I am one member of a five person board. The opinions I express on this forum are mine only, and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the Escambia County Staff, Administrators, Employees, or anyone else associated with Escambia County Florida. I am interested in establishing this blog as a means of additional transparency to the public, outreach to the community, and information dissemination to all who choose to look. Feedback is welcome, but because public participation is equally encouraged, appropriate language and decorum is mandatory.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

The Board Deserves Time to Review Important Documents

Recently two events have taken place in the district that merit discussion. Both issues present what I feel is a systemic problem in communication between the Board and the Superintendent’s staff. I’m going to discuss the first issue at length here.

At a recent special meeting to approve the financial reports for the district, the board members were each given several large “books” of reports and financial narratives, graphs, etc. We were given this large volume of information the day these finalized reports were due to the State. My fellow board members and I all complained about being given zero review time by being hit over the head with huge amounts of information the day this same information had to be voted on and approved.

This is not the first time we have been given lots of information at the last minute and then been expected to vote to approve this same last minute information.

I’m confused as to why information, vital information, cannot be prepared and given to the board at least one week prior to the “drop dead” due date. I’m not talking about exceptional circumstances, or last minute adds that cannot be avoided—of course I understand that theses sorts of issues will come up. I’m talking about set reports with due dates that are known way in advance. Why can the board not get these sorts of reports from the Superintendent’s office with adequate time to thoroughly review? I asked the deputy superintendent if a policy could be established to institute a one week “cut off” date, meaning that prior to an item being voted on, the board must be given copies of such documents no later than one week prior to the meeting on which these items will be acted upon. His response was straightforward and succinct “We can’t do that, that’s just not possible” My response was just as quick—I said “I’m not buying that”.

I don’t buy the idea that there is no way the staff can prepare these documents in such a manner that the board can have these documents no later than one week prior to a vote. I’m not knocking the working level staff—I know the staff members are hard working dedicated professionals. If additional staff is required then my feeling is that additional resources should be brought in. The board will bring in temporary help if necessary, or allocate whatever resources are necessary for the superintendent to get these reports done in a timely fashion, so that the board will not be hit with document dumps the day of meetings.

Deadlines are not a new concept. We all deal with deadlines in our day to day lives. In many business and governmental environments, there are staggered due dates. Here is my example: If a drop dead due date of October 1st is known for “XYZ corp.’s” “widget report”, here’s the way the report would be crafted:

Lower level branch submits draft “widget report” to mid level branch by early September.
Mid level branch reviews and revises “widget report” then submits this report to upper level management by mid-September.
Once “widget report” is polished and finalized by upper level branch, CEO and Board of Directors are given copies of final draft of “widget report” for review/revision by last week of September.

In real life, there is no way a corporate board of directors would be given an important, vital, time-sensitive and lengthy report the day this same report would need to be acted upon/finalized/reported. It just would not happen, or should I say it would not happen unless one of three conditions existed within this hypothetical “XYZ Corp.”

Condition 1. Lack of leadership.------ lack of vision, lack of ability, and/or lack of will to utilize resources effectively and efficiently in order to ensure Board of Directors have the important report with adequate time to review.

Condition 2. Lack of Respect.--------- “this is the way we’ve always done things, this is just the way it is” mentality. Board of directors will get the report when the CEO’s staff get’s it to them. Period. “They’ll [Board of Directors] just have to deal with it and trust that we’ve got the information right, and just vote to approve it.”

Condition 3. Combination ------------ (Combination of Conditions 1 & 2 –see above)

Here’s the million dollar question:

What professional organization/corporation would treat their board of directors this way?

With a new administration coming into the Escambia County School District in just two short months, I hope that these last minute “document dumps” will quickly become a thing of the past. Treating the Board with respect will ensure reciprocity. Treating the Board disrespectfully will result in an atmosphere of uneasiness, mistrust, and tension.

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