March 2015 Board Watch Report CardLeave a Comment
Below is the twenty-second Board Watch report card based on volunteer assessments. The current report card reflects assessments from December through March of 2015. Stay tuned for June’s report card in the next couple of weeks. Overall, the School Board maintained a B– average.
- Overall: The overall grade is a 3.54 (B-), the same letter grade as in the previous Report Card. The grades were calculated from 15 surveys from 16 different volunteers.
- Focus and Mission: The score is a 3.29 (C+), which is the same grade as in the previous Report Card. On average, volunteers reported that the Board only spent about half of its meeting time managing time effectively, focusing on ways to achieve the district’s goals, and prioritizing student outcomes.
- Transparency: The score is a 4.16 (B+), increasing from a B on the previous Report Card. On average, volunteers agreed that they felt welcome at the meeting and understood the information presented and the rationale behind the Board’s actions.
- Conduct: The score is a 4.19 (B+), decreasing from an A- on the previous Report Card. This means that on average, volunteers reported that few Board members used sarcastic or disrespectful verbal or nonverbal communication. They reported that most of the Board handled differences of opinion respectfully.
- Role Clarity: The score is a 2.76 (C), increasing from a C- and continuing to be the lowest grade. This score reflects that on average, volunteers reported that the Board spent about half of its meeting time focused on how the district is making progress toward achieving its goals and using policy to create solutions to Board member concerns. Volunteers said the Board spent about half of its meeting time focused on the details of agenda items (i.e., when items occur, who participates, etc.).
- Competency: The score is a 3.32 (B-), increasing from a C+ on the previous Report Card. On average, volunteers reported that only more than half of Board members were prepared for the meeting and appeared to use research, district data, existing policies, and other facts to inform their opinions.
A Deeper Look at the Scores
In the previous Report Card (covering meetings between Sept-Nov of 2014), we reported volunteer observations of Board member comments and questions during Agenda Review and Legislative Sessions. For that reporting period, volunteers had observed a substantial increase from the previous period in comments related to solution seeking or measuring progress (from 11% to 21%) and for comments referencing existing policy (from 12% to 20%). It is encouraging that for the current reporting period (December 2014 – March 2015), there was yet another increase in comments related to solution seeking or measuring progress (from 21% to 26%). We applaud Board members’ continued efforts to increase discussions grounded in progress toward goals and seeking solutions.
One point of concern is the increase in comments that communicate a lack of respect for fellow Board members or district staff (from 6% to 14%). We encourage Board members to treat differences of opinion respectfully. Contemptuous and disdainful commentary is not only unproductive, it sets a poor model for our students.
Recommendation – Continue to Gather More Information; Manage Time Well
In the past two Report Cards, we have asked School Board members to take the time to become informed on topics about which they will make decisions. We commend the Board for requesting information to be shared with them with more advance notice to allow more time for them to fully understand it prior to a vote. We believe taking more time to understand these topics will increase Board effectiveness in creating policy solutions and decrease excessive time spent on understanding information in the meetings. We are encouraged, for example, by the financial sustainability work which was introduced formally in April and comes before the Board later this month. The Board is to be commended for its proactive and long range approach to incorporating innovative program costs into the general fund budget.
One concern raised by volunteers was the lack of effective time management during some meetings, particularly regarding individual agenda items taking up large amounts of time. Volunteers continued to give feedback that Board members should reference specific data or outcomes—or ask for the data—rather than sharing general thoughts or opinions on programs without data to back up their opinions. We agree that the Board should manage time effectively during meetings, focusing on fewer, more strategic agenda items and giving them the attention required.
Since the launch of Board Watch in January 2009, A+ Schools has issued 22 report cards on Pittsburgh School Board governance practices based on observations of meetings by trained volunteers.
The January 2015 report card is the fourteenth report card to be issued using the new reporting form (Version 2.0) introduced by A+ Schools in 2011. Version 2.0 reflects higher expectations for the School Board’s governance and allows for more specific feedback and recommendations from Board Watch volunteers.
What You Can Do
- Volunteer for Board Watch
- Contact your School Board Member
- Testify at a Public Hearing
- Attend or Watch a School Board Meeting