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