Danville Schools developing board member behavior policies

Published 9:21 pm Wednesday, January 30, 2019

The Danville Board of Education plans to develop new policies for how its board members should behave.

The board voted unanimously this week to create three five-person committees to develop the policies, which would dictate:

• when board members should and should not visit individual schools;

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• how board members should and should not interact with the superintendent; and

• how board members should avoid interfering with personnel matters.

Board member Paul Smiley is spearheading the effort. He has presented the board with proposals for what the policies should address and how the board should go about developing the policies.

“The reason has never changed on why I recommended them and worked on them,” Smiley said this week. “… I’ve been away for 10 years (Smiley is newly elected but previously served multiple terms on the board); also, (board member) Glenn Ball is brand new. I now know if the procedures and standards have changed.”

Visits to schools

The policy for visiting schools would include rules for board members to sign in and out when they visit schools in their capacity as board members, according to Smiley’s proposal document.

“The purpose of the visit should be noted on the sign ‘in and out’ form,” the policy proposal reads.

Ben Kleppinger/ben.kleppinger@amnews.com
Danville school board member Paul Smiley presents his ideas for developing board member behavior policies during Monday night’s board meeting.

The superintendent and principal should be informed of board member visits in advance, and board members should “list appropriate reasons to visit a school” and “list inappropriate reasons to visit a school.”

Board members would not need to comply if they are visiting one of their children as a parent or for “school-wide assemblies or meetings open to the public.”

Smiley cites the Kentucky School Board Association’s Leadership Guide in explaining the need for such a policy to ensure that school board members do not involve themselves in the day-to-day operations at the schools.

“Good school board members know the difference between governance (which is their job) and management (the administration’s job), and place a high priority on respecting the difference,” Smiley’s proposal states. “Board members should recognize that their responsibility is not to run the system, but to see that it is well run.”

Smiley also cites a KSBA presentation from Debbie Westlund on “ethics and the school board meeting,” in which Westlund said a plan for board member visits to schools is important because “sometimes board members scare people and staff. Also, it is illegal to tell staff what to do.”

Relationship with superintendent

Smiley’s proposal states the second policy would clarify how board members should communicate with the superintendent.

The policy would create a hierarchy where most communication flows from the superintendent through the board chair to the other board members. However, “the option is always available for the ‘individual’ board member and the superintendent to make contact for a meeting at their discretion,” the proposal reads.

“Micromanagement of the superintendent is unacceptable,” the proposal states under reasons for the new policy. “Problems occur when board members do endless sharing of ideas, suggestions, social visits and other cause(s), consuming the superintendent’s work time needlessly.

Personnel involvement

The third policy would spell out the fact that board members are not to be involved with school district personnel matters.

“The school board is for ‘policy only;’ not involved in personnel,” Smiley’s proposal states. “School board members cannot be involved in evaluation, advising, making suggestions, criticizing, praising or making any performance statements regarding all employees working in the Danville Independent School System.”

Board members should listen to “school concerns from parents and community members” and then share the concern and parent’s or resident’s name with the superintendent for her to handle, according to the proposal.

“School board members will not listen to employees sharing negative or positive information regarding other employees in the Danville school system,” the proposal reads. “If a Danville Schools employee begins a personnel discussion, the board member will immediately say, ‘Please stop, I am not permitted by law to be involved in personnel. See your supervisor.'”

‘Team-building’ process

Smiley said he is not proposing the policies because he thinks board members are behaving inappropriately now, but “without knowing the standards, some of us may not be doing right.”

“It’s team-building,” he said of the process to develop the new policies. “… We can all settle down on what we can and can’t do.”

The school board has approved a timeline from Smiley for developing the new policies, which includes forming the three committees by Feb. 15 and enacting the completed policies by the end of the school year.

Board Chair Steve Becker said he commends Smiley for his work on the policies, noting that while KSBA helps advise school boards on the need for new policies, it doesn’t go back and review old policies that may need to be updated.

“Some of them could be 20 years old,” Becker said of the district’s existing policies. “I wanted to get a policy committee together and this will definitely fulfill that committee.”

Board member Lori Finke said she is on-board with the plan because “people get confused about what our roles and responsibilities are” and what roles are delegated to the superintendent and the school councils.

“They come to me to talk about things and I say, ‘I can’t help you; that’s not my job,'” she said. “So, it’s important for both sides to know what your job is … so having these policies and looking at them, I encourage it. I’m excited about it.”

Superintendent Tammy McDonald did not respond to a request for comment on the proposal.