Getting Involved…Through Committees

I was lucky.  I knew this before I was appointed to the school board, but still there are many who don’t know, so I’m going to do my best to help remedy things based on what I know and have learned.  In Cheltenham, deliberation and discussion largely happens in our committee meetings where recommendations are made to the formal legislative meeting (the televised one) where formal decisions are adopted.  The major committees are: Business Affairs (major contracts and financial management), Facilities (construction and maintenance), Policy, and, generally the most popular, Educational Affairs.  Dates, times, and agendas are posted on the District website.

I want you to know this because I want members of our community to know how our board operates.  This practice is not unique or even unusual.  It is how an effective board works.  It also allows board members that additional moment to consider their position, seek wisdom or higher authority, or to allow for additional information to be prepared.

I also want you to know so that you are not surprised that our legislative meetings, aside from the benefit of making certain announcements for the community over a more widely viewed medium, can be rather boring or brief at times.  The brevity is not an attempt to avoid the Sunshine Law.  The sun has already shone, sometimes brightly, on these discussions — in the committees.

The Board has made it clear that the path to a board agenda is through multiple routes starting with school staff and administration or through the board secretary, but in almost all circumstances, discussion and deliberation take place outside of the main legislative meeting, and this is where community involvement can have its most significant impact.

Committee meetings are open to the public and are publicized.  The public is invited to speak, responsibly and respectfully, by the committee chairs, questions are discussed, and minutes are taken.  As required, recommendations are made to the full legislative meeting.

These are “committees of the whole”, meaning all board members are members of all committees, so there is rarely need for further discussion at the legislative meetings and, on occasion, straw polls are taken to ascertain the “mind” of the board (see my previous post on this one).  These are not the formal decisions, but help the chairs to understand and lead discussions effectively.

I encourage and invite the community to attend these meetings, to listen to deliberations, and to make their voices heard.  It’s the best and most effective route toward participation in the process of making our district the best it can be.

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One thought on “Getting Involved…Through Committees”

  1. Jim, thanks for this post. Last night's Business Affairs and Facilities Committee meetings were the most productive Cheltenham School Board meetings I have attended in the last four years. While the reality of the poor state of the District's old facilities and the projected high increase in the millage (real estate tax rate) in the initial draft budget are grim, it is good to note that the Board finally appears to understand the critical need to have a long-term facilities' plan focused on major building systems replacement, renovations and building replacement; and that this should be tied into a capital budget and long-term debt financing plan.

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