BY SUSAN CLANCY | SEPTEMBER 19, 2012
1) Expression of strong disapproval or harsh criticism,
2) To express official (legislature) disapproval,
3) To criticize severely; blame.
~American Heritage Dictionary
During the August 28 CCUSD Governing Board meeting, the board was tasked with choosing our top 10 priorities to be sent to Arizona School Board Associations for their 2013 Political Agenda.
The legislative suggestions were broken into 7 categories (Advocacy of Children, Local Control/Governance, Accountability, Taxation/Revenues, Funding, Personnel, Federal Concerns). There were issues from which to choose in each category (some as few as 6, others as many as 25); in all 95 items were to be considered. The CCUSD Board Members were asked to individually prioritize their lists during the week prior to the regularly scheduled governing board meeting.
The top two issues from the pre-voting were from the categories, Local Control/ Governance and Funding with 4 votes each.
I agreed with an issue in the Funding category which advocates for a complete revision of the school finance formula to reflect actual cost. Should this legislation pass, transparency would become “a way of life” for all public schools. School districts could more easily indentify excess expenses in any given area and it would simplify the budget process.
I was perplexed, however, when four board members felt they needed more Local Control, and voted for the following; “Provide a school district governing board with the authority to create a process to censure a board member.”
It seems very odd to me members would find control over others more important than the pressing needs of our district to meet continuous mandates from the State and Federal Government to change curriculum and assessments. Considering these mandates are almost always unfunded, implementation comes directly out of our budget.
I also understand after 16 years of board experience that all board members may not agree at all times on any given agenda item; this is part of the board discussion process and creates transparency.
Since I was so taken aback by the path on which my colleagues seemed to be embarking, I asked the members for clarification. I couldn’t understand how this issue superseded the need for our Legislature to consider any number of suggestions the ASBA has for legislation to improve classroom quality. Why would censure be so important and why they would want to infringe upon a fellow board member’s First Amendment right? (Or publically criticize or muzzle a member?)
Their responses shocked me. One member said. “There was no methodology in place for board members to talk openly in a public session about violations of Board policy, violations of Board ethics, violations of regulations, etc., willful violations!”
After agreeing with the above, another added, “I think that all other elected officials are able to be censured within their bodies; it follows along with what the rest of the offices have done.”
And yet another stated,” It doesn’t impede on First Amendment Rights – I just looked at it as a way to, again, put into place some structure as far as violations of whether is Open Meeting laws, or what have you, to put some structure around that. No one else can do that. There needs to be something in place and everyone, like Stephanie said, everyone else does have that, the Legislature has that, other elected bodies have that. The Governing Board does not. So it’s a free for all right now.”
Yet, the Cave Creek Governing Board already has a policy in place to bring a grievance against a member, whether it has merit or not, and the Superintendent may summon the Board President to oversee the process when the mood strikes. Isn’t that enough?
As I stated during the meeting, it would take a simple majority of a board to use the censure process to stifle or muzzle a board member with whom they do not agree. So in our case three members could censure any and all members of our Governing Board “openly in a public session” without any fear of an appeal process or legal authority overturning the action.
When a Board begins down the slippery slope to control, it can lead to one outcome, a law suit. A recent case with the Goldwater Institute is costing the District approximately $135,000 and more, due to the ongoing appellate process.
The Legislature’s use of censure is imposed after a member has gone through a formal legislative process or [maybe] has been convicted of a crime. It is not used very often and with good reason.
There are plenty of good reasons why local cities, towns and school governing boards don’t have the authority to censure. Most importantly, they do not want to be accused of character assassination or of targeting members without proof. Breaking Open Meeting law is a crime!
Our focus should be squarely on developing and executing a well-articulated plan for our students and tax payers to understand. Our budget has to be continuously monitored, discussed, and evaluated to support the elements in the plan. In so doing, we stay true to our Vision: To inspire students to become life long learners in order to succeed in a global economy. I want our students to know the education they receive at CCUSD will give them confidence to pursue their dreams.
Unfortunately, the August 28 Board meeting discussion clearly points to an agenda that is not squarely on students or our community.
I’m just one board member trying to stay focused on what we are supposed to be doing … helping to ensure our children get a quality education and keeping an eye on the budget.
Respectfully, Susan Clancy