Friday, September 17, 2010
Consultant offers School Committee tips on process, goals
Jim Hardy from the Massachusetts Association of School Committees joined the Carlisle School Committee (CSC) at its first meeting of the school year on September 8. He was invited to a discussion of the role and responsibilities of school committees. The key responsibilities, Hardy explained, were to establish policy, review and approve the budget, develop performance standards and maintain a mission and vision statement.
Hardy spoke at length about setting goals for the district. Currently the school has three documents related to goals: the District Goals 2009 – 2010, the Strategic Plan 2009 – 2010 and the School Improvement Plan 2008 – 2010. He suggested the committee incorporate the school’s mission statement “into every day work” by using the statement as a base for the school’s district goals.
Hardy noted that the district is required by state law to have district goals and a School Improvement Plan, but not strategic goals. “The state does a great job of telling you what you do good and do bad,” but what the state focuses on may not be the district’s objectives, he said. He recommended that the district goals should be overarching, while the school improvement plan should give specifics of how goals will be accomplished. Asked to give an example, he said a district goal could be to provide more after-school, non-remedial enrichment for students. The School Improvement Plan would list the specifics of how the enrichments would tie into the classroom. He added that an important step is reviewing goals at the end of the year.
“Once the budget is in place,” Hardy said, “it’s the School Committee’s business to make sure the money is spent as was intended.” He suggested dividing up school expenses into “cost centers” within the school budget. Using this concept, reassignment of unspent funds in one cost center might be allowed for other expenses within the same cost center, however a transfer of funds to another cost center might require approval from the School Committee.
Evaluations affected by changes in Open Meeting Law
Evaluations for town employees such as the superintendent, town manager, and chief of police must be done in a public meeting. Hardy cited a legal case, the so-called Wayland decision, in which the chair of the Wayland School Committee asked members to email their reflections on the superintendent being evaluated. The chair then created the evaluation and brought it to the public session. The Wayland committee denied public access to the individual notes. This was not allowed under the former Open Meeting Law and the rules are stricter under the 2010 Open Meeting Law.
Committee members must meet in open session to discuss the professional competence of the superintendent being evaluated. An evaluation is then created during that open meeting.
Hardy explained, “The new open meeting law acknowledges the public record law” in which certain information is private, “but the public right to know supersedes the right to privacy. The public’s ability to witness the evaluation overrides confidentiality.” He suggests that each member bring notes to the meeting, which will be used to draft the final evaluation in public. He said he was unclear on whether the notes would themselves be public documents.
According to the Open Meeting Law Guide of July 2010, all materials that are used in a performance evaluation are subject to disclosure. The guide does not define how storage of notes would be done or how disclosure of notes would take place.
Hardy said “It is really going to be interesting to see how town managers and administrators handle “being evaluated in public.” Salemy replied, “It’s a ridiculous law.” Committee member Bill Fink said the process they developed last year “is out.” Committee member Mary Storrs suggested they review the former process to determine what may be retained. She said when it is time to do Superintendent Joyce Mehaffey’s evaluation, “we will post that we are doing the evaluation just like any other agenda item.” Hardy advised the committee to set specific, measurable goals with Mehaffey.
Mehaffey asked, “I’m assuming… I can have personal conversations for mid-course corrections?” Hardy said one-on-one conversations with committee members are not a violation of the open meeting law as long as those conversations, if shared with the whole committee, are done in open meeting. Storrs asked, “Does the setting of goals [for the superintendent] have to take place in an open meeting?” “Yes,” Hardy replied. He suggested each member “take a goal and bring it to the meeting. It’s something you would usually do over the summer.”
Email deliberation discouraged
New committee member Joshua Kablotsky asked about communicating on blogs or on-line message boards such as Carlisle’s “City in the Woods.” Hardy said the issue with using blogs is the same as using email. “It comes down to deliberation.” He explained that any deliberation preceding a decision is considered part of the School Committee’s business and should be expressed in a public meeting.
The open meeting law defines deliberation as a communication between committee members on committee business. Storrs asked, “When does the work get done?” She wanted to know if two committee members can research an issue and discuss the information. Hardy replied that the two members become a subcommittee and the meeting of that subcommittee must be in open session.
Salemy said that in the past each member met separately with Marie Doyle regarding the budget. “That’s not breaking the rule,” said Hardy, “as long as you don’t talk among each other. I don’t encourage you to work around [the law] but I don’t think that is the intention of your question. You can’t have a committee of one,” he added. “If there are two, there are still issues,” he said. Hardy said that information can be shared via email as long as members do not add their opinions. “Then you have crossed into deliberation.”
Chair Chad Koski told Hardy the CSC will start negotiating the teachers’ contract next year. The current three-year contract will expire on June 30, 2012. Hardy said that no matter the results of the negotiation, “at the end of the day the superintendent and administration have to administer what is negotiated.” He added, “I’m always somewhat amazed at the negotiating process.” He suggested the committee come to the table with a list of items they would like included in or removed from the contract. “They hand you their list, and you hand them your list.” He said former CSC members can be valuable resources during negotiations due to their CSC experience. ∆
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