Tuesday, October 9, 2012

To Committee or Not to Committee

The Pottstown School Board is ditching committees ... maybe
Note: Valerie Harris, lower right, is no longer a member
of the school board. She was replaced in June by Amy Francis.
Several weeks ago, Pottstown School Board President Judyth Zahora expressed concern that not enough board members were showing up at committee meetings and she asked the board members if they still wanted to hold committee meetings.

(I wrote about that query in August.)

Everyone said yes.

But Thursday night, Zahora raised the issue again and is now advocating an experiment in which committees would no longer meet.

Except when they do.



Join the club.

Working 14-hour days takes its toll
on the executive team, Zahora said.
The concern was raised, Zahora said, after several administrators expressed concerns to her about having the "executive team", who begin their work day at 7:30 in the morning, then attending meetings which begin at 7 or 7:30 at night.

"It's too much physically, you can't sustain that pace," Zahora told the school board.

"I would like to reduce the burden on the executive team and all the time they are putting in," Zahora said.

At the same time, Zahora said, she is concerned that not enough of the board's business is getting done because of poor attendance at committee meetings.

"It's a lot to expect of everyone," she said of the committee and regular meeting schedule. "We can see it isn't working beautifully," said said Amy Francis, who was appointed to the board in June. 

"It's hard to get to committee meetings, my schedule is crazy," she said.

(The level of difficulty her schedule imposes is evident from Francis' consistent tardiness at regular board meetings.)

Zahora said she is considering "pulling back on the committee system" and trying to conduct all board business "in just two long meetings."

Pottstown School Board meetings may be getting even longer!
"I must admit I am kind of betwixt and between on that," she added. "We've got some big projects in the works and I'm not sure we can get all that stuff done."

"If it's done right, it can be successful," Francis said.

"We're tying to encourage the public to come to meetings," said board member Polly Weand. "But they can't come to 10 different committee meetings."

Board member Andrew Kefer noted that many board meetings already see lengthy discussions. (The one at which this discussion occurred lasted until 11 p.m.)

Board member Mary-Beth Bacallao said some meeting agendas may have to be scaled back as a result.

"Sometimes we'll have to make it clear we just don't have the bandwidth to deal with it," Bacallao said.

Judy Zahora believes, rightly, that the Pottstown School Board
has a lot of balls in the air right now.
"Until we try it, we don't know how it will work," Zahora said. "Right  now we've got a lot of balls in the air."

So the board agreed to give it a try.

All committee meetings are currently suspended, as was announced on the district web site.

(What this will do to the board initiative to investigate having members of the public sit on board committees remains unclear.)

And, in order to accommodate the potential for longer school board meetings, the start time has  been moved back to 7 p.m.

"We'll also have to limit the time we talk and not have so many presentations," Zahora said.

Sounds like a great way to spend an evening right? Join me at the board meeting Oct. 18 at Pottstown Middle School (side entrance) and get a look at how your tax money gets spent.

See you there.




1 comment:

  1. Note: School Board Member Ron Williams asked me to post this for him:

    I wrote this comment to place as a comment on you blog. However, I don't seem to have the technical aptitude to figure out how to do that so, use it if you want:

    I can only hope that the Board will not allow this "suspension" of committees to continue.

    The committees system is intended to provide a platform for issues to be introduced, studied and addressed to the governing body.

    This is not the kind of activity that you can provide in an already time consuming voting meeting of the whole Board.

    The outcome to a Board without functioning committees is, in my opinion, a Board that conducts itself by dictate. Discussion will be limited due to time constraints and may present a serious obstacle for presenters.

    The idea behind committees should be to study issues or subjects that are relevent to the ongoing success of our programs...it is an ACADEMIC process.

    Ron Williams
    Pottstown School District Board Director