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Is consensus decision making the best route for our schools?

Over the past few years, the Park Rag has been critical of our Park City School District for a few different reasons. One of those reasons is that historically the school board has voted in unison on major issues.

We have taken umbrage at that. It all seemed too programmed and processed. We would hope that in our schools all ideas are vigorously discussed and vetted in public.

Last Summer we had a chance to visit with School Board leader Phil Kaplan about the topic. Below is a response from Mr. Kaplan on the subject.

You have often pointed out that certain elected bodies function better than others because they split votes more frequently and don’t make unanimous decisions, as if that is a virtue by itself. The theory seems to be that the split vote represents dissent and debate, with officials sticking to their guns and the better choice ruling the vote. I would like to point out that a true consensus-based decision process can often yield better decisions, with greater downstream results and implications more thought out.

The consensus-based decision process hit American business hard in the 1970s, when it seemed like the manufacturing base was all going to Japan. It works with managers leading a team, with every voice having input, the best idea for the organization winning, and thorough implementation plans and process developed before the go decision is made. So, decision-making moves slower, but execution can be much faster and crisper. The American technology and manufacturing sectors have embraced this model to great effect.

Taking my thesis back to local elected bodies, we can use the consensus-based model, successfully, in our institutions. So, I would not just look at a 3-2 vote vs. a 5-0 vote as a quality determinant. I would look hard at the thought process that led up to the vote being taken. That would better reflect the quality of the ultimate decision.

All the best,

Philip N Kaplan
Member, Board of Education
Park City School District


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