8/12/11 School board dissects ethics policy

School board dissects ethics policy
By Mike Wilder The Times-News 8/12/11     
Reprinted with permission.

 Discussion of a proposed code of ethics by the Alamance-Burlington Board of Education included talk about what the board’s role should be compared to that of the system’s superintendent and other administrators.

 It also included discussion about duties of board members in relation to students, school system employees and the community.

 Steve Van Pelt, the school board’s vice chairman, presented a draft version of a code of ethics during a work session Monday. Board members reviewed it to reach as much agreement as possible before it goes to the board’s attorney. After a legal review, it will come back to the board for potential approval.

 Board member Patsy Simpson asked about a section of the proposed code that asks members to “recognize their responsibility is not to operate schools but to ensure they are well-run” and “direct their actions toward policy-making, planning and appraisal.” Board members are asked to “work with other board members to establish effective board policies and to delegate authority for the administration of the schools to the superintendent.”

 Simpson said she doesn’t want to micromanage schools, but does not want to over-delegate authority state law gives to school boards.

 “I don’t want to be in the schools running the schools,” Simpson said. But, she said a provision in state law giving school boards general control over school system operations gives board members other responsibilities besides making policy. Board member Tony Rose said he’s felt during training that board members’ role as policymakers has been emphasized to the exclusion of other areas.

 He said there should be a “balanced approach.”

 Board attorney Trey Allen said he saw nothing in the code’s language that would prevent board members from sharing concerns about school system operations with the superintendent.

 Board member Kristen Moffitt said the word “appraisal” in the code’s language suggests an oversight role for the school board.

 Among the details of the policy, board members are asked to:

 Promote education as important to the community and to ask people to “support willingly the highest level of education which the community can afford.”

 Make their “first and greatest concern” the educational well-being of the system’s students.

 Not put themselves in positions involving conflict of interest or use their status as a school board member for “personal or partisan gain.”

 Regularly attend board meetings and become informed about issues to be discussed at the meetings.

 Make decisions after “a full discussion of the issues” with other school board members and system employees.

 “Present personal criticisms about individual school employees only to the superintendent in private.”

 Respect laws requiring confidentiality of student and employee records while avoiding use of closed sessions for illegitimate purposes.

 Meet requirements to get 12 hours of training each year, along with additional requirements for ethics training. Simpson and Rose objected to including examples of sources of training, such as the N.C. School Boards Association. They argued board members should be free to choose where they get training. Other board members said they were fine with leaving the association in as an example, with the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s School of Government also a choice. Other options are allowed “at the choice of the Board of Education.”