School board workshop targets conflicts
Better communication is the goal
The Pleasanton School Board could have a whole new way of doing business if plans from a four-hour workshop Saturday come to pass.
Current and incoming school board members, along with former member Pat Kernan, and the district's top administration took part in what Kernan said was the first local workshop of its type.
The bulk of the day was dedicated to governance -- who is responsible for what -- in the district. The officials, both elected and appointed who make up the district's governance team, participated in a Socratic dialogue in which they were broken into small groups, asked questions and came up with answers.
School officials also heard the results of a survey about how the board and administrators deal with each other, the public and other members of the staff. That anonymous survey showed some internal conflicts and lingering mistrust and hard feelings, which is what the gathering set out to address.
Luz Cázares, assistant superintendent of business services, said she could trace some of the comments to the individual.
"I think a lot of what we do works," she said. "I think some tweaking needs to be done."
Board member Jamie Hintzke said Hintzke said when she came on the board, no one explained the district's procedures.
"You never gave me a rule book, and how can I know what's expected of me without a rule book," she commented.
Procedures may change for new board members Jeff Bowser and Joan Laursen. Superintendent Parvin Ahmadi said protocols exist to create a set of guidelines.
"We don't have to start from scratch," Ahmadi said.
Another issue was that the board is expected to address questions from the public, at times, without the opportunity to discuss them among themselves.
That, too, could be answered in the future. Kevin Johnson, senior director of pupil services, suggested the board hold more discussion groups.
Those meetings would be informal, with board members sitting at tables instead of at their raised dais, separated from people.
"It really is a great idea," said board member Valerie Arkin.
Communication with parents also came up as a topic. More than one school board member said they'd been asked to deal with an issue directly, and how they handled those requests differed slightly.
"Individuals on the board can't respond as the board," Facilitator Ed Porter told the group, explaining they don't know how the board as a whole would act.
The remainder of the day focused on conflicts of interest, which gained a new measure of attention with the election of Bowser, whose wife is a teacher.
Attorney Robert Kingsley talked to the team about what is a conflict and what should be done if one is discovered.
"The question you have to ask is, 'Where is the line and which side of the line am I on?'" Kingsley told the group.
And while Bowser's potential conflict of interest was the main reason for Kingsley to be brought in, it became obvious that there were many potential conflicts of interests the district could see on any given day, from counselors who offered their services to students on the weekend for a fee to teachers who take part-time jobs as tutors.
In Bowser's case, the rule is relatively straightforward: He has to abstain from voting on any issue that could directly impact his wife, but he can be involved in collective bargaining in which his wife could benefit as long as she doesn't receive any special compensation.
In general, Kingsley's advice was "disclose, disclose, disclose."