Q & A: How will I work together with other board members?

Last week in a Facebook group I was asked the following question:

You have been openly critical of the 214 Board. While dissent can be good and useful at times, it can also hamper team work. If elected you will be working with people you do not like. It is likely that you will not share the same views or priorities of other members. Given that scenario, how do you intend to productively and positively effect the changes you would like to see on the Board?

Here, with a few edits since my original response on Facebook, is my response:

I have truly given quite some thought to this: how can I effect positive change when I am in the minority? When I deliberated on whether to run again or not, it was one of the answers that I knew I needed to answer for myself, because there is little value in changing votes from 7-0 to 6-1, certainly not worth the effort of a campaign. But when it comes down to it, that’s not even the relevant issue when key decisions are made without a public vote.

To start with, it is possible that I won’t be in the minority. If I can persuade enough voters that 25 years is too long for any person to serve on a board, and the three non-incumbents are voted in, that itself would change the dynamics.  Even though one of the non-incumbents is aligned with the existing Slate and even though they selected him with the intention that he would go along with their way of doing things, I have been told that he has a good reputation, so he may not consider himself to be obliged to go along with them and may not feel he has a debt to them by winning election that way.

In addition, without naming names, I do believe that some of the existing board members would be open to operating more transparently, even if at the moment, they are the minority and feel unable to speak out and make a change themselves. In the week before Christmas, we learned that the school district made two decisions that they kept from the public: the termination of Cathy Johnson, CFO (turns out several other top administrators were fired at the same time) and the purchase of the former D59 administrative building. In the best case, this will lead towards board members recognizing that it’s a bad practice to hide these actions; though admittedly they might double down and feel they need to ensure any skeletons in closets stay tightly locked up.

Would the board members, at least to some degree, if I talked to them as an elected official-peer, agree to make changes to the way they operate, for the good of the district? I don’t know.

Beyond that, again, recall that the key issue right now is that the board is either making decisions behind closed doors or simply not exercising meaningful oversight over the district’s decisions. Probably some of both.

As a board member, if I am a part of discussions in closed sessions that are not appropriate for a closed session, or if I learn of decisions being made based on an informal go-ahead by, say, the board president, I can call on the board to move this to an open meeting or else make the public aware of this in another way. Presumably the threat of the latter would be sufficient in some cases.

In addition, although it is the board president who sets the agenda and has complete discretion to reject a proposed agenda item, any board member has an ability to ask for a vote, during a board meeting, on an addition to the agenda. It has never happened here, but it could. If I am able to make no headway by requesting agenda items prior to the meeting, I would make use of this. For example, I would like to see a formal documentation of the costs and benefits of using Schuler-owned Transeo and the cost to switch to another provider, and then have the board vote on a policy on this. I would like a formal presentation on what’s going on with Earned Honors and Grading for Equity and some kind of defined parameters that the board would vote on. I would like an explanation of why the board purchased the former D59 building. I would like the board to set as an objective, increasing the degree to which the schools work together, and monitor this. And so on. But this is an agenda that could only be accomplished over a long time, picking one battle at a time and trying to change the culture going forward for new issues which may arise.

I also would like to increase responsiveness to the community. For example, I hear mixed things from parents of special needs kids about whether the district is meeting their needs. If I initiate a forum to listen to these parents, I would guess that other board members would attend as well.  If I propose working committees to discuss issues around at-risk students, I presume that the board would have a hard time rejecting it.

I would also make it clear to parents that they can reach out to me with any concerns or issues they believe need to be addressed and I will respond to them, and I would hope that, as an elected board member, district administrative officials would give me honest answers and would not declare items protected by FOIA exemptions as is the case as an ordinary citizen.

Finally, as an elected board member, I would have the right to listen to old closed-session meeting recordings.

Whether or not I have the vote of any given individual reading this, I hope this satisfies the concerns of anyone who believes I would just be a trouble-maker at board meetings, and nothing more.

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