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Board Members to Forever Hold Their Peace?

August 28th, 2009 by Steven Gardner

Over on the Kitsap Education blog Marietta Nelson raises questions about the North Kitsap School District’s discussion of policy it’s considering.

A proposed item in the policy states, “The board speaks with one voice.” There’s more that, as Nelson puts it, “gives pause,” but the main argument made by one board member argues is that item would quiet dissent once the board as a whole makes an agreement. The logic can be phrased as, “Sure, you disagreed with the decision, but now that you lost please make sure you work with the rest of us to see that program works well.”

Would Congress adopt a policy like that?

Several members of Congress voted against the Iraq War (not technically) and then said they wanted the war to be successful. Some continued to call for immediate withdrawal. Nothing besides the impact it would have in the next election prohibited any member of Congress from speaking freely, even after the fact.

It seems to me, and the headline of this post was inspired by a comment made by Bob Meadows, that after the board makes a decision, time passes and circumstances change. This policy could have the chilling effect of not making it easy for the board to overturn a policy it once regarded as favorable, but upon further reflection wouldn’t seem to work. Under this policy, the argument goes, there would be no further reflection.

Is that advisable for a group of publicly elected officials?

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3 Responses to “Board Members to Forever Hold Their Peace?”

  1. Colleen Smidt Says:

    Steven, Thanks for giving this topic some more legs.

    Just in the last couple of weeks there is an example of a light being shined on a policy in the Bremerton School District that received a 4 to 1 vote on August 2, 2007. The policy in question is 5005. Here is an excerpt of the minutes as the vote played out….

    START
    The Board then considered Policy 5005: Employment Disclosures, Certification Requirements, Assurances, and Approval, which had been taken from the consent agenda. Mr. Mitchell noted that this policy governs new volunteers and employees and allows them access to school age children without first passing a criminal background check, which can take months. For reasons of student safety, he could not support the policy as written. Ms. Zaske responded that the Washington State Patrol background check is on-line and immediately available, but the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) background investigation can take three or more months to receive. Employees also know their employment may be terminated for being untruthful on the self-disclosure form. Dr. Boyd moved to approve Policy 5005 as presented. The motion carried with Dr. Boyd, Ms. Collins, Mr. Jones, and Ms. Galloway voting in favor. Mr. Mitchell voted no.
    END

    This decision is currently under the spotlight again by parents and community members who were interested in Cynthia Galloway’s past voting record. This policy should never have passed as it stood. This policy will continue to remain in the spotlight until after the election where as it will be brought before a newly made up Bremerton School Board for review. I will want to hear honestly and openly from the original school board member who dissented and voted NO on 8-2-07. I do not want the “One Voice” rule to impede previous conversations of dissention and disagreement from being brought forward once again to be reviewed and considered.

    I have already said it and will say it again. This is a slippery slope. The number one priority of any school district is the continuous advancement of education for our kids. How we go about that business and what kind of united front, look, tone or message that is advanced in a restricted, forced or less than honest environment is much farther down any priority list that I can imagine.

  2. Mick Sheldon Says:

    Colleen your points are right on. I wonder what caused this, are other boards doing it ? A while back their was some controversy over anewly elected school board member who refused to sign an agreement with the Superintendent in another school district that would restrict their comments concerning certain issues and leaving it to the Superintendent . This group think bothers me because as you so articulated Collen that open debate is stifled . Even Supreme Court Decisions allow for a disagreeing statement by the Judges who found the decision wrong , regardless if it now legal precedent because of the majority decision. Disagreement is healthier then follow the leader no matter what .

  3. Colleen Smidt Says:

    Thanks Mick. My take on why this trend towards a more rigid and regimented Policy of Governance is occurring is below and keep in mind I only have my experiences with Bremerton School Board (BSB) to rely on.

    First, the BSB has recently indicated that it FEELS its ability to efficiently, effectively and publically conduct business has been hampered or inconvenienced by dissention or disagreement from both other school board members and the public at large.

    Here is an excerpt from the BSB minutes of 6-18-09 on this subject. I used my 3 minutes allowed during the “public input” portion of the regularly scheduled school board meeting to address the board and to address a specific item on that nights agenda oncerning public input. This is where they addressed that topic later on in the meeting….

    http://www.bremertonschools.org/board/minutes/pdfs/2008-09_Minutes/minutes6-18-09.pdf

    START
    Dr. Boyd commented on changes to the policy of public input. He wanted to clarify that it is not the Board’s intent to reduce the ability of the public to speak but to have some clear guidelines to prevent meetings from becoming out of control or from having community members use that forum to talk about items other than the subject matter officially being discussed. The intent is to bring a system of order to the process. Director Collins added that the process needs to be streamlined so that the Board can conduct public business, and honor our community to come forward and have public input but to do so in a way that it does not prevent the Board from doing business. She agreed public input must be more streamlined and needs to be directed to the Board, not to be used as a forum to communicate ideas off subject to other community members. Dr. Boyd inserted too that the policy change will be subject to feedback at the time it is proposed. President Galloway added that the Board has always welcomed public input, but stated that at recent meetings, there have been repetitive inputs given by the same individuals twice in one evening, and how this double input can considerably lengthen a meeting and redirect the focus of the Board.
    END

    I would like to spotlight President’s Galloway’s last statement which really gives us a window into why the Policy of Governance is so appealing to them. ..Control! The repetitive inputs to which she refers were actually community individuals, who took the time to read the meeting agenda before the start of the meeting, found a topic they wished to comment on, used the 3 minutes allowed during the “Public Input” time at the beginning of each School Board Meeting and then later when the Action Item was brought before the board for discussion and a vote, these same individuals having heard the arguments for and against the item then used the comment time allowed before the vote to address the board and make additional statements either for or against or to sometimes even ask an additional question or clarification from the board on that particular item.

    This is an effective way in which the school board can have an open, 2 way, public conversation with its community. Having participated in this process, parents, voters and community members feel like they are an important part of the overall decision making process. This method appears to really bother President Galloway and Mr. Boyd. It bothers them because at times the statements directed at the board are not always positive and are uncomfortable criticism of their job performance for them to listen to. But they are absolutely necessary two way, public conversations to have. Yes they do lengthen the meetings and I really hope that they do at times redirect the focus of the Board where we the parents, taxpayers and public want it to be not always where they choose it to be.

    By implementing a Policy of Governance, they will be able to give the appearance of providing more public discussion time, but at the same time still more easily control and or limit the continuation of that discussion or whether or not it actually gets acted upon or goes anywhere. Ease and control is what they are looking for here. They have already started in Bremerton. They just started on the other end up it with the control over “Pubic Dissentions” and limiting that down to “One Voice”. North Kitsap has just started on the opposite end with “Board Member Dissentions” and reducing those to “One Voice”.

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