Friday, September 23, 2016

Back to School, Part 3 Work Sessions

In Part 2 of this series, Back to School, Transparency, I mentioned the Board's work sessions. At the end of 2015, the Board began to hold its work sessions immediately prior to the meetings. Previously, the work sessions were held a week or two before the meetings. At these now combined work sessions/meetings the cameras roll the entire time, due to popular demand. Minutes are not taken at the work sessions.
The work sessions are supposed to be used to discuss issues, and ascertain what additional information must be obtained before the Board members can make informed decisions at the meetings. Obviously, this no longer happens. Holding the work sessions and meetings on the same day means that most of the discussion, even on meeting agenda items, take place during the work sessions rather than the meetings. Since there are no minutes of the work sessions, transparency is sacrificed because most people do not have time to watch the recordings. 

JAM questions this policy, and explains why so well  that I really don't need to do anything in this post other than provide a couple of examples.--December 2015  -

One unfortunate consequence of holding the work sessions and meetings on the same day is that the work session rushes its work in order to accommodate the start time of the meetings. There often is insufficient time for a complete discussion of important issues. This very thing happened at the January 19, 2016 work session/meeting. Student tuition was brought up at the end of the work session and there was only seven minutes to discuss it. However, because it was discussed in the work session, albeit briefly, student tuition was struck from the agenda of the meeting in a 3-2 vote, with Mr. Hoover and Mr. Dely dissenting. JAM discusses this below:

Although not directly related to the subject of work sessions, it is interesting to note from JAM's discussion that Lisa Parker seemed sure of the outcome of a vote before it actually took place. Had three members of the Board talked about this issue prior to the meeting (which would be a violation of the Sunshine Law)? This account certainly raises the possibility of either "group think" or Sunshine Law violations.

Not surprisingly, The Board's decision to hold work sessions directly prior to the meetings has adversely affected decision making, as contracts, for example, are voted on with no advance notice.

At the combined work session/meeting on August 15, 2015, the particulars of various bids on stop-loss renewal insurance coverage were discussed by staff in the work session. However, according to Mr. Hoover, the bids were not all based on the same criteria and thus not comparable to each other. Although the staff had come with a recommendation based on the guidance of an insurance expert, they were unable to answer Mr. Hoover's questions about how the evaluation of the bids was made without an assessment of comparable bids. Thus, the Board had to vote with incomplete information. If the work session had been held even a few days before the meeting, Mr. Hoover's questions would have been answered before a decision was made about the contract under review. 

In short, there are three reasons why holding work sessions immediately prior to meetings is unwise: (1) lack of transparency because the discussion is forced into the work session rather than the Board meeting, where minutes are taken (2)  lack of transparency because discussion can be cut short due to lack of time in the work session, and (3) decision making with incomplete information. 

This completes my three part series on issues involving the Board of Education. Here are Part 1 and Part 2. In order to remain informed, please keep reading JAM and subscribe to their feed, watch the Board meetings online if you have time, read the minutes of the Board meetings, and participate in Facebook groups such as this one.


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