Report of the July 11, 2012 KCPS Board Meeting

Four mem­bers of the Do The Right Thing for Kids board watch­ers group observed and eval­u­at­ed the “work­shop” board meet­ing.  We looked for evi­dence of board and admin­is­tra­tion progress in the fol­low­ing areas that we deem cru­cial to the district’s suc­cess:

  • Is the school board in a turn­around mode?  Are they focus­ing on strate­gic fac­tors that will turn the orga­ni­za­tion from one that has his­tor­i­cal­ly been dys­func­tion­al to a high per­form­ing sys­tem?  And are they insist­ing that dis­trict admin­is­tra­tion focus­es strate­gi­cal­ly on those fac­tors?  Or are they spend­ing time on mat­ters that won’t help them get to where they need to go?
  • Is aca­d­e­m­ic achieve­ment kept at the cen­ter of pri­or­i­ties and pol­i­cy deci­sions?  Are  proven instruc­tion­al strate­gies being imple­ment­ed?
  • Is the board avoid­ing micro­man­age­ment—get­ting involved in issues that deal with oper­a­tions rather than pol­i­cy, imple­men­ta­tion rather then direc­tion-set­ting, short-term com­plaints vs. longer term strate­gies?
  • Are school board/administration meet­ings oper­at­ed effi­cient­ly with an eye toward con­serv­ing resources, includ­ing time and dol­lars?

The July 11 meet­ing was devot­ed to mon­i­tor­ing, a wor­thy focus to mak­ing sure that appro­pri­ate data are col­lect­ed to allow the board and admin­is­tra­tion to track dis­trict progress on sev­er­al dimen­sions.  Unfortunately the board watch­ers came away dis­heart­ened and crit­i­cal.  Here are some of the obser­va­tions that per­tain to the cru­cial fac­tors list­ed above:

The meet­ing start­ed half hour late, and then 1 1/2 hours were spent talk­ing about how to present mon­i­tor­ing reports.   Several board mem­bers expressed diver­gent opin­ions.  No con­sen­sus was reached but much time was spent on a mat­ter that should be left to the admin­is­tra­tion.  Once the top­ic came up, the board “couldn’t let go.”   One board mem­ber point­ed out that pre­sen­ta­tions at RSIT meet­ings already pro­vide the infor­ma­tion on a month­ly basis. In the same vein, the admin­is­tra­tion could have pre­sent­ed its sys­tem for mon­i­tor­ing progress for the board to cri­tique and approve.  DTRTFK observers “were frus­trat­ed and dis­ap­point­ed at the low lev­el of the meet­ing.”

The meet­ing pro­vid­ed an exam­ple of the back­ward tech­nique employed by this board.  Instead of assign­ing a small group to meet ear­li­er and make rec­om­men­da­tions to the full board, which would be stan­dard prac­tice with most cor­po­rate and non­prof­it boards, this board did the opposite–a very inef­fi­cient approach that wastes resources.

We con­tin­ue to be con­cerned about the push to involve “out­siders” in the mon­i­tor­ing process as well as in oth­er dis­trict admin­is­tra­tive issues.  Putting a stu­dent in a spot where he is clear­ly in over his head, involv­ing a union offi­cial in  pol­i­cy and admin­is­tra­tive mat­ters and pre­tend­ing that a small group of com­mu­ni­ty allies rep­re­sents par­ents will not lead to greater effec­tive­ness.  It con­veys a sense of games­man­ship rather than bring­ing the best resources to bear on reach­ing effec­tive­ness.
We observe, again, that the pol­i­cy gov­er­nance scheme adopt­ed by the board can get in the way of progress.  Rather than an abstract pol­i­cy out­line the board lead­er­ship should be ask­ing, “What cru­cial issues do we need to be deal­ing with to get this dis­trict turned around?” 

Current prac­tice allows for rou­tine expen­di­ture of mil­lions of dol­lars with­out, so far as we can tell, rig­or­ous board over­sight.  What checks and bal­ances are in place to assure that mon­ey is being spent respon­si­bly and in line with 
the board’s pri­or­i­ties?
DTRTFK mem­bers hear con­tin­u­al con­cerns by com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers about their inabil­i­ty to get answers to ques­tion about enroll­ment, the teacher corps, cur­ricu­lum align­ment, read­ing progress and many oth­er mat­ters. These seem like issues that should be solv­able.

We con­tin­ue to see a group of well-inten­tioned peo­ple pulled into a dys­func­tion­al cul­ture that is beyond their capac­i­ty to cut though.  It does not help that time and resources are expend­ed by some to cre­ate a favor­able spin on a clear­ly dire sit­u­a­tion.  Court deci­sions that may allow trans­fer to oth­er dis­tricts, a grow­ing num­ber of char­ter schools and mar­gin­al pro­vi­sion­al accred­i­ta­tion at best threat­en the district’s sur­vival.  The suc­cess­ful effort to head off state inter­ven­tion may back­fire.

View the agenda/minutes of this meet­ing
(will open in a new win­dow).

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