Vanguard Analysis: Rules Regarding Agendizing Items for School Board Meetings

School Board Stock

Last Thursday, newly-elected school Boardmember Bob Poppenga asked for “some clarification” on the issue of “proposing an agenda item.”  He said, “In looking at the bylaws the process seems to me to be a little bit – not very clear – I think it could be interpreted in a couple different ways in terms of when an agenda item can be placed on a meeting and I just wonder how we go about requesting that the (bylaws) subcommittee  look at that and give their interpretation…”

Board President Barbara Archer stated, “The board subcommittee is free to take up whatever board policy it likes.”

Boardmember Madhavi Sunder went further, voting no on the normally pro forma board agenda, stating, “I don’t believe that the denial of requests was pursuant to the bylaws.”

Barbara Archer responded, “I had to have two weeks notice – which it did not.”  She continued, “That’s what the bylaws say, two weeks written notice which there was not two weeks written notice.”

But the board bylaws allow considerable discretion and nuance, a review by the Vanguard revealed.

The rules state, “A Board member or member of the public may request that a matter within the jurisdiction of the Board be placed on the agenda of a regular meeting. The request shall be submitted in writing to the Superintendent or designee with supporting documents and information, if any, at least two weeks before the scheduled meeting date.”

The rules then state: “Items submitted less than two weeks before the scheduled meeting date may be postponed to a later meeting in order to allow sufficient time for consideration and research of the issue.”

The board policy does not appear to grant the board president the opportunity for denial unless the item does not fall within “the subject matter jurisdiction of the Board.”

Moreover, while the bylaws state that the item must be submitted with at least two weeks’ notice, it does not mandate that the board president deny the request if it is not timely.  The letter of the law is one of discretion, they “may” postpone it to a later meeting if it is not timely.

On February 1, Madhavi Sunder requested of Superintendent John Bowes that an item, “AIM Program: Identification, Qualification and Testing Procedures,” be placed on the board agenda for the next meeting scheduled at that time, February 16, 2017.

In her request, she wrote, “I am writing you more than two weeks before that meeting and my reading of the Board Policy would require the item to be put on the agenda.”

Nevertheless, her request was denied and the item was not on the agenda until two months later, in April.

Moreover, a member of the public, Shun Yao, on February 2, made the same request.  He wrote, “As a parent and long-time Davis resident, I am writing with a sense of urgency to request that the issues concerning the current AIM testing and planning process be placed on the agenda of the 2/16 Board meeting.”

On the other hand, Ms. Sunder requested “Superintendent Evaluation” be placed on the Closed Session Agenda for the May 4, 2017, meeting.   That request was made on April 27 for the May 4 meeting – only a week in advance.

According to the bylaws, Board President Barbara Archer had the discretion to postpone this request to the next meeting.  She did not have authority to deny it outright.

Clearly, this is more of a gray area, given that the board president has the ability to postpone untimely requests.

Two board members are clearly uncertain as to what the rules are.  Said Ms. Sunder on Thursday, “I think that’s something we need to look at.  I just wanted to add that I’ve been very frustrated because I’ve twice as a trustee tried to make a written (request) pursuant to the bylaws to put items that are the board’s business on the agenda and have been denied twice and I know in both cases two trustees (requested it).

“I think we really need to clarify that policy as to how many trustees need to put a request in writing to get something on the agenda and what is exactly within the purview of  the board president and Superintendent with respect to that.”

My general understanding is that normally it has a lower threshold to put something on the agenda as opposed to pass an item. It takes three to pass an item, so two should be sufficient to put it on the agenda.

There are practical and legal reasons for that. The legal reason is that you don’t want three board members under the Brown Act to be having to consult with each other outside of noticed meetings.

It appears that in one case the board president acted within her purview not to agendize a matter, but the bylaw still leaves a considerable amount of discretion to grant even untimely requests – unless there is good reason not to do so.  From our perspective it would seem better to err on the side of making sure that requests to agendize are respected – that ensures that the board members are having their needs for discussion met.

Given the complaints and frustration expressed by two members of the board, it would be better for the board subcommittee to review the policy and potentially tighten it up.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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21 Comments

  1. Howard P

    The request shall be submitted in writing to the Superintendent or designee with supporting documents and information, if any.

    Was this test met?  The lack of any indication of the specific subject matter of concern, or a more specific description of the problem or suggested course of action sought, concerns me.

    1. Howard P

      You’re right, but the exact nature of the requests, including specificity (or lack thereof) of what elements to the topic were of concern, and issues related to those should also be disclosed and explained.

      When you ask for a discussion, you should stipulate what you want to discuss, so folk can prepare for the discussion.  Or accept that all it can be it ‘talk’, with no actions to be taken, except fleshing out ideas for further discussion at future meetings.

  2. Sharla C.

    This is tiresome. The two weeks notice is for the benefit of staff and the board so things can’t be added in a way that people don’t have time to prepare. Was that Madhavi’s intention?  This has the feel of a legal manuver by a lawyer attempting to get the upper hand in a case. If this wasn’t about GATE, would it even be an issue deserving three articles here?

    1. Don Shor

      But the request was made more than two weeks in advance. On the face of it, it appears to be abuse of discretion by the board president, but as others have noted there may be a reason for it (lack of documentation, or something), so it merits explanation by the president.
      The thing is, that February item was important and timely if there was going to be any modification of the testing, placement, # of classes for GATE, etc., as April was too late to make any changes. And this is pursuant to Madhavi Sunder’s repeated earlier comments that she would be monitoring the demographic outcomes of the board’s decision — outcomes which were obviously not desirable from the standpoint of the diversity of the program. It’s not as though this was a new topic coming out of nowhere. Her request was perfectly appropriate. As to the board president’s action, that seems not to have been appropriate within what we know about the by-laws.
      So it may be tiresome to you, but it appears to be pretty relevant to the administration of the GATE program changes.

        1. Kristina Passerini

          When intent to return forms (which requires you to input whether or not your child will be switching schools for any program in Davis) has a due date of March 17th, then April is too late to make changes.

    2. David Greenwald

      To me there is a legitimate question about how agendizing items should work not about AIM. When I wrote the initial story, I didn’t have benefit of reading the bylaws.

      1. Sharla C.

        After she forced the issue and the Board discussed it and voted on it.  Right? What am I missing here?  Why this minutia?  Is this political manuvering to keep this in the news and continue to build distrust?  What would be different about the outcome of the testing anyway?  What would they have discussed that would change the results of students’ tests?  Is that what is being called into question?

        1. David Greenwald

          I already explained my interest in the issue – there is legitimate question about how items could get on the agenda. Until I saw the policy, I didn’t realize that a member of the public could formally request for something to be agendized.

        2. Jim Hoch

          David, I think this is a the kind of topic that the Vanguard does best, Important, local, and not of interest to any other outlet.

          What people do is more important than what they say.

           

        3. Sharla C.

          OK. So this supposed to be educational, for the benefit of the community, so they can get things on the agenda that they want the Board to discuss?  Now I’m really confused.

  3. cindypickett

    Legal technicalities aside, my question is whether it was in the best interest of the affected families to wait until April to put the issue on the agenda. Regardless of the topic or the outcome of the discussion, timeliness should be a priority when setting the board agenda.

    1. Kristina Passerini

      If parents have to make decisions about placements for their children before the item is discussed by the Board, then timeliness should be considered and taken into account.

  4. Sharla C.

    Put the AIM testing discussion on the Feb agenda next year, but It was my understanding that staff hadn’t completed their testing in Feb.  I’m wondering what will be discussed.

  5. Chian He

    The issue posed in this article is far more important than just the AIM/GATE issue.  It raises the question of whether a request to place an item on the agenda can be denied, or denied by indefinite delay, or denied by delay until the issue is moot.

    The Board meeting, or any public meeting for that matter, is a democratic process.  The law requires that the public be given an opportunity to meaningfully participate in the discussion or debate before the governing body makes an informed decision.

    I propose that the Board amends to the rule to make it clear that if a request is made at least two weeks before the meeting is scheduled, the requested item shall be placed on the agenda.

     

    1. Kristina Passerini

      Since the agenda has to be posted 3 days before hand, I think the language has to be clear as to when the two week window fits in.  2 weeks before the agenda is due or 2 weeks before the meeting.  I can see some manipulations of the rules if it is not clear.

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