Last night the WSSD school board brought forward policy 206: attendance areas and assignment in district for final approval. The new policy 206 would allow the administration to decide to send elementary school children to whichever school they want. The path this policy has taken highlights a number of fundamental problems with governance in WSSD.
Parents Showing Up Matters
But before we get into the problems with policy 206, the policy was stopped (for now) because three parents – Ms. Dobo, Ms. Freeman and Ms. Frankel showed up to push back against it. Despite the outcry moving children between WES and SRS caused this past summer, only a handful of parents were on hand to point out the new policy’s flaws. Because of their intervention, it was stopped for now and is returning to the policy committee for revisions.
One flaw is that the policy does not require the district to allow siblings to go to the same elementary school. The board weakly suggested that it wasn’t always possible to send siblings to the same school, but this is an absurd argument – instead of moving the sibling to another school, they could move a student without siblings at the school. Furthermore, it was pointed out the policy does not allow the board any oversight into school catchments – the board wouldn’t have to approve changes. The administration could move students however they want with no input from the public or its elected representatives.
It’s Not Transparent
One of the complaints of these parents and others that spoke last night was that the policy was not publicly available for parents to comment on. I knew that this policy would be of interest to the community but despite the board’s protestations that they desire transparency, this was their response to my request for the draft policy back in October.
Draft policies are made available to the public when the agenda for the Board legislative meeting is posted to the District’s website. Policy 206 was presented for first reading at the Policy Committee meeting on Oct. 26. It will be presented for a second reading by the committee on November 22. If the committee moves at the November 22nd meeting that the policy should be presented to the Board for adoption, the final draft policy will be made available to the public when the agenda is posted for the December 19 regular board meeting.
The Board’s practices are consistent with Section 708(b)(9) of the Pennsylvania Right to Know Law, which states that draft policies are not public records.
Another parent at the meeting said they didn’t even get a response. As far as I know, the policy was not widely available prior to the policy committee meeting four days before the board meeting last night and, as demonstrated by the small number of parents in attendance, few were aware of it. Despite the board’s claims of commitment to transparency, it was a deliberate decision by them to hide this policy from the public for as long as possible.
Are Your Wednesday Evenings Free?
Board members (and the superintendent in previous meetings) have said repeatedly that the public should attend the subcommittee meetings to participate in shaping these policies. But as I’ve pointed out to the board in the past, I am on the township EAC, which meets at the same time every month as the policy committee. I can never participate. I know other parents that have to work long hours usually after 7 pm most nights. I know parents on evening and night shifts that regularly work at that time. The upcoming facilities & finance meetings this Wednesday fall on a religious holiday. The board’s continuing insistence that parents attend these meetings highlights their lack of commitment to the inclusion ideals they continually espouse and a continuing lack of awareness that not everyone in the community shares their life circumstances.
A Lack Of Responsibility
The other problem with policy 206 is that it delegates responsibility to the administration and relinquishes oversight by the board – the community’s elected representatives. And this is true of several policies I’ve seen lately. The board is steadily surrendering responsibilities to the administration. The dress code and the space usage policies had the same feature – giving the administration carte blanche to do as they will with no input from the public’s representatives.
We are a representative democracy. The board is the voice of the community and its purpose is to guide the administration and conduct oversight. But instead, our board seems increasingly uninterested in doing the job they’ve been elected to do.
We Haven’t Heard That
Sir Humphrey: Bernard, Ministers should never know more than they need to know. Then they can’t tell anyone. Like secret agents; they could be captured and tortured.Yes, Minister Episode 7: Jobs for the Boys
Bernard: [shocked] You mean by terrorists?
Sir Humphrey: [seriously] By the BBC, Bernard.
The last issue I want to raise is the issue of communication to the board. A parent spoke about a request from the wrestling coaches to form a women’s wrestling team. The board was unaware this request had been made. I have heard repeatedly how the board is unaware of issues within the district. The administration is not providing information to the board that they need to know and the board seems to lack its own means of gathering that information independently.
Since I attended the meeting, I’ll note a few highlights.
Something you don’t see on the camera is that there are several tables of administrators sitting at tables facing the school board. They seemed to serve no purpose during the meeting. This doesn’t seem the best use of our administrator’s time.
There was a presentation on the district’s art program. The student art display at the meeting was impressive.
There was a presentation about the high school which demonstrated you can’t cover everything going on at the high school in 10 minutes.
The district hired Dr. Cellini, an alumni of the district, as its new Director of Human Resources.
The district signed a contract with Ms. Irving to do communications work for the district 2 days/week. Probably won’t be much change in communications until they find someone permanent.
The district is moving to PeachJar for some announcements.
One of the newly hired security personal at SHHS resigned the day after the lockdown.
The board passed policies 221 (Dress and Appearance) and 805.2 (School Security Personnel) with little discussion. The updated policy 221 removes gendered references and leaves issues of student dress to the discretion of administrators instead of documenting it for the public in policy. The updated policy 805.2 seems to remove some of the duties of the safety and security coordinator and removes mention of school resource officers. It adds a section on the new school safety and security aide which says more about what they aren’t then what they’re actually for.