Monday, September 19, 2016

Back to School Part 2-Transparency


The new GMSD Board has provided us with a plethora of transparency issues in its short history.   

As an example, in my last post, Part 1-History of the Start Time Issue, I referred to the minutes of a meeting in which a parent spoke of her frustration over the slow pace of the movement on start time changes. JAM covered it more accurately. 

Meeting Called with Little Notice 

One of the first controversies was a meeting in March of 2014 (minutes linked here) when a vote to charge tuition to students outside the district was reversed in an "emergency" meeting. Because this meeting was called at the last minute, the press complained that this was not adequate notice, which is required by the Sunshine LawTwo of the new Board members who had voted for the tuition increase--Mr. Dely and Mr. Hoover--did not attend the meeting.  From the Commercial Appeal (excerpt): 


The reason given for the emergency meeting was that Natalie Williams wanted to change her vote due to possible legal issues with charging tuition, and some of the Board members were going on a trip to Florida. I am not sure that this would qualify as an emergency, since there was no court action at the time about tuition, and  a revote could always be taken later.

Cameras in Meetings 

In September of 2015, in this Commercial Appeal article---Cameras in meeting bring up prickly access issues in Germantown-- Jane Roberts reports that Sheila Starkey Hahn's attempts to video the work sessions was met with Lisa Parker saying that she did not want the work sessions recorded. Mark Dely replied that the citizens have a right to see the Board work. Hahn was quoted that it would be preferable having the Board provide a video recording of the meetings, but, in the meantime, she would stay in the back with her camcorder until they summoned security to have her leave.      

JAM also reports on this, thusly: 

One possible discrepancy between the accounts of the Commercial Appeal and JAM is that the Commerical Appeal reported that it was Lisa Parker that did not want the work sessions recorded, while JAM reported that it was both Natalie Williams and Lisa Parker that did not want the work sessions recorded, and Linda Fisher's remarks were inaudible. 

I would have loved to compare this account with the minutes of the meeting, but then I remembered, there are no minutes of work sessions!  Thus, JAM and the Commercial Appeal are our only records of this. 

After pushback from the voters, at the next meeting the Board announced a new policy of recording the meetings. 

Germantown School Board Will Tape Meetings 

From JAM 

The Board now provides videos of both the work sessions and the meetings.

Are the Minutes Too Detailed? 

At the November 15, 2015 board meeting, the Board decided in a 4-1 vote (Ken Hoover dissenting) to donate $125,000 to the Germantown Arts and Education Foundation. Mr. Hoover explained that he recognized the Board's decision, but thought it should be structured as a challenge grant to the City, since the City had already passed the same proposal. At his request, this clarification was added to the minutes.  

"Board member Ken Hoover said that though he recognizes the Board's decision to contribute to the HHAAF, he is voting "NO" on the MOU because he believes that it should be structured as a challenge grant."

At the next board meeting on December 16  Natalie Williams moved to strike Mr. Hoover's clarification from the minutes of the prior meeting. That passed on a 3-2 vote, with only Mr. Dely and Mr. Hoover voting to keep it in the minutes. No reason was provided for striking this from the minutes. Having this explanation in the minutes would obviously have given the reader more context. Here is the account from JAM:  

The removal of Mr. Hoover's clarification from the minutes may have stemmed from something JAM also reported on the work session held that same day. From JAM

Natalie Williams began discussing a recent TSBA conference where she learned about school board minutes. And apparently, GMSD is not doing it right. After perusing websites for school boards throughout Tennessee, she wants to see a more streamlined version of minutes that would limit what is posted publicly. She stated that the minutes should only reflect the actions of the board as a whole. Minutes should only state what the board did – not what the board members said. Her rationale was that she did not want anything in the minutes that could be perceived as an individual’s personal belief statement. She also suggested that the minutes should not reflect the individual votes cast by board members. But said she was fine with that if it was the will of the board.

The new parliamentarian, Betsy Landers, who was sitting in the audience, then handed Chair Lisa Parker a book that appeared to be a version of Robert's Rules of Order for parliamentary procedure. Ms. Parker began reading sections of the book to the board. At one point, she said that Minutes are minutes, and not hours. But her recitation of the book did not cite any specific rule or law about how minutes should be written.  

JAM obviously needs to stay on top of the goings on at the School Board, because it looks like we may not get the full picture with "streamlined" minutes. At least if we have time now, we can watch the full videos of the work sessions and meetings. 

My next post in this series will be about work sessions.


  1. Do you have know what the compensation is for the GMSD Board members?

  2. I do not know! I imagine you could easily find out by calling the district offices. If you decide to do that, I would be interested to find out, so just post another comment. I am sorry I did not see your comment until yesterday. I am not that experienced with blogging and I thought they were supposed to come to my inbox! Thank you for responding.