Editorial: BOE should eliminate work sessions before meetings

Published 3:08 pm Tuesday, September 22, 2015

On the third Thursday of every month, the Decatur County Board of Education meets. The group’s boardroom is in the Decatur County Support Center in West Bainbridge, with meetings typically beginning at 7 p.m.

An average informed parent or citizen likely won’t find that to be new information about the meetings of their local elected officials.

What everyone does not know is that the BOE has two meetings every third Thursday: the first is held at 6 p.m. immediately before the regular board meeting.

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This initial meeting is ambiguously labeled a “work session,” and is technically open to the public just as the regular meeting. It’s held just across the hall from the boardroom and has five folding tables forming a “u,” with Chairman Sydney Cochran and Superintendent Fred Rayfield at the head. The other board members and assistant superintendents sit on either side, and there are usually about six — only six — chairs against one wall for support staff, press, speakers and any other visitors.

This is the meeting when the work gets done. This is when board members ask questions and talk through ideas. This is when other system staff members present the board in detail with programs they’re working on. This is where money gets mentioned a lot: how it’s being spent and where any shortcomings are.

The 7 p.m. meeting is nothing more than pomp and circumstance, full of hyper-formalities and void of candid conversation by the board. It’s over in half an hour and only lasts that long because of the cushion of the “monthly inspiration,” which highlights something one of Decatur County’s eight system schools is doing. The inspiration opens the meetings and is often a video of kids being excited about school and their current projects.

This is followed by the superintendent and his senior staff members each giving a very brief, often misguidedly optimistic, update, several of which are riddled with acronyms none of the board members or average audience members likely understand.

Next, the board goes through its action items in a matter of minutes, more often than not, approving things without context for the audience. But remember, the board members have context to make their decisions because they just heard all about the background, any concerns and had questions answered on whatever action item it is they’re preparing to vote on.

It’s no wonder the boardroom is usually vacant except for system staff, principals, a few teachers and the parents of any student receiving recognition. Who wants to sit through half an hour of seemingly mindless approvals of policies and resolutions without getting the context of how this impacts the citizens of Decatur County, specifically the students?

The board should eliminate its “work session” and have one meeting at 6 or 6:30 p.m. in the boardroom. The board members should ask their questions in front of the typical audience, giving that portion of the public a sense of who was voted into office, allowing them into the decision making process of the recipient of millions in tax money. In turn, more citizens, voters and parents should attend these meetings and strive to understand how their tax money is impacting students, holding those voted into power accountable for their decisions.