Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Cart Before the Horse

The following are the comments I made to the Board of Education during their meeting on October 27, 2008:
Your key campaign promise in this levy effort is Accountable Education. You have promised to create an Auditing and Accountability Committee to monitor and report on the fiscal operations of the district.
While that's commendable, you're putting the cart before the horse.
We're in a battle to find ways to maintain the level of excellence in our schools while keeping the cost affordable for the community. One could argue that dealing with the tension between those two dimensions is the primary responsibility of the School Board.
A key to doing that is effective long-range strategic planning. You don't win the battle though auditing or by holding people accountable after the fact. A friend of mine once said that auditors are the people who come in after the battle and shoot the wounded.
I would have been more impressed if you had also said that you were forming a Strategic Planning Team.
Because the issue here is trust. Trust is increased when you do three things.
  1. Say what you intend to do. In other words – Communicate your Plan
  2. Actually do what you said you were going to do
  3. Evaluate and report on your performance relative to the Plan, and then make adjustments. This is where auditing and accountability comes into play – at the end of the process.
The more times you do this – as an individual or as an organization – the more trust you are granted.
Right now, you still need a strategic plan. Maybe you have one, but haven't communicated it to the public. But I don't think you have one. It should have been the central topic for your Board retreat this summer. Instead that session was mostly spent receiving staff reports, not planning.
I know what strategic planning looks like. I spent a good part of my career as a high level executive in a large corporation. I'm here to help if you want it. If you want nothing to do with me – that's fine. There are other experienced executives in our community who I'm sure are better planners than me.
The point is that you need a plan, and you need to communicate the plan. Then you execute the plan and keep the public informed how you're doing compared to the plan. And because every plan is obsolete the moment you put it on paper, you need to commit to continuously reviewing the plan and adjusting it so that it stays relevant as conditions change.
Don't surprise the public. Give us your long-range view and allow us to help you shape it into a plan for our future.
Let the professionals you have hired deal with running the educational operations. None of you are experts in this field anyway. Your job is all about trust, because that's what is needed for our education professionals to have access to the funding they require to do the job we expect of them.
It starts with a plan. Let me know how I can help.
ps - If asked, I would certainly serve on this committee, even though I think their concept and the charter for this committee is flawed.


  1. That committee needs someone like you on it but after what I heard last night, I wouldn't hold my breath waiting for a call. That discussion was the closest thing I have seen the board come to not agreeing 5-0 on something, even though they voted that way in the end. Some of the members did not seem to appreciate someone looking over their shoulders, and some seemed only interested in hearing about what they were doing right. What they really need is to respond to those who tell them they are doing something wrong but I don't think they want to hear that, and they don't want to appoint someone to that committee who will do just that. I think you should formally apply for a spot, but that's your call.
    It will be interesting to see who makes the list, and also, how the list is determined, i.e. public discussion at a Board meeting or behind the scenes with only an announcement at the Board meeting, 5-0 vote of course.

  2. Paul,

    Thoughts on the outline of the committee on the District Website?

    Also, in regards to the effort to organize and begin the reform process:

    Professional obligations and personal considerations will keep me from becoming visibly involved with this process, although I will be rooting for you. Participating openly towards this cause is not something that I can currently risk. I hope you understand.

  3. Musicman:

    The Board said that they looked at what other school boards had done along these lines, and it's clear that the charter they approved for the A&A Committee was almost completely lifted from the work of some other board.

    Building off someone else's work is okay as long as you take the time to understand what it means and to adapt it to our own particular circumstances. I'm not confident that this was done.

    Rather, I believe this document was slapped together and ratified by the Board simply to fool the public into thinking the campaign promise has been fulfilled.

    For one thing, there is no mention as to how this new A&A Committee relates to the existing Citizen's Finance Committee. Now I don't think the Finance Committee has been effective either, but my point is that the school board blundered their way into this pronouncement without much thought at all, least of all how the current members of the Finance Committee will feel.

    By the way, the development of the Strategic Plan is a responsibility of the CEO - the Superintendent in the case of a school district. Note that New Albany Schools clearly spells this out in the job description for their Superintendent.

    I wonder if this is in the our Superintendent's job description. Even if it isn't, the person you want leading the 9th largest school district in the state would understand the importance of such a plan anyway.