School board continues debate on best practices
The West Linn-Wilsonville School Board met Monday, May 22, to take another crack at drafting a board operation agreement — a process and document they've worked on since the fall.
Described by outgoing board member Rob Fernandez as a "guideline of best practices," the document was thought of as a way for he and Chair Keith Steele to get their experiences down onto paper, giving the incoming board something to refer back to when it comes to conducting board business in relevant situations.
Board member Betty Reynolds had questioned the purpose of the work during past work sessions, as new board members Ginger Fitch and Dylan Hydes will take over Positions 3 and 5 for Steele and Fernandez starting June 30. An operating agreement is not binding, and the future board could change any part of it whenever they pleased, but Fernandez said he thought drafting the operating agreement was a worthwhile endeavor, so that the future board can learn from the trials and errors of the current board.
Reynolds also believed the current draft the board has worked on to be redundant to policy and thus unnecessary, but Fernandez said he had talked with Oregon School Boards Association's Steve Kelley earlier in the day, and that Kelley had said that was to be expected and encouraged for operating agreements. Chelsea Martin, who will join Reynolds and Vice Chair Regan Molatore on the future board, said she thought it made sense to at least complete an Operating Agreement draft before Fernandez and Steele's departure.
"Why not? What we have here is kind of the best of both worlds. Board members who have been at this for a while, who can offer a seasoned perspective on what types of topics and issues came up for them during their years on the board, and put them into a document as topics to share their insight," Martin said. "As we carry this into late summer and early fall, with a new board, we can revisit these points together, and new board members ... offer fresh perspective and new energy."
Reynolds agreed with the rationale, but didn't want an operating agreement to be too prescriptive or limiting to a future board.
"The value of what this existing board can bring to the table is the experiences that we have had both positive and negative," Fernandez said. "If we can express those in a constructive way that we can all agree upon in terms of, 'Gosh, I wish we had done something this way,' I think that can be a very positive tool going forward. We're trying to collect our experiences."
In total, the board tentatively agreed on two pieces of a potential operating agreement during the May 22 meeting, but included asterisks for the future board to revisit. The first stated that board members should do their best to avoid surprise motions during meetings, by alerting the board chair or superintendent of any motions prior to a meeting. Steele said the practice made the board look in sync and on the same page, but Reynolds feared it would inhibit transparency.
"The language is 'Board members shall work with the board chair and superintendent to avoid surprise motions or discussion topics during a meeting.' I think it's inconsistent with the purpose of public meetings laws," Reynolds said. "I believe that the private discussions to avoid surprise motions or discussion topics, I really think it's inconsistent with requirements of public meetings laws, and I think it could serve to inhibit the open and transparent topic of the public's business. To me it inhibits the intent and the statement and the law to deliberate openly."
Steele reiterated that any board member is entitled to make a motion at any time, but that the practice was more of a courtesy to the chair and superintendent, and would also ensure that it would allow staff to provide information that would aid any ensuing discussion.
"The purpose of that heads up is not to shut any discussion off, but it's actually to make sure that any information necessary to make that decision or further debate is there," he said. "We've all felt, at different points in time, thrown under the bus. I know we've all felt that by different people, and we've also felt the opposite way, so it ebbs and flows. But what we want to get into are patterns that build trust and not erode it."
Ultimately, the board agreed on the guideline while changing "shall" to "should," but made note for the future board to revisit the topic. They similarly agreed to do the same with a passage regarding protocol around asking staff for information. The passage stated that any information or report that requires significant time and energy from the staff should be approved unanimously by the board.
Reynolds felt the passage failed to follow policy, but agreed to revisit the point with the future board. The board agreed to potentially revisit the operating agreement during their June work session. In the meantime, the board will next reconvene June 5 when they are expected to vote on the proposed 2017-18 budget.