More on School Board Meetings

 

A follow up to our Tuesday, Nov. 29, story on school board culture and how the new countywide school board is dealing with remnants of the old MCS and SCS boards way of doing things.

The countywide school board added another feature from MCS school board meetings with Tuesday’s addition of “recognitions” to the agenda.

The recognitions are performances by students groups and presenting certificates to other groups of students. There were seven in all including the Cordova High School Wolfpack Playhouse, the Arlington Strings of Arlington High School, an MCS “custodial award” and the Georgian Hills Middle School state football champions.

Even with the addition, the new school board made better time than it has since its inception in October.

The business of the board was wrapped up after three hours. There was another half hour of comments from citizens who signed up for several minutes of time to speak on any topic. Meeting over at 9 p.m., an hour and a half earlier that the week before.

It is politically difficult to complain about honoring the students whose art work was selected for the annual school year calendar. Nevertheless, the recognition also comes with an underlying message to the public from the school system about the job it is doing.

The old county school board had such recognitions occasionally but not nearly as often as the old city school board.

The city school board had a moment of silence at the start of its meetings. The county school board had a moment of silence after a prayer outside the county school board auditorium that was optional for board members and anyone in the audience.

So far, the new countywide school board has a moment of silence at the start of the meeting.

It is a very interesting time for the new board and meeting culture is more important than some of the above indicators might lead you to believe.

Of all of the elected bodies that meet in Shelby County, the meetings of the Memphis City School Board had long been considered among the most onerous to cover among reporters who arguably have the best part of the bargain since we were paid to be there.

Perhaps it is because a system of educators has a tendency to not completely trust that even adults will go over the written material on their own time without need of a review and a plentiful amount of reading out loud at the meeting.

That tendency moved with the school system into the age of Power Point where the graphics would too often be read in their entirety and then elaborated on even further.

The argument on the other side of this is that this is the public’s business and the details are important.

And there is no dispute that school board politics is different and distinct from the dynamics of other legislative bodies like the Memphis City Council and the Shelby County Commission. But a half hour to set an agenda?

The board should be as concerned about conducting the public’s business in as efficient a manner as possible as it is about having an informed discussion leading to a well thought out decision.

The length of a meeting doesn’t translate to the depth of commitment to the cause of education.

A meeting that covers the same ground covered in two to three previous meetings and in a 473 page agenda available to anyone on the county school system’s website at some point serves to repel a level of public interest if it goes on long enough.

And you have to question at times whether that has been intentional.

The countywide board is still feeling its way around some very different totems of the two former school boards. Some from each school system will probably survive and some new ones will emerge. And the merit of some will be a close call.

Board member Martavius Jones wants to expand the “self evaluation” the old MCS board had to the new countywide board. That would be a different evaluation than the one voters would conduct every two years when they vote on half of the seven seats that are to emerge in Sept. 2013 as the permanent representative body of the merged school system.

For now these discussions are a luxury the board can afford as it governs two separate school systems on their way to consolidation in less than two years.

But if the new board doesn’t figure out something more efficient, the sheer size of the board will quickly magnify problems with meeting culture that were excessive even when the school boards were much smaller.

 

 

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