Let's talk about the current D181 Board of Education.
1. Board Member responsibilities: We would suggest that all board members take the time to read and understand their powers and duties as defined in Board Policies 2:010, 2:020, 2:080 and 2:110. In the past there has been a lot of criticism by the Administration that certain board members are over-reaching. The reality is, however, that there are 16 defined duties in Board Policy 2:020 alone, all of which require oversight and action by the board.
2. The new board members and officers: A new board convened on May 6, 2013. New members Jill Vorobiev, Mridu Garg and Gary Clarin joined the two year veterans, Michael Nelson, Brendan Heneghan, Marty Turek and Glenn Yaeger. Immediately following the swearing in of new members, a reorganization meeting was held and board officers were elected for a one year term. Turek was elected to replace Nelson as president, Vorobiev replaced Yaeger as vice-president, and Garg replaced out-going Sarah Lewensohn as secretary. What was striking about this reorganization, was that it was obvious that the elections had been pre-arranged and most of the board members knew who was going to be elected for president and vice-president.
Turek's name was immediately placed into nomination and seconded. Garg nominated Heneghan. There was no discussion as to the qualities each candidate might bring to the position, no request that each nominee make a statement seeking support from his fellow members rather, the nominations were a vote was immediately taken. Turek was elected 5 to 2. The same thing happened for vice-president. What ever happened to board business being conducted DURING the meeting rather than BEFORE? Would the outcome have been different? Maybe not, but it would at least seem more in compliance with Open Meetings Act requirements.
3. Board Member attendance at meetings: We could not find a board policy that requires that board members regularly attend board meetings or attend a minimum number of meetings per year. If there is no such policy, once needs to be approved. In the right hand column of this blog, Click on the "Page" titled "Board Member Attendance at Meetings." The results are shocking. In 2013 alone, Member Nelson attended only 54% of the meetings, missing 6 out of 13, participating by phone in 1 additional meeting and being physically present at only 6 out of 13. That many absences are unacceptable, even if work related. Community members elected the 7 individuals to serve as our representatives on the board. Since board meetings (both in executive session and open session) are the forum at which MOST board business is to be conducted -- since to do so outside of meetings would violate the Open Meetings Act -- regular attendance would seem necessary and appropriate. If you can't fulfill this duty, then it's time to resign and allow someone else to represent the community. We will update the member attendance log after each board meeting so everyone can see who actually attends the board meetings.
4. Civility and respect towards the community members and other board members should be expected. Is it too much to ask that the board members respect each other and the community members who elected them? Of course not. In fact, Board Policy 2:080 states in the "oath" that each board member takes that board members shall not only encourage but also respect the free expression of opinion by fellow board members and others who come before the board. It is time to put a stop to board members who openly mock members for asking questions or trying to engage the full board in meaningful discussions, who cut them off when they don't want to listen to their opinions any more, who type on their laptops and look everywhere but at a community member making a public comment, or who make derogatory remarks about community members' reactions to the discussion.
5. More transparency needed on Board Docs: D181 has made progress towards increasing transparency -- for example, online Board Docs. However, more transparency is needed and it should follow the recent actions taken by the D86 high school board on June 3rd and approve three more action steps:
A. D86 agreed to make the agenda along with staff reports and other documents pertaining to each topic on the meeting agenda (other than personnel) available online on the Thursday before each meeting. D181 already does this via Board Docs for the board members, but the rest of us have to wait until 48 hours before a meeting for the agenda and supporting documents to be posted, and almost always, additional documents are added for both the board and community on the day of the meeting. The Administration needs to do better and post the materials for everyone on the Thursday before each meeting. All materials should be ready by that date so that both board members and interested community members have time to prepare for the meetings. As a D86 board members just stated, "The more information you release, the more information you get back from the public."
B. Just as D86 approved on June 3rd, D181 should keep an archive on its website of both the Freedom of Information requests it receives, the name of the person making the request, when and what they requested, and a link to the response or information the district gave to them. While Board Docs does provide monthly updates showing the requests that were made, there is no link to the responses given by the district. There should be.
C. In recognition that often district officials don't immediately answer questions asked during public comment, D86 agreed that it will begin to make the answers viewable in the archives section of the district website. The D181 Administration should do the same. The importance of this was exemplified at the May 28 D181 board meeting. During closing public comments, two community members posed questions of Superintendent Schuster. There were well over 50 community members in attendance. Schuster's answer to both questions was "I'll get back to you." Only the 2 community members who asked the questions know if Schuster sent them answers or how long it took her to do so, but certainly everyone in attendance that night wanted to hear the answers and should be afforded a way to view the answers.