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At the District 65 School Board Policy Committee meeting on April 12, Superintendent Devon Horton proposed a new School Board committee structure that would provide more transparency and afford the public the right to observe deliberations of members of the School Board with administrators on some key aspects of the District’s business.
Dr. Horton proposed that the Board have a curriculum/policy committee, a buildings & grounds/personnel committee, and finance committee that would each meet with administrators once a month and whose meetings would be open to the public. He said this would provide an opportunity for the District to be transparent, and also show the public how much work is being done by the District.
“And it’s so necessary for us, especially with us going down this road of addressing our structural deficit, a student assignment plan,” said Dr. Horton.
Some of the major decisions facing the District within the next few years include whether to redraw attendance areas for the schools, whether to close one or two schools, whether to establish a new school in the Fifth Ward, how to address projected deficits forecast to grow to $15 million by the school year 2025-26, how to address students’ increased needs in light of the pandemic.
On March 27, the RoundTable published an article titled “How Much of School District 65’s Business Is Being Conducted by School Board Members in Private Meetings with Administrators?”
The Proposed New Committee System
Dr. Horton said, “When I came on board, and now, one of the top priorities for the Board has been to be sure that we are very transparent in our decision-making process, and we also want to be sure that we give the Board opportunities and ample opportunities to have discussions publicly about spending and decisions that we’re making within the District.
“So, something that I have spoken with Anya about, President Anya [Tanyavutti], what we wanted to do is create what we call these committees of a whole. Other districts have these committees of a whole,” and he said, “There’s a couple of ways to do this.”
As an example, Dr. Horton said, the District could a have curriculum/policy committee that would have three Board members on the committee and that would meet once a month. He said that he, key cabinet members and the people reporting directly to the cabinet members would also be members of the committee. The Board would decide the time of the meetings.
“It will be an open meeting and be recorded,” said Dr. Horton. “And we will discuss all the decisions.
“There’s a document that we will create. It’s called curriculum report.” He said that report would include a report from every member on the cabinet, and from everyone who reports directly to them. It would include all proposals for any funding, which would include the amounts and the sources for the funding.
Dr. Horton said it would also include any professional development that is going to happen in the District, including any travel expenses.
At the monthly meeting, members of the Board would have an opportunity to engage in conversations with administrators, ask questions of people who are doing the work, and recognize some of the work that they are doing. He said it would also provide an opportunity to be transparent with the work.
“The next week, we will then have what we call the Buildings & Grounds and the Personnel Committee.” He said these meetings are already running internally, but he would add three Board members to the committees. The Personnel Committee may meet in closed session because it would consider personnel matters. But when the committee came into open session it would discuss buildings and grounds and the work being done on the District’s buildings.
“And it’s important that the community and our Board have an opportunity to kind of know, to really know what we’re doing. And also to talk about additional big projects that are coming up, and they can have a discussion around what projects are we going to address next, and one that will be coming up next month.”
Dr. Horton said that in the third week of each month, the structure could be the same as now, where there is a working Board meeting and a Finance Committee meeting. He said, “If we do this right, the working Board meeting can actually be eliminated. But there’s more conversation to be had.” The Finance Committee meeting would continue with three members of the Board, he said.
“All of this must happen within the first three weeks of the month so that when the Board meeting arrives, all of these things would have been discussed publicly. And then the committee will decide to advance these pieces to the Board for the Board in a Board meeting to vote on or to have discussions. If Board members have concerns or want to get more discussion, they can tag it, get it to us, and then Adeela [Qureshi, Recording Secretary] or myself will make sure that it’s available for discussion at the Board meeting.
“This is a way for us to also be sure that the community can see and hear because there’s so much work that’s happening with our Board. It’s an unpaid, almost like a thankless job for some. But I know there’s a lot of hard work that happens. And I think it’s important that people see and hear the conversations and how much the Board pushes us as the administration to do the work right.”
Dr. Horton said this is an opportunity at the District to do something “around transparency. … And it’s so necessary for us, especially with us going down this road of addressing our structural deficit, a student assignment plan.”
Joey Hailpern, Chair of the Board’s Finance Committee, said, “These are Board committees as opposed to administrative committees. And I think it’s great for the Board to have the opportunity to differentiate the work. It gives cabinet members kind of target people can engage with a little bit more deeply or in more detailed fashion in a smaller group setting, perhaps rather than the whole Board, because I think it gets cumbersome when all of us are together here.
“I think it’s absolutely a great idea to have a facilities conversation or committee, especially with the student assignment work going on, and the discussions around our buildings. I think it’s going to be very important for that to the public. So, thank you for considering the facilities as a part of that group.”
Rebeca Mendoza, Chair of the Policy Committee, reiterated that Dr. Horton “mentioned that this is a practice that’s used in other school districts. So, it’s not like we’re creating something new. It is a practice that’s used elsewhere. And again, I think it would really allow us the time to have more time open and public where the community can participate actively and just be well informed.”
She asked Dr. Horton to provide more information on the timeline.
“For the timeline,” said Dr. Horton, “I will revert to the School Board itself. It is this Board’s committees. I will lean on you all to tell us when you’re ready to launch this and then we’ll make sure the administration is prepared.”
Board Vice-President Biz Lindsay-Ryan said one consideration should be how much time Board members would be required to devote to their role as a member of the Board. She said she did not want to end up excluding people from being willing to serve on the Board due to the time commitment.
Board President Tanyavutti said, “I think this idea of considering Dr. Horton’s feedback about committee structures is a really important best practice for us to consider how do we incorporate in order to continue to our commitment to adopting best practices for the sake of transparency and inclusivity as a governance body.”
Ms. Tanyavutti said, “I look forward to being able to have more formal documentation and more robust discussion about this at the reorganization meeting in May.”