By Heather Graves
GREEN BAY – One of the few things the Green Bay school board agreed upon at its regular board meeting April 22 was that it doesn’t agree on much.
And that is something all could agree needs to change in order for the board to move forward and work more efficiently.
“I feel a huge sense of urgency that we get ourselves in a better place so that we are more effective,” said board president Brenda Warren.
How or when this will happen is still under discussion.
In a meeting that lasted five hours, a board majority vote tabled a decision to award a contract to Drew Howick of Howick Associates, out of Madison, to provide facilitation services for three board retreats using professional development funds.
No board member outright opposed hiring a facilitator, in fact many are in favor of looking to outside help to guide their discussions.
What caused frustration from some members was the item was added to the agenda without any previous board discussion.
“This motion to hire this facilitator was not a discussion, there was not a process with the board to bring this forward,” said Trustee Rhonda Sitnikau. “Someone made the decision that this was the motion and put it on the agenda without any board discussion and I think that is an interesting precedent to be set.”
According to Warren the agenda item was held until now because of the changes the election would bring.
“I didn’t want to have these conversations with the board member that was leaving – in hindsight now I see we could have asked him not to participate,” Warren said. “I made a judgement call. I feel we need to accomplish this work before the middle of the summer so we can enter the phase of starting our process of looking for a superintendent with a lot more consensus and agreement on how we are going to move forward as a board.”
Some of the board’s friction stems from different opinions on how leadership roles should be carried out.
Warren was reappointed as board president at Monday’s meeting, but not unanimously and not before some discussion.
Another major issue of concern is how agendas are put together.
Current board policy has the board president and vice president set the agenda with the superintendent.
There are concerns amongst some board members about how long it takes for their agenda items to be heard at the board table.
“I think it’s very important to remember that when a board member comes with an agenda topic it’s not just this person drafting it up themselves they are being sent from the community, the families, sometimes the students, sometimes educators, staff in the building,” Sitnikau said. “There (have been) too many instances that took far too long, even following the process, for agenda items to be heard. I hope that improves if the leadership stays the same.”
Sitnikau wasn’t alone in her concerns.
“We need to understand and invest in breaking down the power system that has limited some voices at this table and also many voices in our community,” said Trustee Kristina Shelton. “We need a school board president that understands the power at this table needs to be shared collectively by all. It should not take two to four months to get an item on the agenda.”
The newest board member, Trustee Eric Vanden Heuvel was in agreement with Shelton and Sitnikau.
He shared hopes for the board going forward, but also shared an outside view of how the board is perceived.
“We have a culture and a climate issue on our school board,” Vanden Heuvel said. “I’ve heard it for the last four months from the people in the audience mumbling under their breath, I heard it from the constituents that I talked to on the campaign. And I am 100 percent in agreement that we need to bring someone in to facilitate some of these conversations because if we don’t think that our impact because of our culture and climate doesn’t impact our teachers, our administrators and our students, we’re wrong. We need to fix this.”
The board will readdress the facilitator motion at its May 6 special meeting.
Between now and then, board members will send suggestions and items to board secretary Sandra Heller that they would like included in the agenda item.
Whatever decision is made, it will force plans to come together quickly as the money in the professional development fund needs to be spent by the end of June.
The other officers were also appointed at Monday’s meeting.
Andrew Becker will serve as board vice president, Katie Maloney was again appointed board treasurer, Laura McCoy will take over as clerk and Heller will continue to serve as board secretary.