Last week, I wrote on changes the Park City School Board were considering to their process for making policies. Currently, the board has a stated requirement that a bevy of people will participate in their policy decisions. These people include everyone from school board members, to the public, to teachers, to staff. The changes desired by the school board will limit that committee to board members and administrators. I felt that cutting people like teachers out of the process could be extremely detrimental to creating good policies in certain circumstances.
However, after this week’s school board meeting, I wonder if I could be wrong about that. In a lead up to their discussion about changing decision makers on policies, they were discussing a number of specific policies they would like to put into place. For each policy, they discussed whether they should have a sub committee involved to craft a better policy. For instance, they talked about school bus policies and which people from our community should be involved in making a policy regarding poor behavior on buses. Should a subcommittee include administrators involved with transportation? Should it involve parents of children who are bused? Who are the right people to be involved given the specific case. In effect, should a sub committee be formed to make the perfect policy with people who have the best knowledge over the subject matter.
I say yes.
From discussions happening during the most recent school board meeting, it sounds like the current policy committee, supposedly made up of a diverse group of people, isn’t really cutting mustard. If the school board was able to form a perfect committee of perfect people to discuss every policy, every time, I think that would be preferable. That said, the teacher’s union, according to comments during the meeting, is concerned that these sub committees are not mandatory. So, it would be possible for the board and administrators to pass most policies unilaterally and only for committees at specific times. The school board stated that they were more than willing to work with the teacher’s union to find good language that would define when a sub committee would be put in place.
In my view, sub committees of experts is a great idea. If there is a change to a no-idling policy at schools, include environmental experts on a sub committee. If there is a change to school start times, bring in experts on children’s sleep patterns. It sounds great… if they can pull it off.
And therein lies the rub. If the school board changes the policy committee to include only school board members and administrators, but brings in experts, community members, teachers, or whoever is the best to help define policies in our community, at least 70% of the time, then this change will be a huge win. Better policies will be made for our kids.
However, if in future years, most policy decisions have reverted to being made by a select group of board members and administrators, it will be huge loss.
Personally, I think the school board have made a very high hurdle for themselves. I think it’s very similar to when the Summit County Council decided that they would determine whether each and every tenant in the Boyer Tech Park fit the description of being a “tech company.” In the heat of public discourse, they welcomed that responsibility; however, eventually the reality of making decisions about every tenant set in. They got out of that business as fast as they could.
Entropy suggests that the same thing will happen with the school board. The board has a chance to prove me wrong. Forever, they can ensure that the right people are involved on sub committees for every policy decisions. They can invest the time and effort in courting those people. They will have to be willing to wait on those people to hash out a decision. They will need to be willing to go with the sub committee’s recommendation, especially when it doesn’t jibe with their own world view.
They’ve set themselves (or their new policy committee) up for an almost impossible task: assemble the perfect group for almost every situation. However, if they achieve it, we will all be better off.
I hope the board finds a way to make it work… and a way that will continue to work in perpetuity. If they do, my initial comments on the matter will most certainly be proved wrong. Our decisions about policies will be made using better information.
If not, and the board “forgets” that the general rule is to form subcommittees of experts, our worst fears will be realized. We will have lost an important process where a balanced group of decision makers such as teachers, staff, and community members, make some of the most significant decisions regarding our kids. In its place will be an insular group of decision makers that may not reflect either our community or our students.
That would be a huge loss.