OK, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board didn't give itself a letter grade in the self-assessment discussed at Friday's retreat. But the consensus was pretty clear: Members think the board has a lot of work to do (see story here).
As Superintendent Heath Morrison and moderator Nancy Broner with the Center for Reform of School Systems noted, there's a certain irony involved in such self-ratings. In an attempt to become a better board, the board has to publicly air its weaknesses, which can add to the image of a dysfunctional board.
But Broner said the goal of improvement is worth the discomfort. Before the retreat she had all nine members fill out a 29-point questionnaire based on Eugene Smoley's "Effective School Boards." All members did so, though the totals don't always add up because some apparently did not answer all questions. And -- cue up the punch lines -- one member both agreed and disagreed that the board works to reach consensus on important matters.
Here are the results. I'm paraphrasing many of the statements to make this more readable. Categories are mine, not Broner's.
*All nine members said the board fails to examine the downside of important decisions it makes.
*All nine say the board does not set aside time to learn more about important issues in other districts.
*Seven said the board does not usually receive "a full rationale" for recommendations it acts on.
*Five said administration recommendations are usually accepted with little questioning.
*Five said the board often requests additional information before making decisions.
*The board split 4-4 on whether it is "a rubber stamp board."
*Seven said members are not consistently able to hold confidential items in confidence.
*Five said members say one thing in public and another thing privately.
|At least they aren't splurging on food ...|
*Eight agreed that "at times this board has appeared unaware of the impact its decisions will have within our service community."
*Seven disagreed that "this board spends a lot of time listening to different points of view before it votes on an important matter."
*Six said the board is outspoken in its views about programs.
*Five say members fail to get the views of an affected group "if our board thinks that an important group of constituents is likely to disagree with an action we are considering."
*But five agreed that "before reaching a decision on important issues, this board usually requests input from persons likely to be affected."
*Seven disagreed that all members support majority decisions.
*Seven disagreed that board members work together to make sure decisions are accepted and carried out.
*Seven said members are sometimes disrespectful in their comments to each other.
*Seven agreed that "a certain group of board members will usually vote together."
*Six said they fear they will be ostracized by other members if they speak their mind on key issues.
*The board split 6-4 (remember that double vote) on whether it works to reach consensus on important matters, with the slim majority disagreeing.
*Five agreed and four disagreed that "the board's decisions usually result in a split vote." As Broner put it, "you were split on the split vote question."
*All nine disagreed that the board often discusses where CMS should be headed five or more years in the future.
*Six members agreed the board is more involved in "trying to put out fires" than preparing for the future.
*Five agreed that the board has reviewed its strategies and long-term goals within the past year.
*Six said they've participated in board discussions about mistakes the board has made and what could be done differently.
*Five say they've participated in board discussions about the effectiveness of its own performance.
*Five agree that the board has a retreat at least once every two years to examine its own performance as a board.
*Members split 4-4 on whether they've ever received feedback on their performance. The item did not specify the source of feedback.
*Seven said members provide constituent services without crossing the line into management.