board Handbook says the "Board President:
  • Represents the Board of Education
  • Facilitates and protects Board processes
  • Responsible [sic] for Board professional development
  • Understand [sic], support, promote and teach the MVVG [Mission, Vision, Values, and Goals] of the District"
Our process for selecting our leadership began last month in a Closed Meeting.  Because character and competency of personnel are legal topics for Closed Meetings, we discussed, as per our Board Handbook, the character and competence of those board members who were interested in serving as President and Vice-President for the next two years.  It is assumed this process might involve sensitive issues.  All things allowed in a Closed Meeting, legally, can be discussed in an Open Meeting, but, in some situations, like personnel or security devices, it would be wise if they were not made public.  Closed Meetings are not required by law, but they are permitted.  On the 8th, motions will be made for President and Vice-President, discussion will ensue, and votes will be taken.  Our process, unlike the State School Board, will be done by voice vote, and every board member will be accountable for his or her vote.

Second, the Trib article spends considerable space discussing transparency.  Everyone talks about transparency, but it is something you have to constantly emphasize.  The article says, "voting by secret ballot can help members vote more freely without fear of hurting fellow board members."  While I can appreciate the desire to spare fellow board members hurt feelings, it is important for public officials to conduct as much business out in the open as possible.  The more we are in the public view, the greater the opportunity for the public to feel comfortable that things really are what they seem.  If there is a tendency to go "behind closed doors", it shuts out the public and creates a level of mistrust, whether justified or not.  Every year, each board member must take a class on the Open Meetings Act and be accountable for it.  We are responsible for following that law and allowing you into our proceedings.  If we truly believe this is "a government of the people, by the people, and for the people", we must not shut "the people" out of the process.  I hope the State School Board will redo their vote, despite the potential hurt feelings, to be fully transparent and accountable to the people they serve.  I am glad that our board vote will be Open and Transparent, and I invite you to attend.

USBA Convention
Finally, Jan. 10 -12, I will attend the Utah School Boards Association Annual Convention in Salt Lake City.  Our membership dues and expenses for the conference are paid for by the taxpayers.  For the third year, I will not be staying on-site, but will commute to the conference daily.  (Board Policy allows for one in-state conference and one out-of-state conference/year for all board members.)  Since this is funded by taxpayer money, I will be reporting on the information received.  USBA leadership will be elected at the Convention, and our board will elect a delegate for the purposes of determining positions on upcoming legislation and the overall direction of the USBA.  The USBA, along with the Utah Business Administrators' Association and the Utah Superintendents' Association collaborate on education-related bills before the Utah Legislature and vote on whether to support, stay neutral, or oppose legislation.  This vote takes place weekly during the legislative session.  Only delegates are able to vote; although, any board member may participate in the discussion.  I will send you links to the education bills as I receive them.  The Legislature meets for 45 days from mid-January till the beginning of March.

AGENDA: Jan. 8, 2013
6:00 pm (NOTE: No Study Session will be held)










1. Budget Report

2. Personnel Reports

3. Alpine Foundation Report

4. Student Releases – BA, BA, MA, HB, JC, SF, MH, JH, JJ, BR, CS, NT, BW

5. Student Expulsion – AW
6. Investment Report


1. Proposed Name for the New Middle School in Eagle Mountain


1. Membership Report





  1. The Open Meetings act provides for the deliberations as well as the actions of the public body be done in public. By going behind closed doors and using the competence and character exclusion to deliberate on who will be President for the coming term seems to shuts the door on the deliberative process.

    This exclusion is supposed to be so sensitive in nature that there is not even a recording made. For example, if someone had made a complaint about the competence or character of an employee the discussion and investigation of such a complaint rightly should be done privately. I would hope that the character and competence of those wishing to become board president would not be in question. The discussion ought to be more about preference, style, vision. I am not sure why those could not be discussed in an open meeting.

    A 2005 legislative audit of school boards found that most did not comply with the Open meetings Act. Most of the non-compliance issues were connected to inappropriately closed meetings. The reason most cited is insufficient training from the Utah Office of Education and the Utah School Board Association. (le.utah.gov/audit/05-08.rpt.pdf)

    1. Excellent points, Anonymous! Thank you. I agree with your assessment of the character and competance of elected officials. Very little should be done behind closed doors as it relates to us. As for employees, you are correct; it is wholly appropriate to discuss those items outside of the "lime light".