Click to view the notes on the Tales from the Meeting blog. Though not on the agenda, there was a very interesting discussion about a state board member’s proper conduct when a board member disagrees with the decision of the board (begins at 21 minutes into the video). State Board member Tracy Roberts expressed her “surprise” that there have been “speeches given under the billing as school board members that espouse a completely different view than the board has taken”. Her example has to do with the differing views among individual board members regarding the usage of Common Core State Standards in Alabama’s College and Career Ready Standards. Board members Betty Peters and Stephanie Bell have voted no both times the Common Core State Standards were brought before the Board for assimilation into Alabama’s standards.
A lively discussion ensued. Roberts went so far as to say that these public displays of individual board member disagreement with board decisions weakened the position of the board as a whole and showed that “folks were out of step…with good boardsmanship”. Stephanie Bell (I use her full name so as not to confuse her with Board member Ella Bell) argued that as a board member, she cannot and should not just go along with the rest of the board on what they decided. She stated that had she not fought to bring the 2-year college scandal to the surface, and had she and Peters gone along with what the board wanted, it would not have been properly addressed.
The subject of just who a board member represents when he steps to the board table is of great interest to me. Elected board members have a particular problem with this issue, as they are elected by a constituency and most likely feel beholden to represent their constituents, though the Alabama Association of School Boards’ (AASB) Board Governance training states clearly that all board members represent all students, regardless of which district that elected them. But do the AASB principles of board governance apply to the State Board of Education?
This principle is further exemplified in the Affirmation developed by the ALSDE for all local boards of education members to sign upon being seated as a school board member as required by the School Board Governance Improvement Act of 2012. The Affirmation contains a number of items, including item number 3 that states: “That each decision, action and vote I take or make shall be based on the educational interests of the school system as a whole.” In the AASB’s Board 101: Putting Students First training that I attended in March, Susan Salter drove home the point that a school board member represents the entire district at the board table regardless of which district elected the member. It was acknowledged that this puts board members in a precarious position as those who elected them expect an advocate for their district and if the board member does not meet that expectation, they may not get re-elected. Such is the dilemma. Stay tuned for more information about this conundrum.
Board member Dr. Yvette Richardson cautioned against board members becoming “mavericks” and speaking against what the Board agreed to do. Board member Mary Scott Hunter spoke of the difference of being elected to a board and being elected to a body. Honestly, that’s the first time I’ve heard it put that way, and that differentiation intrigues me. Hunter asked Bice to bring a Code of Conduct to the state Board for consideration, given that the legislature has mandated that all local boards of education adopt a Code of Conduct through the passage of the School Board Governance Improvement Act last year. Hunter said that when members do not speak in unity, they “damage our credibility with the public and damage our credibility with the legislature”.
This discussion was academic in nature and serves as an example of the difficulty that elected board members encounter when stepping to the board table.
The discussion of proper role devolved as Hunter asked Bice to address allegations that he misappropriated $50 million, diverting it toward Common Core State Standards implementation. The discussion got, well, more lively. You have to see it to understand it. It begins at 41 minutes into the video. Serious discussion.
Because the conversation about the allegations and from where they came was mostly spoken in code, with board members trying to determine if an Executive Session was necessary, I cannot say with any amount of assuredness whether this was the document to which they were referring, but I am fairly confident that it is. This document is a press release written by Elois Zeanah, President of the Alabama Federation of Republican Women on April 11, 2013 and alleges the misappropriation of funds. After a healthy discussion of who wrote the e-mail, and agreeing to go into Executive Session, the board ultimately decided against going into Executive Session after Bice stated that he had already answered those allegations.
At that point, the meeting went according to the Agenda. Check out the notes on the Tales blog for the rest of the work session.