School board workshop
Trustees open up at an intimate weekend workshop
At a weekend workshop designed in part for annual self-review, the Chico Unified School District’s Board of Trustees tackled issues ranging from cussing to collective bargaining to the impact of larger class sizes.
The Saturday morning (March 5) meeting, held in the conference room at the East Seventh Street district annex, was unusual in that the five trustees—including newcomer Eileen Robinson—had the chance to confront the interpersonal as well as the macro-economic.
And that’s exactly what they did.
Trustee Andrea Lerner Thompson at one point told Board President Kathy Kaiser that she was “troubled” by Kaiser’s “cussing,” though later said she hadn’t intended to make a fuss about it. Kaiser, in turn, promised to curb cussing and frequently placed the blame for many of the district’s problems that apparently make her want to cuss on the state budget.
At the annual March meeting, trustees begin reviewing the performance of the district superintendent and discuss evaluation forms that have been filled out prior to the meeting. On this Saturday, far from the council chambers dais and free of microphones, the trustees sat around a conference table, ate breakfast rolls, and pursued a discussion that was sometimes self-revelatory and at other times a critical examination of past decisions and future direction.
The trustees often demonstrated their radically different governing styles, with Kaiser speaking bluntly about her frustration with the teachers’ union and pushing for what she sees as efficiency at board meetings. Jann Reed, vice president of the board, reminded her that a reporter was present, a semi-subtle plea for caution and tact.
Trustee Liz Griffin encouraged the board to clearly set and post measurable goals, and said collective bargaining needs “more visibility and transparency.” Other trustees agreed, with Kaiser adding that the Chico Unified Teachers Association leadership “appears to be out of touch” with the limitations imposed by a ravaged state budget.
“There’s a tremendously visible national movement to attack teachers’ unions,” Kaiser said at one point in the meeting, “and we’re not responsible for that.”
(Later, by phone, Kaiser said the 2010-11 contract with CUTA was based on an agreement that was possible because CUSD received one-time federal monies. “We were able to make concessions from our side because that money showed up,” Kaiser said. But she was upset by the direction a March 2 board/CUTA workshop took.)
Lerner Thompson worried about morale among district employees, and the board discussed what could be done to show more appreciation. Griffin and Reed said the board’s vote to restrict the use of personal energy-using devices in district classrooms had been a mistake, given the impact such decisions can have on employee morale. In October 2009, the board decided the district could charge teachers for the cost of energy used by small refrigerators and space heaters.
Lerner Thompson also called for an effort to look at the results of increasing class size in the lower grades—a decision that was made to save money—and whether that’s contributed to the drift to charter schools.
Reed agreed: “We need to look at the outcome of board decisions,” she said.
Most of the trustees seemed to feel that a greater effort should be made to involve district “stakeholders” in decision-making, though Kaiser gave the board a “3” out of a possible “4” on that item. “I do think we involve district stakeholders in decisions,” she said. “People need to take some responsibility for getting involved.”
Lerner Thompson gave the board a low rating for “treats each other with respect.”
“I often have felt marginalized,” said Lerner Thompson, who has served as a trustee since 2006 and held the clerk’s position once. “I couldn’t get elected dog-catcher of this group.”
The idea of a board retreat designed to enhance interpersonal relationships—rather than for business—was tossed around briefly. Kaiser objected, saying there was “plenty of respect.”
“It is not about [us] agreeing,” she said. “I have no time to sing ‘Kumbaya’; there’s much work to get done.”