April 2016 Board Watch Report CardLeave a Comment
Below is the twenty-sixth Board Watch report card based on volunteer assessments. The current report card reflects assessments from December through March of 2016. Overall, the School Board received a B average.
Volunteer for Board Watch.
- Overall: The overall grade is a 3.73 (B), which increased from a B- on the previous Report Card. The grades were calculated from 19 surveys from 10 different volunteers.
- Focus and Mission: The score is a 3.70 (B), which increased from a C+ on the previous Report Card. On average, volunteers reported that the Board spent just more than 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+), the same grade as 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 4.63 (A-), the same grade as on the previous Report Card. This means that on average, volunteers reported that very few Board members used sarcastic or disrespectful verbal or nonverbal communication. They reported that nearly all of the Board handled differences of opinion respectfully.
- Role Clarity: The score is a 2.57 (C-), the same grade as on the previous Report. This score reflects that on average, volunteers reported that the Board spent a little less than 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 a little more than 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 3.56 (B-), the same as on the previous Report Card. On average, volunteers reported that more than half of Board members were prepared for meetings and appeared to use research, district data, existing policies, and other facts to inform their opinions.
A Deeper Look at the Scores
Compared with the previous Report Card, the School Board received slightly higher grades in two indicators: Focus and Mission and Competency, which served to boost its overall grade from a B- to a B. Although the grade in Role Clarity remained the same, volunteers’ observations indicated a smaller percentage of comments related to existing policy or seeking solutions compared with the previous reporting period. The Board received its highest grade in Conduct; however, volunteers described various verbal and non-verbal communications toward fellow Board Members and/or district staff ranging from effective to sarcastic and disrespectful. We encourage the Board endeavor to treat colleagues on and off the Board with respect and professionalism.
Recommendation – Focus on Goals and Provide Policy Leadership
We appreciate efforts by Board Members that resulted in this reporting period’s increased grades in Focus and Mission and Competency. However, based on volunteer feedback, we strongly encourage the School Board to focus more intently on ways to achieve its goals of maximizing student academic achievement and of addressing the needs of all students through equitable resource distribution. We also encourage School Board members to come to meetings prepared by spending more time getting clarification questions answered in advance of meetings and by using research and existing data to inform their opinions.
The School Board continues to receive its lowest grade in Role Clarity. We encourage the School Board to ensure that its dollars are distributed in ways that translate into maximum achievement and opportunities for every student in the Pittsburgh Public Schools by doing the following:
1. Monitor progress on key academic goals – again, we encourage the Board to work with District administration to set specific achievement targets and benchmarks toward goals in the “Whole Child, Whole Community” plan adopted by the Board in 2014. These goals are related to kindergarten readiness, elementary literacy, algebra readiness, Pittsburgh Promise, college and career readiness, and developmental skills and habits. We encourage the Board to monitor these targets on a regular basis in a way that is transparent to the public.
2. Improve impact and transparency of district budgeting – the district’s current budgeting system is neither transparent nor flexible with more than half of expenditures not tracked directly to schools or on a per pupil basis. Without understanding how many dollars are spent at each school, the School Board cannot determine whether resources are distributed equitably to address the needs of all students. We urge the Board to seek to understand how dollars are spent at each school and to increase principals’ ability to budget resources to meet the needs of the students at their schools. The School Board can do this by moving to a student based budgeting system that will be transparent, predictable, and weighted for student needs much like the funding formula being advocated for at the State.
3. Increase transparency in decision making – again, we urge the new Board to demonstrate accountability to voters and taxpayers by making its decision processes explicit and transparent. We ask that publicly funded cell phone numbers be made publicly available so voters can directly contact Board Members with questions and concerns. Currently constituents do not have direct access to district issued mobile phones for Board Members, which reduces trust and confidence in the Board’s ability to be responsive to public concerns. Only direct access to democratically elected School Board members can improve trust and communication in our community.
Links to Videos of Board Meetings Covered by this Report Card
Watch the Board meetings that our Board Watch volunteers attend to better understand the grade the Board received.
Archives of December-March Agenda Review and Legislative Meetings can be found here.
Since the launch of Board Watch in January 2009, A+ Schools has issued 26 report cards on Pittsburgh School Board governance practices based on observations of meetings by trained volunteers.
The March 2015 report card is the nineteenth 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