Source: Sherman Publications

Rules set on school board communications

by Phil Custodio

March 07, 2012

In the wake of a legal presentation on board of education ethics, Feb. 13, Clarkston schools administration sent a memo to all school employees listing "specifics" on the role of school board members.

The rules, approved unanimously by the school board Feb. 13, include:

• Board members cannot advocate in a manner contrary to a resolution passed by the board;

• Board members must direct all complaints to the board president or the superintendent;

• Board members may not enter school buildings without an appointment; and

• Board members cannot request documents or information from staff without a resolution of the board.

"Our district’s legal counsel addressed these issues with the board at our Feb. 13 meeting," said Superintendent Dr. Rod Rock. "This information came directly from our district’s existing bylaws, operating procedures, and MASB bylaws. No part of this information is new and not one of these bylaws or operating procedures were changed in any way."

Trustee Rosalie Lieblang said board members should have the same communications rights as other elected officials.

"Speaking as a private citizen, I don’t see their role as any different than the roles or our other elected officials like our state and federal representatives and senators," Lieblang said. "School Board members are elected officials and have a responsibility to represent the views of the electorate they serve."

Trustee Joan Patterson said the memo reflects distrust of school board members.

"First, this is my personal opinion of the issues," Patterson said. "Single point communication access as suggested in the memo looks to limit the opportunity to see a whole picture. With a broader access, different points of view can still be ignored, but they can at least have an opportunity to be heard."

Board President Cheryl McGinnis, official spokesperson for the board, said state law requires school boards to act only as a board.

"Legally, only the vote of a majority of this board’s members creates action by this board," McGinnis said. "Under Section 1201 of the Revised School Code, we as trustees are only to exercise our power and perform our duties as trustees when doing so collectively and only at a regular or a properly called special meeting."

Other rules include:

• Board members cannot talk about issues before those have come before the board or state that the board will do certain things in advance of the board passing a resolution.

• Board members may not publicly criticize a district employee.

• Board members cannot use their board positions to accomplish a political goal contrary to a board resolution.

• As always, individual school board members an attend school events, concerts, games, and volunteer as mentors; and

• Board members may not speak publicly without disclaiming that they cannot speak for the Board of Education; however, a board member may, upon disclaiming that he/she is a board member, share the position of the board as long as that position is consistent with a resolution of the board.

This exception accounts for board Treasurer Steve Hyer's appearance on a radio station's podcast, Feb. 18, during which no disclaimer was issued.

"No disclaimer was necessary as I was not representing any views on anything that was contrary to a board resolution or previous board action and I was not representing anything about any future possible board action," Hyer said.