Responding to some strident public criticism, Trustee Rob Clayton took a stab at revamping the makeup of the school board’s three advisory committees to tip the balance toward public input—and away from the administration—during the group’s regular August meeting last week.

Clayton’s proposed changes would open up more seats on the district’s ad-hoc Finance, Policy, and Calendar committees to members of the public—in some cases, two to three times as many—putting constituents in the majority over district staff and administrators.

They would also strip Superintendent GwenCarol Holmes of her chairmanship over the advisory groups. Written when the district had an assistant superintendent on staff, policy stipulates that the superintendent or a designee will head up board committees.

“I tried to make it so policy reflected what we’re hearing from the

community, so we have some equitability in the makeup of these committees, and in the chairmanship,” Clayton said. “That’s what’s rubbing people the wrong way.”

The committees, which have no binding power over board decisions, are likely to be reformed, with new members, when the trustees meet in September.

During their July meeting, the trustees agreed to overhaul the Policy Committee, an ad-hoc group of board members, administrators, school staff and members of the public tasked with writing and rewriting district bylaws.

As the board’s liaison to that committee, Clayton volunteered to rework the rules governing committee membership, called Policy 220.

In his draft, committee members pick a chair from the pool of public appointees; the superintendent could stay on, as a regular member. Individual trustees would still nominate members of the public to serve from a pool of applicants, and the board would still pick the final roster.

At least three of Clayton’s colleagues—board Chairwoman Ellen Mandeville, Trustee Kelly Green and Trustee Kevin Garrison, liaison to the Finance Committee—took issue with aspects of his edits.

“It unnecessarily distorts the balance on a number of these committees,” Garrison said.

He’d lose his post on the Finance Committee if Clayton’s version passed; the draft doubles members of the public to 10, but doesn’t include a seat for trustees.

“I see no value or benefit to having 10 versus five,” he added, “And, I see no reason to remove the board representative—except that Mr. Clayton may not like me.”

Tripling the number of constituents on the Policy Committee from at least two to a minimum of six seemed extreme, too, Green said. (Last year, the committee had four members of the public in its ranks.) Current policy committee members must attend three-quarters of all meetings to maintain their seat.

“I’m not sure if it’s feasible to get that many people who have jobs and other commitments together,” she said.

Their other concern: Drawing such sharp lines might pit groups against each other when it comes time to meet.

“This is not supposed to be a public debating society,” Garrison said. “I think 80, 90 percent of these policies the public doesn’t care anything about. And, now, if they don’t show up, you don’t have a quorum, and you don’t get anything done.”

Mandeville objected outright, saying she wouldn’t vote for the proposed changes. She said that for one, she didn’t think they’re necessary, calling the distinction between employees

and members of the public a “false dichotomy.”

“I don’t see why there’s anything particularly special or golden about community members who aren’t staff,” she said. “We are one community. … Our staff members are community members. I see no reason to say a community member and not an educator should chair these committees. It feels like it’s questioning the ability of our staff. I don’t know if that was the intent or not, but that certainly could be the perception.”

School board seeks committee members

The board didn’t take a vote on Clayton’s changes—the hearing was strictly informational. Ultimately, it opted to remand the document to the Policy Committee. For now, that means the composition will stay the same, because, at the moment, it doesn’t exist.

That should change as soon as representatives come forward to fill the seats according to existing rules. Anyone interested in taking on the job should apply to their representative trustee, Mandeville said. To find out how to contact them, check the district’s board member directory at blaineschools.org/Page/3634.

Email the writer: mdee@mtexpress.com

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