Wednesday, July 5, 2017

What's a consent agenda and why you should care if you're in Worcester

As I mentioned in my preview of the final Worcester School regular meeting of the school year, Mr. Foley raised the issue of a consent agenda, something which is covered in today's T&G, as the item was held for the July meeting. The item as filed reads:
To ask the Mayor and the Superintendent to develop a new approach to the School Committee agenda that will make the meetings more effective, productive, and deliberative. Suggestions would include the establishment of a consent agenda for items such as routine approvals of donations and recognitions, the development of criteria for recognitions, designated meetings for honoring recipients of recognitions, and the presence on the agenda at each meeting or every other meeting an important educational policy issue facing Worcester Public Schools that school committee members would learn about (through materials distributed prior to the meeting) and discuss with administrators at the meeting.
So, what's a consent agenda, and why is this being discussed?

A consent agenda takes all of the items that don't need deliberation, items that are simply going to be passed, bundles them together, and has the committee vote a single time to pass all of them.  No one, for example, votes against donations; rarely is there any discussion beyond a request that thanks be sent to the donor. There is no need for individual votes for (to look at that same meeting) donations:

  • of $19.10 for classroom books 
  • of $1000 for SAT for seniors
  • of $1000 for a scholarship (due to Mr. Allen's award)
  • of $676 for special education transitions
  • of $250 for the alternative program (from an award they won!)
  • of $660 from Intel
  • of $13,000 from the Quinsigamond Village Improvement Council for equipment
Should they be on the agenda? Yes, and they're legally required to be, as the committee must vote acceptance of donations. But do they need to be taken separately? No, not at all.
And if someone thought one of them warranted discussion, they could make a motion to take the item off the consent agenda; if that motion passed, the item would be taken up during the meeting as a regular business item. 
Another example, and one raised by Mr. Monfredo in the article, is recognitions. You may have noted that I no longer spell those out in my agenda summary. Frankly, recognitions have exploded over the past year and a half. In that same June 15 alone, for example, there were nine different recognitions, some of several people, several of which were recognitions of individuals who have been recognized more than once this year already! And while recognitions may well be popular--and I doubt highly they'll ever go away--they are not, by any means, a core function of the School Committee, which, under the Mass General Laws, are: select and to terminate the superintendent, shall review and approve budgets for public education in the district, and shall establish educational goals and policies for the schools in the district consistent with the requirements of law and statewide goals and standards established by the board of education.
More to the point, for each of those recognitions, there is an item filed at an initial meeting, at which at least the filer of the item speaks to the item, and then the item is brought back for the recognition, at which someone else, at least, speaks to the item. And NONE of that is actual school committee business!
If the committee wants to bring people in to recognize them, those who wish to do so need not take up two rounds of committee time in order to do so. Put the initial filing on the consent agenda, and have the recognition at a subsequent meeting.

There's an additional thing going on here, which is mentioned in the article:
In its recent comprehensive review of the district, for example, the state’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Education opined the committee was filing too many requests for information from the school administration – requests that often had little to do with the school system’s most pressing priority of improving teaching and learning, the report said.
This is a touchy subject: after all, DESE overreach and the tug-of-war over who manages what is something of a going concern in Massachusetts education and of this blog in particular. However, a quick glance back at some recent agendas speaks to the point:
  • a request for a list of STEM events during a particular month
  • a request for a report from a particular presentation at which the committee member was present
  • a request for a list of summer events
  • a request for a report on specific minor repairs undertaken to a specific school (out of 50 buildings)
  • a request that brush be cleared at particular schools
Can a school committee member make these requests? Absolutely. But as section BCA of the Worcester Public Schools policy handbook says about the responsibilities of school committee members, members will: 
Refer all complaints to the administrative staff for solution and only discuss them at Committee meetings if such solutions fail
In other words: Can it be done with a phone call? Can it be done with an email? Then it should be.
Otherwise, you're just putting it on the agenda to put your name on the agenda.
This will be taken up at Thursday night's meeting. EDIT: no, no regular meeting this week! Check in August! 

1 comment:

pdmt99 said...

I've been wanting the City Council to institute a consent agenda for years for these same reasons. There's no reason to go one by one by one to vote on fixing potholes and repaving streets. Boston uses a consent agenda effectively. Hopefully this spills over.

Ultimately though, folks need to learn to self facilitate.