The new budget being released this afternoon by Wake County Superintendent Tony Tata will understandably get most of the focus at the school board work session.
But another topic that will get discussion is whether the school board should keep its current committee structure. Much of the issue revolves around whether it's a drain on staff time for them to be involved in the various committees.
It's the latest chapter in the debate over whether the board should operate with committees, or at least the standing ones.
As a quick recap, the board majority voted last year to disband the standing committees and instead have the committee chairs act as liaisons with staff on issues that went to the full board.
But the committees were reinstated months later when vice chairwoman Debra Goldman changed her vote to back the minority members who had opposed abolishing them.
Jump ahead to last month's board retreat.
During the retreat, facilitator Jim Huge discussed the "potential pitfalls" of board committees during the discussion on governance. Huge's examples of pitfalls were:
* Often designed to help the superintendent do his/her job rather than focus on the board's business.
* Can diminish a superintendent's authority and accountability.
* Board members rarely have the time, experience and/or expertise to make sound decisions on operational matters.
* Provides opportunity for some members to become better informed than others, when all have the responsibility to be informed on critical issues.
* Puts board members in position of being lobbied by staff.
* Puts staff members in position of being directed by the board.
* Board members take on the staff perspective and lose the board perspective.
Something to consider is that Huge was paid by the Broad Superintendents Academy. Broad is more of a supporter of a strong superintendent and a weak board.
Huge's presentation quickly generated discussion at the retreat.
Goldman defended the role of committees, complaining about how she felt the board liaisons had too much influence.
Tata said he wanted to see how much staff energy is spent on committees.
Huge warned that "if you want to have a life with all the committees, it starts to be an issue.”
Huge added that if some committee members have info long in advance it can put them in power over the other members, But he added that some districts work well with committees.
Board member John Tedesco said he disagreed with Goldman that the board liaisons had way more information than other board members.
Board member Keith Sutton said he doesn’t think there's anything wrong with having committees in a district that's as large as Wake. But he charged that some board members have tried to manipulate committees and staff and what comes out of the committees.
Board member Anne McLaurin added that committees have had the same problem as the full board: mistrust. She said there's the feeling that not everyone had the same information.
Board member Chris Malone said he hasn't personally experienced this issue of mistrust. Addressing McLaurin, Malone said he feels he runs a very open facilities committee.
Malone said he felt that committees, in general, have become an extra step, a mini-committee of the whole.
Malone said he was more comfortable with the liaison situation, where there were less meetings and less redundancy. He said that while he talked with Chief Facilities Officer Don Haydon and Assistant Superintendent Joe Desormeaux as the facilities liaison, he didn't direct them to do anything.
Goldman responded that she didn't "care for the liaison" position. But she said she also doesn't care for the redundancy seen in some of the committees.”
Noting that she had backed reinstatement of the committees, Goldman asked Tata what his preference was on the issue. Tata said he needed more time
before he could say yes or no on committees.
"I see some things that are value added and some things that are redundant," Tata said.
Tata said that he has staff talk to him before each committee meeting about what they're going to present.
Sutton responded that part of that redundancy goes back to how committees are manipulated. He said that mistrust has been created from issues that don't get out of committee making it the full board.
Sutton also brought up committee chair assignments and lack of balance. He said it's created "some feeling of unfairness, inequity." He said it also create a feeling that not all board members are heard.
School board chairman Ron Margiotta said he found committees to be redundant. He said it's very rare for only committee members to attend meetings, resulting in four to six board members being present. He then said this same large group of members hears the issue again at the committee of the whole meetings.
“It’s wasting staff time and wasting time for board members who are sitting in on the sessions," Margiotta said.
School board attorney Ann Majestic said that the COW meetings were first begun as a way to only look at issues that were different from the ones being looked at committees, such as systemwide concerns. She said now COW meetings have become "highly inefficient."
But Majestic said the problem with eliminating committees is that they deal with the core functions of districts. Without them, she said the focus on dealing with policies dropped.
Tata ended the discussion by saying he'd analyze the impact on staff of committees, leading to today's presentation.
The work session starts at 3 p.m. in the board conference room, 3600 Wake Forest Road in Raleigh.
Supt. Tony Tata is recommending eliminating all the standing board committees and dealing with issues instead at the committee of the whole.
Tata cited all the time staff spends preparing for and recovering from committee meetings.
More details later.