The school board made the news again. The sad thing is that most of the news is about how the meetings are scheduled and conducted. There are some real concerns about keeping the public involved and informed. We have covered it previously here and here.
There have been some improvements since the first time I looked at this issue. The Board Book, an online agenda management tool, seems to be working now when it was just a link to the company page the first time I looked. It is on the SAISD Meeting dates and Agendas page. Some points stand out looking over the history of the board meetings. The first workshop session of 2005 was in September, and it was apparently a presentation on how school boards and superintendents should work together, with no action items or resolutions required. Strictly information and training. Pretty much similar to what you find in workshops held by other government entities. An open meeting where the public is welcome to observe, but normally of little interest unless someone is looking for a cure for insomnia.
In October the board started doing monthly "workshops" on the agenda of the next regular meeting. They also stopped video taping the workshops, although they are still open to the public and printed minutes are being maintained as required. In these workshops, they apparently go over the same items that will be presented in the regular, televised meeting. There is apparently some discussion at these sessions. One of the goals seems to be to get the discussion out of the way so that the reports and presentations can be moved along quickly and in a set amount of time. Almost comes across as a rehearsal for the SAISD TV show.
Truthfully, there is a lot of ground that needs to be covered by the school board. The proposed agenda for the next (Dec 12) meeting has 31 items and the total agenda packet is 91 pages. Many of these items, such as recognition of specific teachers, etc. with no money involved don't need to be discussed at 2 board meetings. There are other items, such as beverage contracts and the scope of work of architects, that deserve the fullest public involvement and disclosure.
In the end, I see some problems. First, this is not a very time efficient way of handling the meetings. All the reports and background information have to be presented twice. Why not handle a report or item completely at one time, and only have it on the next agenda if there are changes or further discussion required. Second it appears on the surface that a large part of the serious discussion will be done in the workshop and a dressed up, professional image will be made ready to be presented to the TV camera and the public. Last, on major issues it will require concerned citizens to attend twice as many meetings just so they can actually see and be involved in all the discussions. It means that in order to see the full discussion, you will have to attend the workshops, instead of being able to watch the proceedings on the ISD channel.
It would be easy to say that this method of conducting business was a deliberate attempt to keep part of discussion obscured from the public at large and increase the difficulty of public involvement. I don't believe it was deliberate but the net effect is the same and in the end the effect is more important than the motivation.