On Friday, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board identified its shortcomings. On Saturday, board members and top administrators crafted plans for improvement.
Some ideas were fairly simple: List anticipated benefits, drawbacks and results for all actions the board takes; spend time delving deeper into issues before crises arise.
Some, such as the moderator’s suggestion to tap the corporate community for travel money, could prove controversial.
The board spent most of its 13-hour, two-day retreat crafting protocols and policies, the kind of work that tends to elicit a yawn from the public. But the groundwork – or lack of it – will show up when the board faces tough decisions on such issues as spending, student assignment and school construction.
“Sometimes we’ve got to slow down and reflect,” Superintendent Heath Morrison told the board. “It’s about laying a foundation.”
In questionnaires about the board’s performance, which were reviewed Friday, most members said the board doesn’t do enough to research issues, understand how its decisions affect the community and take a long view. In recent years the board has been accused of being tone-deaf to concerns about school closings, boundary changes, large classes and teacher performance pay.
Moderator Nancy Broner of the Houston-based Center for Reform of School Systems suggested 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.”
Board members talked about how to build trust among the nine members.
In the survey, most said they believe members violate confidentiality and speak disrespectfully to each other. One suggestion was board members need to be willing to censure anyone who breaches confidentiality.
Vice Chairwoman Mary McCray and member Tim Morgan agreed to work on a plan for better board communication.
Broner said traveling for conferences and research will help the board make better decisions. But she acknowledged it’s unpopular to spend tax money on travel, especially in tight times. “If you don’t have the money, go to the Chamber, go to the business community and say, ‘Help us out here. Adopt a board member,’ ” she said.
Chairwoman Ericka Ellis-Stewart said the board can also stay in touch with the national education community through conference calls and webinars.
Morrison and several members said the board needs to set aside more time for long-range planning, self-reflection and in-depth study of issues.
Board member Tom Tate, a pastor, said that could prove difficult for members with full-time jobs.