School Board Committees
By Alex Saitta
March 7, 2011
When elected officials, who represent all the different parts of the county, are involved in identifying problems and formulating solutions, the result of their work will be more representative of the interests of the entire county.
This was the working premise the school board used when creating a working committee system amongst the six school board members.
How It Was:
As long as Iíve been on the school board, and even before, most problems have been identified and their solutions formulated by the district administration. The chairman has been involved to various degrees, but most plans or initiatives have been hatched, formulated and finalized in the district office. Then those plans have been put in front of the board for an up or down vote.
Today, the voters of Pickens County are demanding more from their board members than just being yea or nay vote. Voters want their elected representatives to be involved in identifying problems and creating solutions -- making a difference.
You can see voters want this change by looking at the fortunes of most incumbents the last few election cycles. Some board seats have been phased out, taking those incumbents with them. Some incumbents just plan retired, but others retired probably figuring they were unlikely to be re-elected. And some incumbents have been defeated by challengers who opposed business as usual.
Chairman Of The Board:
The chairman of the board has a handful of formal powers. They are calling meetings, running meetings, creating the agenda and signing board documents. Over the years many informal powers have accrued to the chairman like being the sole point person on the board on all issues or being the speaker for the board. None of this ever sat right with me when I was off by myself getting beat 8 to 1 on votes. Nor does it sit right with me now that Iím the chairman.
Tell me, why should Chairman Alex Saitta be the boardís point person on Curriculum, when Judy Edwards has 28 years experience as a teacher? Why I should be the only one talking to the press about an issue in Liberty, when I donít even serve that area?
Whatís Required To Change This:
Former Chairman, Jim Shelton, started getting board members more involved, and I believe we should push that idea further down the road. The first thing I thought about was what would be required to do that? Four requirements jumped out.
1) The chairman of board must believe all board members have been elected to be involved and make a difference. Not just him or her. I believe that.
2) The board must recognize the current structure doesnít allow participation by all board members when it comes to identifying problems and formulating solutions. A thriving committee system is needed for that. The board believes this.
3) The board must have the required talent/ skill and its members must have the desire to be more involved to make a committee system work.
4) Once the committees are created, rules are put in place and the system is launched, the chairman and the board members must make sure plans the district is working on are brought to the board early on, so the plans can be sent to committee where the board can have input and work with the district on finalizing them. (Boy, thatís a long sentence.)
Board Matches Up Well:
When we looked at the list of requirements, we felt our board matched up well with them, so we created a committee system. Click here
to read the policy/ rules we just passed.
The district has primarily five functions: instruction, facilities, personnel, communications and rule making, so we created four associated committees of three board members each. Finance is a committee of the whole.
Meeting the third requirement, the boardís skill set matches up well with those functions/ committees. Jim Shelton and Herbert Cooper have a strong interest in facilties and experience with the building program. Judy Edwards is a former teacher and knows instruction. Iím a financial analyst, so my strength is in numbers and rules and regulations. Ben Trotter and Jimmy Gillespie are solid grass roots leaders who have a good pulse on what the people are thinking inside and outside of the school district.
To meet the fourth requirement it was necessary to create a policy with rules to insure we have strong committee chairmen, who have formal powers to call committee meetings, set the meeting agenda, run the meetings, confer with the Superintendent on issues that relate to the committee, and request information from the district administration.
The final ingredient was putting strong safeguards in place so committees only work on issues that the board has authorized that committee to work on, so any one board members doesnít run off on his own on this or that issue. I think the policy has many safe guards. For instance, the board majority can remove any committee member at any time from a committee. Committee members have committee term limits of 2 years so any one member canít get comfortable on a committee like happens in the state legislature. Thereí more.
First under a thriving committee system all board members will be involved in identifying problems and formulating solutions. For example, we added to the board agenda an item called ďNew BusinessĒ. That is traditional to most agendas, but never the school boardís. This allows any board member to make a motion to send this or that item to committee for further study. Now, besides the district office or the chairman, the board majority can also identify problems to study.
A thriving committee system will create more board unity. If more board members are involved in identifying problems and creating solutions, unity is more likely because more board members will have a hand in creating the final plan that is voted on.
Lessening the chairmanís powers by spreading that power out to all board members will help protect the independence of the Superintendent from a chairman who happens to go on power trip.
Working committees will increase transparency. What will occur now in open committee meetings has been occurring over the phone between select board members from the time the school board was formed.