Retired school teacher Sherry Bush addressed the Board of Education Tuesday night with a concern about the board's practice of having "workshop" sessions and a complaint about the difficulty she experienced in having her request to speak at a regular board meeting being placed on the agenda.
Bush questioned why it was necessary for the board to have workshops to discuss business, and further, why the board does not record minutes of such meetings.
Board members defended the practice and apparently will continue having workshops, which like regular and special meetings, are open to the public, although at workshops no action can be taken.
Chairman Charles Robinson said while the board has no policy regarding workshops, they are held frequently to gather information. "There is no policy on workshops. Workshops is a tool used by school boards to take information and study it. I guess a proper word for a workshop would be a study session. We study the issues in order to make informed decisions at our regular monthly meetings."
After attending a couple of recent workshops, Bush said she got the impression that the board, while not voting, was deliberating toward decisions. "I have had the opportunity to come to a workshop here, a couple of workshops, and it seems to me that from the appearance that I got, that although you don't vote on issues, you discuss them thoroughly, you come to a conclusion."
"You had a workshop to evaluate Mr. (Mark) Willoughby, (in January) who is a very important official in this county, one of the highest paid officials in this county, but we as a public don't know how you evaluated him. We don't know why you evaluated him the way you did. We don't know your thinking. We need to understand your thinking. You are here to represent us, to do our business, to run our school system. I'm not up here saying that he (Willoughby) is doing a bad job. I'm not saying he's not an excellent superintendent. I'm just saying that we have a right to know more about this than you're giving us. I just feel like that you're really not being fair to the public when you don't open your meetings. I know you say they're open, but even in the atmosphere in which you hold these (meetings). You hold these in a smaller room and people have really got to be wanting to get there to come."
Chairman Robinson: "workshops are not governed by state law and we (board) don't have a policy (regarding workshops) because there is no requirement that we have one."
Bush: "I think there ought to be records of these (meetings). If you're going to continue to have them, and apparently you are, I think there ought to be records kept. Official records kept."
Seventh District member Johnny Lattimore said anyone is welcome to attend a school board workshop. " If you want to come up and listen to us, you are more than welcome to, but I don't know how you would record something that's just thinking (thought process). Sometimes we throw things out here just as a thought but we don't leave from there (workshops) saying come Thursday night during the board meeting, this is how we're going to vote. We have never done that because if we did, that would be illegal."
Sixth District member Bruce Parsley added that "we always publish when we're having workshops. At every one I have been to, there's always an empty chair in that other room (where workshops are held), or two, or three. If we fill up all the chairs we'll be glad to move the workshops to a bigger room, but there is really no use if there are empty chairs over there. We would be glad for anyone to come out and listen and even throw out some of their suggestions."
Bush replied that "the issue needs to be, that when you have a public meeting, you need to keep a record of it."
Parsley responded that "business wise, there is a record of it because it's done here at the board meetings."
Bush also asked why it took so long for her request to be granted in addressing the school board on this issue. "Why in the world is it so difficult for a citizen of this county to come before the board and be put on the agenda?"
According to Board Policy, Chairman Robinson said "the board desires that all matters be settled at the lowest level of responsibility and will not hear complaints or concerns which have not advanced through the proper administrative procedures from the point of origin."
Robinson added, "That's what we want. We want you to start from the bottom and work your way up. I guess in your case (referring to Ms. Bush), the (bottom) would have been starting with Mr. Willoughby."
Bush answered, "I did start with Mr. Willoughby, but you can't talk to him if you can't get to see him. I realize he's very busy. But I've been working on this (trying to get on the agenda) since January. All I wanted was to come and ask a simple question. Why do you have workshops and If you're going to have them why do you not keep official minutes?"
At the end of the discussion on this issue, Director Willoughby told Ms. Bush he is still willing to meet with her. "Ms Bush I appreciate your concern. I may not be able to meet with you exactly when you would like, but I would always be willing to meet with you. In the times you have come before me, I have based my opinion upon the Tennessee School Boards Association's rules and I have talked to their lawyers. That's where my conclusions to any decisions upon this subject has come from. But I do respect your (Bush's) opinion although I do disagree with some of it."
Randall Bennett of the Tennessee School Boards Association sent a memorandum to Director Willoughby concerning the legal requirements for meetings.
The memorandum states "You have asked me a question regarding the legal requirements for recording minutes of meetings and work sessions. The relevant law may be found in Tennessee Code Annotated which reads as follows: 8-44-104 (a) "The minutes of a meeting of any such governmental body shall be promptly and fully recorded, shall be open to public inspection, and shall include, but not be limited to, a record of persons present, all motions, proposals and resolutions offered, the results of any votes taken, and a record of individual votes in the event of a roll call..."
Bennett writes "As you can see in section (a), an elected body MUST include in its minutes the following information:
A record of who is present at the meeting
Motions, proposals, and resolutions offered
Results of any votes taken
A record of individual votes if a roll call vote is taken"
"The law doesn't specifically address work sessions but in my opinion may be interpreted to support the position that there are no specific requirements for minutes to be recorded for work sessions. Even taking the opposite position that the law can be interpreted to support the contention that minutes must be recorded for work sessions, it would only require keeping a record of board members present. Since motions, proposals and resolutions are not generally offered at a work session, there would be no legal requirement to record anything else."
"The law anticipates that elected bodies may include more information in minutes than is required, however, and boards across the state vary considerably in their methods of recording minutes. Some do choose to record minutes for work sessions, but the decision to do so is a local board decision and not mandated by state law."
The school board policy on "Appeals to the Board" states that "Any matter relating to the operation of the school system may be appealed to the board. However, the board desires that all matters be settled at the lowest level of responsibility and will not hear complaints or concerns which have not advanced through the proper administrative procedure from the point of origin."
"If all administrative channels have been pursued and there is still a desire to appeal to the board, the matter shall be referred in writing and the board shall determine whether to hear the appeal."
The school board policy on "Appearing before the Board" states that "Individuals desiring to appear before the board may request placement on the agenda by contacting the office of the director of schools one week before the meeting. They will be recognized at the beginning of the meeting and given time to speak when their topic of interest is addressed on the agenda. Sufficient background material will be provided by the speaker. The chairman may recognize individuals not on the agenda for remarks to the board if he/she determines that such is in the public interest. A majority vote of members present can overrule the decision of the chairman."
"Delegations must select only one individual to speak on their behalf unless otherwise determined by the board."
"Recognition of individuals who are not citizens of the school system is to be determined by a majority vote of the board."
"Individuals speaking to the board shall address remarks to the chairman and may direct questions to individual board members or staff members only upon approval of the chairman. Each person speaking shall state his name, address, and subject of presentation. Remarks will be limited to five minutes unless time is extended by a majority vote of the board. The chairman shall have the authority to terminate the remarks of any individual who does not adhere to the above rules or choses to be abusive to an individual board member or the board as a whole. Members of the board and the director of schools may have the privilege of asking questions of any person who addresses the board."
"Individuals desiring additional information about any item on the agenda shall direct such inquiries to the office of the director of schools."
Meanwhile, in other business, the Board of Education Tuesday night approved the advancement of several teachers from apprentice to professional licensure status.
Director Willoughby says each of the following teachers has met the six domains within the framework for evaluation and professional growth model as prescribed by the State Department of Education." These people have been on an apprentice license. They have to be on an apprentice license for three years before they can get a professional license. They have to complete three years of successful evaluations. At the end of those three years, with successful evaluations, then they can get a professional license. These people have met these requirements. Some of these people have been with us for three years. Some people have only been with us for one year, but they do meet the requirements of the state as far as going from an apprentice license to a professional license."
Principals completing the comprehensive assessment-summative report have recommended each teacher for a professional licensure. Director Willoughby also recommended board approval.
These teachers include:
Jonathan Robert Wright, Instructional Music K-12 at DeKalb County High School
Shelly D. Painter, Pre-K to 12 Guidance Counselor
Mike C. Littrell, Visual Art K-12 at DeKalb Middle/DeKalb West School
Amy Young, Pre-School- 3 at DeKalb West School
Renee West Beaty and Misty Franklin, K-6 at Smithville Elementary
Shelly Jennings, Sabrina Kirksey, and Amy Raymond, K-6 at Northside Elementary
Director Willoughby also presented a report on personnel moves made since last month.
The following were employed for the 2008-09 school year:
Tina Fletcher, substitute bus driver
Billie Joyce Webster, substitute custodian
Pam Turner, substitute nurse
Sandra Billings, substitute bus assistant
Substitute teachers added to the list since last month include Tracie Baker, Jennifer Cole, Brenda Colwell, Julie Cook, Diane Evans, Tisha Ford, Sherrie Giles, Janna Gillard, Brian Gregory, Charlene Hallum, Amanda Lawson, Stacey Mason, Ronda Northcutt, Donna Robinson, Becky Thompson, Faye Tyree, Rebecca Waggoner, Tiffanie Van Winkle, and Brandi Womack.
Kevin Rigsby, teacher at DeKalb Middle School, has resigned
Jennifer Kickliter, deaf interpreter, has resigned
April Odom, attendance clerk, has been granted a leave of absence as requested.
The board approved an overnight trip for members of the FBLA Club at DCHS to attend the State Leadership Conference April 1st-4th in Chattanooga.
The board also granted approval for the Tigerette Softball Team to participate in the Middle Tennessee Softball Coaches Association Tournament in Clarksville on Friday, March 20th.
Jeremy R. Judkins, President of the DeKalb Youth Soccer League, appeared before the board to request permission for the use of a field at Northside Elementary School this year. The board authorized the Director and Board Chairman to take executive action to approve the request once a lease agreement has been finalized and proof of liability insurance is established.
Board Chairman Charles Robinson updated the board on the procedure for granting tenure to teachers and set a workshop for April 9th at 6:00 p.m. to "review the evaluations and recommendations of the director and his staff on those employees that are to be tenured by the DeKalb County Board of Education at our regular monthly meeting April 9th at 7:00 p.m."
"The board of education will grant tenure only to those teachers who can present documentation of a record of excellence as a teacher and who are determined by state guidelines to be considered a highly qualified teacher or those making appropriate progress toward achieving that status. The director of schools will recommend persons eligible for tenure at a board meeting and the director of schools will provide ample notice of non-renewal to each teacher not granted tenure prior to April 15th of the year of eligibility."