School board team-building

Published 10:09 am Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The Austin School Board must decide whether to continue team-building sessions with a consultant funded completely by private local businesses.

Members have met once with consultant Jean Morrison to begin resolving conflicts within the board, and discussed Tuesday whether they need to work on their own or utilize outside resources like Morrison.

“We will not use any school board money for this,” chairman Don Fox said of the consultant, who members believe is extremely expensive.

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“I want something,” Fox said. “Maybe this commitment is what I mean.”

The board must unanimously approve continuing with Morrison.

Fox would not reveal who the businesses are who paid and arranged for the consultant, nor would he say how much they are willing to pay to fund the service.

The school board has been trying to improve communication among members, an effort encouraged by interim superintendent Bruce Anderson, who has aided the communications committee in establishing a “public affirmation” of the board’s and superintendent’s norms and expectations.

Anderson wants board members to establish a proclamation stating they are not representing “special interest groups,” but working for the community and district as a whole.

“It helps publicly commit to what we evaluate,” Anderson said Tuesday.

Board member Mary Kleis said she wants the board’s role to be “bigger than one issue.

“Am I coming from a place that is a special interest, or is it really for the whole district? I would really like so see the whole board embrace that issue,” Kleis said.

Dave Simonson said if members have an “ax to grind,” it would be addressed under that process.

“Our job here is not to grind an ax. … that’s important to me,” Kleis said.

Members will continue to review and discuss the four-point affirmation.

The board is also addressing the ongoing issue of delegations — when or if citizens should be allowed to publicly address the board at meetings. Currently, citizens may register to speak before regular board meetings or for a maximum of five minutes during the meeting.

Anderson suggested the board remove delegations and direct citizens’ questions to the appropriate staff person or people in the district.

“It will be difficult to do in the community because we’ve always had delegations,” Fox said, adding that “It’s not very often there’s any delegations who’ve come to say good things.”

Kathy Green voiced her opposition to removing delegations.

“We cannot go without delgations,” she said. “We are a public entity.”

Richard Lees said that even if the board is a public entity, they aren’t required legally to hold delegations.

Kleis said delegations have not registered to discuss district matters; they have come to discuss the board itself.

“They’ve been coming to us about board things and the way we’ve been behaving,” she said.

“Once we have an environment of trust and respect, that will help too,” Diana Wangsness said. “Just to be able to open the door and talk to Mr. Anderson was wonderful.”

The board did not vote on delegations and will continue discussion next month.