Accountability & Complaints
The Board as Link to the Community
As laypeople elected to govern the public schools, the school board can view itself as link between the school district and the community-at-large. This implies a responsibility to maintain open and honest two-way communications that build relationships between the district and the public it serves. This is a weighty responsibility!
Accountability, It’s the Law
Ultimately, relationships are effective if there is a strong sense of accountability. For school boards in Colorado, accountability is part of the law.
State law requires each board of education to appoint or create a process for a school district accountability committee. C.R.S. § 22-11-301. The committee has statutory powers and duties, including making recommendations to the board concerning the school district’s budget priorities. C.R.S. § 22-11-302. In addition to budget issues, the district accountability committee’s areas of study must be cooperatively determined at least annually by the board and the committee. As amended by the state legislature in the Education Accountability Act of 2009 (the Act), district accountability committees must also advise and provide recommendations to the board concerning the contents of the district’s performance, improvement, priority improvement, or turnaround plan, for purposes of the district’s accreditation. The district’s accreditation category determines the type of plan required.
State law also requires an accountability committee at each school. C.R.S. § 22-11-401. In many smaller districts (500 students or less), the district accountability committee may function in both capacities. Similar to the district accountability committee, school accountability committees have statutory powers and duties, including making recommendations to the principal concerning the school’s budget priorities. C.R.S. § 22-11-402. As amended by the Act, school accountability committees must also provide recommendations concerning the school’s performance, improvement, priority improvement or turnaround plan for purposes of the school’s accreditation. The school’s accreditation category determines the type of plan required. The Act also requires a school accountability committee to meet at least quarterly to discuss whether school leadership, personnel, and infrastructure are advancing or impeding implementation of the school’s performance, improvement, priority improvement or turnaround plan or other progress pertinent to the school’s accreditation contract with the board of education.
Accountability committees are important key communicators for the school district. Beyond the legal requirements, boards and superintendents can rely on these engaged stakeholders to study issues, participate in planning sessions or carry out other tasks important to the school or district. Keeping accountability committee members informed, soliciting their opinions and asking them to help educate others can extend the board’s reach into the community and help the board anticipate issues.
Handling Complaints – or What to Do in the Grocery Store Line
Board policy should address the board’s process for hearing and addressing public complaints and input. Still there may be times when individuals attempt to direct complaints or expressions of concern about district operations to an individual board member. Even if the member wishes to listen with courtesy and sincerity, it is generally advisable to refer the person to the superintendent or administrator who has responsibilities in the area of concern. It is almost never advisable for the board member to assume direct responsibility for a problem, particularly when student or staff relations are involved.
At the Board Meeting
Occasionally, a person or group of people will come to a board meeting to express concern. The board should anticipate these events by having in place a well-developed and communicated protocol for public comment that is used at all times. These procedures often address the amount of time individuals are permitted to speak, the civil tone expected and state that the board will not be making decisions on issues that are not on the agenda.
Whether public concern is founded on fact or fiction, the board should take a leadership role, understanding that individuals addressing the board are often nervous, frustrated, angry or feel “wronged” in some way. As in one-on-one conversations, courteous and sincere listening can go a long way to diffuse a potentially difficult situation.
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