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‘The board is as open as it can legally and ethically be’

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POSTED: April 14, 2007 5:00 a.m.

The Bryan County Board of Education invests both time and financial resources in informing our public. Good News about Bryan County Schools is sent to almost 17,000 boxholders. The spring issue each year contains a questionnaire requesting parent input on the student handbook - the foundation of our establishment of a safe environment for students and staff.

When the board’s decision about where to locate a new school became a topic of interest, the board mailed a four-page explanation to all boxholders, repeated the information in the next issue of Good News going to all boxholders, and placed the explanation on the website as well. Many parents commented that they now understood the action.

This document explained the regulations and legal considerations which the board had to address.

When the 2007-2008 school calendar was being designed, every parent in Bryan County was sent a questionnaire. The system stipulated that first semester would end by winter break, ensuring the opportunity for middle and high school students to complete high stakes exams without a two-week interruption. Parent and staff guidance was followed, based on majority vote, for the scheduling of spring break and the choice of holidays.

Annually, the school council at each school elects two parents to meet with the superintendent - the Superintendent’s Parent Advisory Council. The names and school addresses of these 18 parents are on the system website, and they are listed in every issue of Good News About Bryan County Schools. This group functions as the most effective school/system improvement mechanism ever. When parents meet as a group quarterly and address any issue brought to them by the group of parents they represent, any policy or program need may be addressed. Many system practices have been changed due to the advice of this group. They call on a regular basis when issues arise at times between the quarterly meetings. I report to the board the questions and advice of this group on a regular basis. The questions and issues brought to the superintendent are confidential regarding their source, so any question may be posed by a parent or group of parents. Every other year, this group devises a parent questionnaire based on objectives from each school’s parents. Parents are asked to rank the top ten objectives for improving schools and the system, and these become the basis for the formation of our budgets and/or planning for improvement with principals. The last parent questionnaire listed "school uniforms" as one of the top ten needs. All but one of the top ten objectives for improvement have already been implemented.

The board provides the opportunity for public comment at its meetings. This is not required. The board chooses to do so. The board does not ask or answer questions. Consider why that is the logical format: The board’s agenda and supporting documentation are provided to them a week in advance of the meeting so that board members have the opportunity to ask questions, have additional information gathered, or make changes to the agenda. They should not be expected to respond in public with no opportunity to review legal or other information required to make responsible decisions. In addition, one board member cannot speak for the board. A quorum of members is required to make a decision. Most issues are and should be addressed at a lower level. There is a difference between the decisions made by a board and those made by school and system administrators. Boards set policy and provide resources. Administrators conduct the day- to- day business of the schools and the system. To venture from this path would be to tread the same path followed by some other systems in Georgia - in nearby systems when board members attempted to make the day-to-day decisions of the district, accreditation agencies placed the system on probation.

The board cannot discuss personnel issues with the public. The board must respect the employees’ privacy but employees are free to make any charges they desire, knowing the board cannot comment when incorrect information is provided to parents and others. Boards do not make decisions or choices which cannot be legally defended, but the board and the administration cannot provide the public information in these matters. The same is true for inquiries regarding private student information. It would be an easier position to be able to satisfy curiosity - it would also be unethical, illegal behavior.

When the question was posed about out-of-state travel, the board scheduled the board’s attorney to explain sovereign immunity. The board provided the information and a period for discussion. The legal information is not palatable to many, but the board’s position is always to protect the system’s financial interests on behalf of all of its children.

The next topic of public interest will be the adoption of a uniform policy statement. There are, as always, two readings of a policy. After the first reading in March, there is a period for comment of a month’s time, culminating with a vote after a second reading at the April meeting. The next step will be the review of the administrative regulations by the Superintendent’s Parent Advisory Council. Then the regulations (which specify descriptions of allowed clothing) will be placed on the system’s website with a dedicated e-mail address. The parent responses will be furnished to each board member. In addition, each board member and the superintendent have e-mail addresses posted on the website for easy parent/public access.

When I read a commentary such as the referenced editorial, I remember the advice I often give principals when they have had a particularly difficult week. I remind them that I manage by remembering that if I have heard from five disgruntled parents in a week (a rare occurrence), there are over 13,000 who have not expressed unhappiness with our system. They are encouraged to apply their school numbers to that concept, and they always smile.

Bryan County Schools does enjoy an excellent reputation in our communities and in the state at large. It hasn’t happened by accident. It happens one day at a time, one classroom at a time, one administrator/teacher/student interaction at a time. The Bryan County Board of Education makes decisions based on what is right for children, what is legal and ethical, what guards its resources for the benefit of the many. Every decision is not a popular one, but every decision is a responsible one. The board is as open as it can legally and ethically be.

Note: Quote from Bryan County Now, March 29 article on uniforms and BOE meeting. "The Bryan County Board of Education listened."

Sincerely,

Sallie Brewer

Superintendent

March 29

 

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