Board should use its committees to avoid misinformation, mistakes

Since January, school board member Betty Cooper has been trying to change the way the Monroe City School Board makes decisions; she’s had some success, but this week the public saw what happens when the board votes on important items without a thorough discussion.

The past administration of the board led by Rev. Rodney McFarland held very few committee meetings and many major decisions were made quickly, without discussion or input from the public or even reading policies before being approved.

In one of these no input decisions, the board voted to build the new MLK school in the East Parkview neighborhood next to Wossman, an area that is prone to flooding.

The idea of operating in a “glass house” was the campaign theme of all new candidates in fall elections, they pledged to get public input on major issues before casting major ballots.

Those that won pledged to keep that promise. A step in that direction has been Mrs. Cooper’s insistence that action items on the board’s agenda be discussed thoroughly in committee before placing it on the board’s agenda for a vote.

A case where it prevented a problem was a recent action by the board to build handicap stands at all high schools stadiums. The item was first presented to the facilities committee and was being sponsored by board member B.J. Johnson as a stand for Neville High School only. However, after a thorough question and answer session, it was determined that all three high schools should have the stands. When the matter came to the board, it had been thoroughly discussed as to costs and equity. It was approved unanimously without dissent.

A case where an embarrassing problem occurred when the board voted to approve a charter school without sending it to the curriculum committee and finance committees first. On May 8th the board in a 3-1 vote approved the school without a thorough review of its program which would have been done in the curriculum committee and its impact on the district finances, which would have been done in the finance committee.

If that proposal had a green light from both of those committees, then and only then should it have been placed on the agenda for a vote of the board.

Since Board chairman Bill Willson decided to short circuit the process and bypass the committee reviews it was approved at the end of a long meeting without a thorough review. Then Willson and the superintendent had to try to twist arms and convince black members that the board’s decision might have been faulty, depending on the source of the information.

If the issue had been sent to the committee first, the issues the charter proposed to address would have been vetted as well as financial concerns.

In committee, which is open to the public, enough questions could have been asked and answered to determine the exact impact on the district using best case and worst case scenarios.

Since that didn’t happen scare tactics were spread all over the system suggesting an entire school would need to close because of the charter school’s projected enrollment of the 160 student enrollment. Since city schools loses approximately 100 students a year, does that mean a school will be closed, even without the charter or was that a scare tactic?

Going forward, it appears that active committees keep the board informed and give the public a chance for input beyond the three minute limit at board meetings.

Just this week, the Curriculum Committee met and received detailed information about the Pupil Progression Plan and the Carroll Magnet Program. Carroll alumni have been protesting and picketing asking for information about the magnet program but they received it at a committee meeting.

They also learned from the superintendent something that was not discussed in any board meeting. He told the committee that if the state gives a $1,000 raise to teachers without a corresponding increase in the MFP that it will cost the district over $1 million which will mean drastic cuts in the district’s 17 preschool classes; his place of choice to absorb the loss.

Without the committee meeting, none of the board members present would have known the extent of the district exposure.

There are still some committees that have not met. One committee, the personnel committee that sets personnel policy and evaluates the superintendent has yet to be appointed five months into the year.

Operating in the dark creates problems. Using the appointed committees to review new proposals, costs and plans is the best way to get the public involved and for board members to avoid making decisions then reversing itself, claiming it did not know the facts.

Whether the committees actually functions is on Bill Willson, he’s the president.

The idea is simple: There should be no action item on the board’s agenda that has not been reported out of committee first. If the administration places an item on the agenda without sending it to the committee first then the president should refer the action for committee review.

If that procedure will not be followed, then committees should be disbanded and continue to vote on items without knowing the facts.