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District U-46 approves new board agreements

By Seth Hancock
  The Board of Education in School District U-46 unanimously approved new board agreements at its June 17 meeting.
  The agreements state that they are “aspirational in nature and intended as a guide for Board members in adhering to the Board’s Code of Conduct,” and they are “not to be construed as binding.”
  The “aspirations” are under nine categories: unity of purpose, board member protocol, no surprises, speaking with one voice, affirmation of the governance model, placing items on the board agenda, orientation of new board members, board member roles and responsibilities and closed session.
  In 2018, the board agreements were presented at a February meeting and approved, by a 5-2 vote, at a March meeting after two discussions. This year’s agreements were presented and voted on at the same meeting with no discussion by the new board.
  The only comments on the 2019 agreements came from U-46 CEO Tony Sanders who said: “These were the most recent discussions that we had during a (closed session) self-evaluation where we updated the board agreements. The board seemed to agree with the new format and all the changes that were proposed.”
  The last board self-evaluation was in January according to the board’s documents under the previous board. New board members Eva Porter and Kate Thommes, who both voted for the agreements, were not on the board at the time.
  The agreements largely mirror last year’s agreements with some changes.
  This year’s agreements removed language from the unity of purpose category that stated “we want to create a district culture that supports positive change” as well as language from closed session which stated “board members understand that to divulge closed session information not only damages the relationship of the team, but has the potential for far-reaching consequences which may impact future district operations.”
  Removed entirely this year was the category annual calendar which stated in 2018: “During optional Board meeting dates (January and June), the Superintendent and Cabinet will provide the Board updates as part of the Superintendent’s evaluation (beyond the District Improvement Plan and inclusive of it).”
  Still included this year, under board member roles and responsibilities, were changes made last year which led to former board members Phil Costello and Jeanette Ward to vote no. The controversial language included stating “board members will carefully consider what they post on social media before they post it, avoiding statements that might [be] volatile” and “board members will not evaluate staff in public.”
  Both Costello and Ward argued that those sections could be used as a way to try and silence dissenting opinions from the board’s majority. Sue Kerr, now the board’s president, voted for the agreements last year but also agreed that the changes were subjective and not properly defined.
  “To me, it speaks of self-censoring and other board members saying to you ‘well your post is volatile, you shouldn’t have posted it,’” Ward said last year. Costello said: “We should be allowed to have free expression by design.”
  Regarding evaluating staff publicly, Ward said that “those who derive their income from public tax dollars should expect to be subject to public scrutiny” and Costello added: “When we are surprised by something that comes to the public’s attention, I think we may need in that case may have to comment on that.”
  Also added to this year’s agreements is a section defining who board members should contact with requests.





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