How does our school board work?

I made the following statement at the October school board meeting. If you still have questions about how the board works, or any other questions, please ask.

There has been recent discussion that the school board is not transparent and is not discussing items during our meetings. I wanted to address this. I apologize for this long statement, but there are several important topics I’d like to cover.

I believe part of the feeling that we are not discussing items before voting stems from a misunderstanding about how board business is managed. When board members come to a board meeting, it is to conduct the official business of the board: basically, to vote on often a large number of items that keep the district running and to hear informational items that affect the district but do not require a board vote.

The main purpose of a board meeting is not to discuss these items and make up our minds. The board works through public committees where administrators share information on upcoming issues, and board members discuss and consider these items. One to two board members are assigned to each committee, but as these are public sessions, all board members could legally attend.

Between committee meetings and the board meeting, we have time to think about the issues, to call our administrators to ask further questions, and to decide how we will vote at the official board meeting. Many of these issues are large and complicated; if we had to receive the information at the board meeting and then vote, we would not have time to put the required research and consideration into these decisions.

As far as the board being in agreement – this is not planned or coordinated but comes from our administrators providing proper information for us to understand the issues. I can’t remember a time when I have talked with all other board members about a specific issue prior to a vote, so while I may be able to guess what Mr. Yockey or Mr. Lucas will vote on an issue, I haven’t asked them – and I may be wrong in my guess.

As I said, these committees are public; anyone is welcome to attend, but the meetings are held during the day. Several years ago, to make committee discussions more accessible to the public, we moved them to one work session each month, held in the evening. That way, all board members were able to hear the information first-hand, and, most importantly, the public was able to attend.

We have five committees that meet every month, usually for an hour to an hour and a half each – Buildings & Grounds; Curriculum & Instruction; Finance; Fine Arts, Athletics and Extracurriculars; and Personnel. If each of these committees takes at least an hour in a work session, that is a minimum of a five-hour meeting – one where, simply because of time, we end up shortchanging each committee as we try to finish by midnight.

We tried this for two months; and no one from the public attended.

At that point, since no one was attending and this was the main reason we tried a marathon evening meeting, we moved the committees back to the daytime. This is respectful to our administrators, who already have evening commitments for the district that eat into their personal time, and it allows us to have more in-depth discussion when we do not have to limit the amount of time we are spending because it is so late at night.

Returning to how board meetings themselves are conducted: when I first joined the Milford school board in 2010, we were emerging from fiscal caution and had a lot of work to do. During that time, we discussed just about every item on the agenda. As we regained our footing, we moved away from that for the sake of expediency – and once again, because the public was not engaging.

We have now returned to a time where it is necessary to discuss items as we move through the agenda. That is fine; we can – and will – discuss everything we are voting on. We will not be holding “committee meetings” here, but we will explain in more detail what agenda items are. So if you hear board members asking administrators to explain an item, that is to ensure we cover key points that we believe will be helpful to the community in understanding board business.

Remember, the board agenda is published on the website prior to the board meeting. Also, we do tape these meetings through ICRC, and they are aired on local cable and available on the website. Taping meetings is not required, but the Milford board has done this as long as I can remember to allow as many people as possible to see them.

I also encourage anyone from the public who is interested in the actual decision-making process to attend committee meetings when you can, as well as work sessions that are used when we have larger issues to address. We had a public work session right before this meeting tonight, to discuss bond issue timing and the CAT recommendation. There were about 10 people here. We would love to see more.

You can find committee meeting dates on the district website under Board of Education. We hope to see you there.

Thank you.

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