One of the ideas that has been floated about this summer is the idea of creating a school board subcommittee that could work out a compromise on AIM reforms, build community consensus and maybe avoid some of the polarizing carnage that a vote on AIM reforms might entail. However, that option was officially removed from the table as the board majority rejected the proposal from Board President Alan Fernandes.
Alan Fernandes noted that, according to board policy, the board may establish both standing committees and ad hoc committees from time to time. “I wanted for reasons of discussion and action tonight, to see if the board is willing to (an) ad hoc committee for… later start and the AIM recommendations.” He noted that the STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Mathematics) Advisory Council has been working with the Superintendent but “we don’t really have formal appointments on that effort.”
“I thought that because those are big projects that the board has directed staff to work on, that we should discuss creating ad hoc committees for those assignments,” he said.
Susan Lovenburg asked if Mr. Fernandes was advocating this. He said, “Yes. Just because I think it can’t hurt. I think any time the board has tasked the administration with coming back with recommendations on Later Start and AIM, the final product is generally improved when there’s interaction between the superintendent and administration and some board members. I surmise that that might be the case with these issues.”
Susan Lovenburg noted it might be late in the game to create a subcommittee on later start and AIM. “These are discussions that are well underway already,” she said. “I think all five board members have a significant interest in participating in those discussions.”
She felt board subcommittees would be more useful earlier in the process when there’s work to be done, rather than when policy decisions need to be made. “I think a subcommittee actually creates a side block where they don’t have to be Brown Act posted… What often comes back to the board is a recommendation from the subcommittee that other board members may not share because they weren’t part of the same discussions – it can actually in hindsight set up some potential conflict which I don’t think is necessarily some good thing, particularly on issues of as much interest to the community as AIM is.”
Ms. Lovenburg continued, “I really want to see that be as transparent a process as possible.” She expressed less concern about the later start. She added, “I’m not sure why this would be a good idea.”
Alan Fernandes responded that “there would be nothing in my view that would prohibit another board member who wasn’t part of the subcommittee (from working with staff)… I don’t see any downside to it. I wouldn’t feel if I wasn’t on the a committee that I couldn’t call the Superintendent and staff and be treated equally just because I wasn’t on the subcommittee.”
He noted that these were issues that generated great public interest – he sees a subcommittee as a benefit to the Superintendent and administrative professionals, enabling them to check in with the subcommittee as they continue to develop the recommendations.
He argued that this is an effort that would “promote a better product” coming to the board, one that the Superintendent could do, knowing there was direct input from two members of the board.
Ms. Lovenburg simply suggested that the Superintendent check in with all five board members. She said, “I think you create an unnecessary tension when you ask two board members to represent five perspectives.”
Vice President Madhavi Sunder said, “It’s not just that there’s no risk to having it, I worry there’s a risk to not having a subcommittee when we’re talking about an issue like AIM. We heard throughout the summer, folks from the public saying they feel like they’re being shut out of the process – that there doesn’t seem to be that there’s any longer an active GATE advisory committee.”
“The process here has deviated from the process we’re taking with later start and… the STEAM advisory committee,” she said. “I think once you start deviating from an accepted process… We have processes for a reason. They breed trust, transparency, participation, and as you say… the goal is to get a better product.”
“I am very concerned that deviating from that good, best practice, procedural approach on the AIM issue is going to invite more dissatisfaction and distrust,” she said. She called this a great suggestion from the board president for treating this important issue.
Barbara Archer said, “I think these are very important issues, obviously. Since they are such important issues, what I’m looking for is equal engagement from all five board members and equal access to the process.”
She said that staff has been working on this all summer and are bringing the board a recommendation in two weeks. She said, “I’m unclear about how two board members being appointed to enter this process at this time…”
Tom Adams said, “I’m not big on creating committees to create committees. I still haven’t heard the clear purpose of this committee.” He said he’s not sure if this just creates another process or a competing product with the staff recommendations. “To me I think the issue is, if these are such big issues then we have to keep it everyone’s responsibility. I’m not comfortable assigning it to people at this point.”
He said that, if they are going to be working on a consensus model, “if we’re really going to own these issues as a board, then we’re going to have to act as a board.” He said, “I don’t feel comfortable splintering off as a committee with a charge that I don’t think is clear at this point.”
Alan Fernandes said that he understood the will of the board and agreed to withdraw the suggestion.
—David M. Greenwald reporting