Thursday, September 20, 2012

A simple solution for CMS board?

I'm wary of simple solutions to complex education problems,  but one of the ideas facilitator Nancy Broner offered the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board last week was a forehead-slapper.

At their retreat, board members unanimously agreed they often fail to consider the downside of actions they vote on.  Broner's suggestion:  When you introduce an item, always list the challenges,  as well as the expected benefits.  Someone  --  I don't recall whether it was Broner,  Superintendent Heath Morrison or another CMS staffer  --  later fleshed that out by saying proposals should also spell out expected results, short-term and long-range.

I've covered a lot of board meetings in the last 10 years,  and the superintendent's proposals have almost always been presented as slam-dunk good ideas  --  or at least the clear-cut best response to a tough situation.  That sort of makes sense.  The board expects CMS staff to do the legwork and come back with the strongest possible recommendation.

But it makes you wonder if the last couple of years might have been different with deeper and more public acknowledgement of challenges that divided the community.

When then-Superintendent Peter Gorman and the board talked about such things as teacher performance pay and school closings,  I recall hearing them urge the public to look at facts, not emotions  --  as if the facts would lead any reasonable person to the same conclusions CMS leaders had reached. What if they had talked more about the costs,  in money and classroom time,  of rolling out dozens of new tests,  or of the potential pitfalls of closing high-poverty middle schools and rushing students into preK-8 settings?

On Tuesday,  Morrison plans to give the board a report on the academic and financial results of some of the most challenging school mergers.  He said his first task was to track down what had been promised and projected when those plans were laid.  I'm guessing he had a tough time.  Did anyone spell out that the newly merged schools might see big academic and discipline challenges the first year,  or detail the expenses of transforming elementary schools into buildings that could accommodate 4-year-olds and hulking adolescents?  If so,  it wasn't shared with the public.

Since Morrison was hired in April,  he's been talking about doing a better job of helping the public understand the decisions CMS makes.  Based on the board's self-evaluation last week,  members believe they need to do a better job of understanding their own decisions.

So we'll see.  Old habits can be hard to break.  But Morrison is eager to make his mark.  And the fact that the board acknowledges shortcomings would seem to be an important step toward improvement.


Anonymous said...

Slam-dunk? How about Mac Truck?

This happened with Gorman because the initiative was already under way and millions had been spent on it because he decreed that it would work.

Lets hope Dr. Morrison is different.

Anonymous said...

Gorman wanted no discussion of his ideas. One of the first things he did was hold one of theses retreats and get the board to draw up policy that gave him much broader decision-making. He has caused so much damage to our schools and community. I certainly hope Dr. Morrison is different.

Christine Mast said...

One of the biggest roles a facilitator plays is to "remain CONTENT NEUTRAL." Nancy Broner broke this cardinal rule at least three times during the recent BOE retreat.

First, she suggested to "to tap the corporate community for travel money."

Then, she suggested that "when you introduce an item, always list the challenges, as well as the expected benefits."

Finally, Ms. Broner suggested that the board hold town-hall meetings around the county when there’s no controversial issue on the table. All members should attend and hear local concerns, she said: “It sounds trivial, but it sends a message over time.”

Perhaps if Ms. Broner had been a paid CONSULTANT, these suggestions would have been appropriate. But to have been hired as a FACILITATOR, all of her "suggestions" were completely out of line with her role at the retreat.

Christine Mast said...

Putting Ms. Broner aside for a moment...

I offer that most of these solutions ARE simple and easy. It takes communication, from CMS Central Staff, the Superintendent, all 9 BOE members AND members of the public.

How many times did I speak at the BOE meetings during the budgeting process this year? At least twice, if not 3 times. I asked several questions, most of which never addressed nor answered by anyone on the Board. There were questions that might have resulted in eliminating items from the proposed budget. But at the end of the day, not ONE DOLLAR was moved, changed or eliminated from the original proposal.

So in response to what kind of a Board is sitting at the dais right now, I WOULD say that this Board IS a "rubber-stamp Board." If they want to change that, they're going to have to have in-depth discussions to flesh out WHY the Staff presents what they do.

It's pretty simple logic (to me, anyway), that without presenting the "good AND bad" of each decision, they're bound to continue making bad decision after bad decision. Most of these are based solely on Staff's recommendations. That has to change. Now. Please.

One change that would go a long way with the public's trust? Change Board policy, whereby public input isn't limited to a 3-minute one-way discussion during a BOE meeting. Allow the BOE and the Supt. and Legal Counsel to "converse" while the speaker is at the podium. Maybe make each speaker get 5 minutes, but allow for two-way conversation to take place, so the public can hear discussion on the topic right then and there. It would also be a great time for questions to be posed, especially if something is unclear or misunderstood at the time.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps Ms. Broner could take it on the road - the part about considering the consequences/challenges - take it to DC and Duncan and no child left behind and race to the top and pay for performance, to the Gates foundation and last but not least, Broad. I do not doubt the motive behind all these people, just their credentials in education. Particularly Duncan. I do not see that playing pro basketball in Australia for 4 years and being the super of one of the nation's most pathetic school districts for 7 years while it spirals from bad to worse is a good resume' for secretary of education. Challenges vs. consequences sounds like a really good motto to start following in education.

Wiley Coyote said...

...if only the BOE had thought through Eric Smith's Bright Beginnings boondoggle at the time, we wouldn't be wasting over $20 million tax dollars per year now.

...if only past BOEs had thought through where to build new schools, we wouldn't have utilization and logistical issues today.

...if ...

BolynMcClung said...


I was there when Nancy Broner made that suggestion.

The counter-point from the board was they can productively debate and consider in committee meetings but the harsh lights of reality shine too brightly in the semi-monthly public board meetings at the Gov. Center for it to work.

Let me say it another way. The twice monthly board is too polite. Theirs is a reaction to previous boards bad behavior. The board needs to get rid of the politically correct faces and strap-on those business world attitudes.

Let’s place this change where it needs to be: with an effective Chair that is able to prepare the school board to oversee a Billion Dollar budget.

Bolyn McClung

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, Bolyn, your effective board chair suggestion is probably not going to happen any time soon with the current make up of the board.

Anonymous said...

Since Ms. Broner was a terrible Broad based moderator lets just remove that from the article and own the mistake.(CMS) Heath's idea is novel at best as any leading industry executive would base their decisions on outcome,results,negative,positive and weigh them. This is not a new approach. Frankly , It seems elementary at best. Over the next few months Heath is bringing in his "pals" or consultants to the tune of about $500,000 yet he talks about how much paper is going to cost for the new state mandated testing we have known about for 3 years? The BOE is a very poor at knowing the CMS product and budget. Heath is so far a very poor to moderate leader who is over paid. Lets just hope as a community it gets better real quick.

Pamela Grundy said...

Most if not all of the board members were warned of the pitfalls of the sudden K-8 conversions by members of the public who knew what they were talking about. Plenty of details were provided.

Anonymous said...

What about the closed door sessions? I think they are a bit more animated. When you go to the closed dooor meetings...oh wait you aren't on the board. Anyway, what Christine said was true, Broner was not neutral, whether the comment was spot on or not, she was not neutral.

And let's talk about the chair - let's allow this one to do what she needs to, not have the sulking former chair try to sabotage what is going on through any means, including not sharing information about how things are done. Support is necessary.

The former chair certainly knows how to actively support someone, as he blindly and fervently backed Pete during the failed school closings and pay for performance fiascos.

Anonymous said...

"Did anyone spell out that the newly merged schools might see big academic and discipline challenges the first year..."

Certainly the public comments in the CO spelled this out as well as many other concerns.

The Board didn't need to explain these OBVIOUS deficiencies to the public, because the public already knew what was likely to happen.

It's the Board that is clueless, and dysfunctional not the public.

BolynMcClung said...


I didn't attend the Friday session and was there only on Saturday until about lunch.

Ms. Broner lead the dicussions from a position of common experiences. She has been a board member. She has won elections.

You could sense she had enough respect from the board so that she could lead discussions where they needed to go in a retreat setting.

I would hope that the board not need anymore kumbaya retreats. The board needs to concentrate on skill subjects.

Bolyn McClung

Ann Doss Helms said...

I agree that pitfalls are generally raised in public/media discussion, and that the board must surely be aware of that discussion. But it seems like it might create a different dynamic if they and staff were willing to air and address those downsides in a public meeting. They might land at the same decision, but maybe with better planning for some of the challenges.

It's no secret that board members have meetings-before-the meetings, with a few board members at a time getting briefings from the superintendent and staff. I had always suspected that the more substantive discussions happened in those settings. But when you have all or most (depending on the question) board members saying they aren't fully prepared for decisions, maybe what we see is what they get.

Ann Doss Helms said...

On the comments about Broner's role: I'm not aware of any legal or ethical constraint against a facilitator/moderator/consultant making suggestions. The folks previous boards brought in for Broad Foundation training did that all the time. I'm not sure what the specific agreement with Broner was, but it didn't seem shocking to me when she suggested procedural improvements. The board is, of course, free to accept or reject her suggestions.

BolynMcClung said...


You're correct. The public spoke on K-8's in the public comment section and in private. K-8's moved forward even with a challenge to the Civil Rights Division by the local NAACP. I suuppose that supports your thoughts that the board doesn't debate and is too often closed-minded. But I see it much differently.

You and I know that too few in the public are prepared to approach board members with much more than anecdotal experiences. For the board to function at a higher level they have to have good pressure from the public. Until that time happens, the only significant education decisions that will be influenced by the public will be the bi-annual votes for the board seats.

Aside from the towns' and BOCC's powers to set the tax rates, the school board's power over young families is the most significant in the County.

Bolyn McClung

Anonymous said...

Another simple solution for CMS board...

Maybe they should look at the ideas presented in the book Future Perfect (recently reviewed by PBS).

The basic premise is that conventional organizations tend to be hierarchical and centralized, with information tightly controlled by the people in charge.

Peer networks, by contrast, consist of individuals of roughly equal status achieving goals by sharing, criticizing and revising information and ideas.

This seems to be the problem with CMS.

Too few people trying to sort through too much information without enough brainpower to do so.

The general public probably has the intelligence through informal peer networks (much like these blogs and CO comments) to develop solutions that make more sense than what a hierarchical committee can do in its own little sheltered political world.

Can a diverse group of "non-experts" actually arrive at better solutions than the "experts"?

Just compare the track records...

Bill Stevens said...

Sorry but the CO editorial staff would be first and most vocal to jump in to "quell" anything but rah rah cheerleader stuff. Larry G tried to warn his board but Arthur G, Vilma L and George D were on a mission to punish the suburbs.

To expect the current leopard to change its spots is foolish at best.

Anonymous said...

I'm not suggesting that the peer input be FROM the CO, only that the CO (even with its ability to change the topic) has allowed some peer insights that the Board missed or didn't make public.

I'd rather see such an Open Forum handled by some group which isn't as concerned about political correctness.

Similar to the way Usenet discussion groups were handled, I guess.

But, that'll not happen unless CMS wants it to happen.

Anonymous said...

Well, we will see. I have been hounding the Board, the District Superintendent,etc, etc. to get a simple answer as to why First Ward and University Park are going to be the ONLY MULTI-TRACK YEAR-ROUND school in this system. Answers, can't remember, don't know. "We are charged with making it happen. My hands are tied." Here is an opportunity to revisit this decision in "hindsight" and maybe make a better one for our children. You know instead of saying "we wish we had" maybe we can be saying "we're glad we did!"

One on the Board Members flat out said 2 weeks ago that they would not go back and look at it because they voted on the affected budget 2 years ago!!!! Won't, Can't,.... I write letter, talk to people... it's like hitting your head against a wall! Like running in place getting nowhere!!!

BolynMcClung said...


The delay in year-round track was annouced with detailed explanations almost constantly during the last budget discussions. One of the top reasons was the $400,000 additional transportation cost.

The November 15, 2011 Observer has more information on the difficulty in going to year-round and why only two schools are tagged for now.

In the news report is a good contact at CMS on this subject.

Bolyn McClung

Anonymous said...

Bolyn/Ann- It is UNETHICAL and UNPROFESSIONAL for a "moderator" to give a direction or suggestion to direct the group. Example , "I suggest you go to the Chamber , Business Community, Church Group and find willing financial sponsors". Very similar to Ericka's friend the last "moderator" who tried to bait Mr. Davis,Mr. Morgan and some others to go down a road not needed. They are to moderate the group not direct the subject. Bolyn , you were at that meeting months ago I forget the ladies name probably the most unprofessional meeting I have seen in a while. Seemed some of the BOE was on trial , because they were not nice to EES. I had to leave I was laughing so hard. Keith W. Hurley

Anonymous said...


You can stop planning for the party now!

Anonymous said...

Here's a slam-dunk. Make CMS three seperate school disrticts. Done.

Christine Mast said...

I don't know what kind of contract Ms. Broner had, but because Ann's used the word "facilitator," that's why I made my earlier comments.

To expand on the definition of a "facilitator," here's a quote from

"A facilitator is an individual whose job is to help to manage a process of information exchange. While an expert's role is to offer advice, particularly about the content of a discussion, the facilitator's role is to help with HOW the discussion is proceeding. "

Anonymous said...

Christine , The fee was minimal I recall about $5,000- so not huge. However when you cannot balance a budget one dime over spent is too much. CMS throws hundreds of thousands around annually on consultants/moderators/facilitators then wonders how to pay for bus fuel. Zero method to the madness is the equation. CMS action to why teacher morale is low hire a consultant to tell us six figures. Its actually has the opposite result people wont trust them further , because they just wasted another $100k. Keith W. Hurley

BolynMcClung said...


A most respected national organization in the field of Facilitation, IAF, has the following on their homepage.

"Group facilitation is a process in which a person whose selection is acceptable to all the members of the group, who is substantively neutral, and who has no substantive decision–making authority diagnoses and intervenes to help a group improve how it identifies and solves problems and makes decisions, to increase the group’s effectiveness."

I've been in meeting lead by members of this organization. They certainly do "intervene." It's a good practice

I was right surprised that Christine didn't take the opportunity to say that the facilitator was correct to do what she did because the board wasn't capable of such a brilliant thought. By the way, that isn't an idea I subscribe to.

And just for the record, I believe our board needs to visit out of town as often as possible. Not doing so just lets us in for the same old thing over and over again.

Bolyn McClung

Wiley Coyote said...

Facilitators and implementors.

Doesn't matter.

At the end of the day, did one child learn anything?

Christine Mast said...

Anyone know who "called" the retreat/meetings?

Did Dr. Morrison plan it, or did the Board?

Anonymous said...

Wiley I am with you on this one . CMS spent what and the kids learned what? Zero benefit to the kids. Bolyn as a district we simply cannot afford any out of town retreats. If they want a vacation have them visit VRBO . Keith W. Hurley

Anonymous said...

Bolyn , The out of town person directed them to go after cash yes cash from outside influencers? Someone gave her Chamber , Church, Business leaders really. Pave the road and tell me not to drive on it? Come on really buy my influence and write it on my forehead. Keith W. Hurley

Anonymous said...

"Coach" always voted for the slam-dunk ideas presented by CMS administration. That was his position on just about everything. If the Student Placement Office or Central Administrative office presented a plan, it was a slam-dunk done deal as far as "Coach" was concerned. It never mattered what another team of players thought.


Anonymous said...

Why is so much written about the board of education at CMS? They're similar to school boards in many other urban districts in the U.S.: a bunch of elected officials who mostly try to intimidate the superintendent and block any major education reforms.

No matter how many new operating procedures the board adopts, their goals are not going to change any time soon.

Anonymous said...

Every administrator should be required to teach at least ONE class per day. This would solve a lot a problems.

Anonymous said...

I just wish CMS TV would stop re-playing Gorman interviews... I almost barfed up part of my lunch as I was flipping channels today... sheesh!

Anonymous said...

With E E-S nothing good will come out of this board.
3 districts now.