The mysteries of school board meeting mojo

After I swore off attending Dayton Public School board meetings, I went to both the Wright State Board of Trustees committee day meetings, and to the Trotwood Madison Board of Ed retreat. The more I know about these political bodies, the more I scratch my head.

Apparently, my legal video recording of the WSU board of trustees has them scheming new ways to put me in my place. I got a call from WSU PR manager Seth Baugess on Tuesday to let me know about new language that would appear in releases announcing board meetings. They will now have specified spaces for cameras. They will not provide a feed to their microphones, because they are afraid of loose talk on an open mic, and that they acknowledge my right to be there and video, however, they’d like prior warning of me being there (which they can’t require).

UPDATE

2 Oct 2018: “All members of the public are welcome and encouraged to attend public meetings of the Wright State University Board of Trustees.

In an effort to maintain unobstructed ingress and egress for meeting participants and guests, prevent disruptions to meetings or barriers to public views, and preserve the ability of university personnel to staff the meetings, Wright State reserves the right to designate workspaces for members of the media and their equipment as well as seating areas for other guests.

Guests who intend to record public meetings of the Wright State University Board of Trustees are advised to check with public relations contacts or their designees on site to locate designated workspaces.

It’s fascinating, because the Aug 18, 2018 video of a 3 hour WSU board retreat, which is unlisted, already has over 475 views. I’ve only shared the link with one WSU faculty person.

When I asked Baugess why they didn’t record and post all the meetings, he said because they didn’t want to. They do one meeting a year- the budget meeting and that’s it. Hint, you might have more support via transparency.

If there is one good thing that came out of my video recording of DPS, they expanded their broadcasts to include their “review sessions” which previously weren’t recorded. Not that anything important is achieved at these meetings, that would actually require board members who had a clue.

Which brings me to the 4 hour and 38 minute meeting of the Trotwood board last Thursday night. Yes, over four and a half hours.  What I found fascinating about this meeting is that the Superintendent wasn’t there, nor were any of his staff in his place. It was the board and the treasurer. I have NEVER seen DPS leave the superintendent seat open. When I asked, the board president said he didn’t have to be there, “this is our meeting.”

Which leads me to what exactly are the job divisions between a Superintendent, the educational professional who is highly paid and qualified to run a school district, and an elected board of lay persons who serve as the superintendents board of directors. From the OSBA:

Board members make decisions on a wide range of issues, such as hiring and evaluating a superintendent and treasurer; setting district policy; planning student services; goal-setting and long-range planning; adopting curriculum; establishing budgets; engaging parents; being good fiscal stewards; acting in the best interest of the school district and within the scope of their legal authority; and creating community relations programs. A board member should be a skilled decision-maker; however, decisions are only made by the board as a whole at a public meeting.

Another important part of the board’s work is its public relations role. School board members help build public support and understanding of public education, and lead the public in demanding quality education. The school board serves as a link between schools and the public.

What a school board member doesn’t do
The role and function of board members often are misinterpreted by the public, and in some cases, by board members themselves. The board is a policymaking body and members are the chief advisers to the superintendent on community attitudes. Board members do not manage the day-to-day operations of a school district; they see to it that the system is managed well by professionals.

Board members are not education professionals. They do not evaluate staff, other than the superintendent and treasurer, nor do they become involved in employment interviews, other than those of the superintendent, business manager and treasurer. Board members may be consulted during the hiring process for other positions, such as assistant superintendent.

Source: Understanding Your School Board | Ohio School Boards Association

The first hour of the Trotwood meeting was a presentation by the treasurer. And while I understand that this information doens’t require the superintendent, I would think that it is relevant to his job performance. At one point, the game changing discussion of Open Enrollment comes up. He wasn’t there to discuss the implications- although I can tell you that for DPS sports- you’d see a giant sucking sound as our star athletes enroll in Trotwood in record numbers after the coaching debacles under the current administration. Stated capacity right now is 300, but, I could see enough students wanting to leave DPS after next years report cards show Trotwood with marked improvement and DPS with State Takeover. Enough that Trotwood could actually expand it’s district and take over parts of Dayton- like Thurgood Marshall, WOW, Meadowdale/Valerie and grow.

The next part of the meeting was the main reason I was there. My firm, The Next Wave, was one of 8 bidders who had submitted RFP responses to TMS- and were invited to present. The agenda had each firm presenting for 15 minutes. I was to be last. The only other agency principal that was there at the start of the meeting was Theresa Steele of the Hathaway Group. She stayed up until just before my presentation before leaving. B-63 also stayed for a few other presentations, all the rest came and went.

The agenda: btw I added links to all the firms sites:

BOARD RETREAT
Trotwood-Madison Board of Education Offices 3594 North Snyder Road Trotwood, Ohio 45426 4:00 p.m.
1. OPENING
A. Call to Order and Pledge of Allegiance
B. Roll Call – Board of Education Members
C. Adopt the Agenda
2. TREASURER’S UPDATE
A. Treasurer Update – J. Allen
3. PRESENTATION – MARKETING
A. C-3 Group
B. B63 Line/AFA Associates
C. Catapult Creative
D. The Marketing Formula
E. Wilderness Agency
F. The Hathaway Group
G. Approach Marketing
H. The Next Wave
4. DISCUSSION ITEMS
A. Consent Agenda
B. Executive Session Options
C. October Retreat Information
5. ADJOURNMENT
A. Adjourn

This is where things get odd. The board was somehow directly involved in a contracting process, without any of the staff that would actually work with the agency. If they are just reviewing what the recommendations of staff were, to grant approval, where they already knew the rankings of an evaluation team, this makes sense. However, the questions didn’t seem connected to a rubric to me. If the board is weighing in on preferences, you have to look at two parts of the OSBA instructions:

They do not evaluate staff, other than the superintendent and treasurer, nor do they become involved in employment interviews, other than those of the superintendent, business manager and treasurer.

But on the other hand:

Another important part of the board’s work is its public relations role. School board members help build public support and understanding of public education, and lead the public in demanding quality education. The school board serves as a link between schools and the public.

And this is where I really wonder about this whole system of electing people to manage professional organizations. I’m used to presenting to firms with marketing professionals with deep understanding of what an ad agency does, who know why and how they plan on working with us. That is not the case here.

The people who we would be working with weren’t even in the room. Hadn’t met with us. And, forwarded all 8 proposals to them for consideration. This is HIGHLY irregular. Usually, after the proposals, only a few are selected for interview. And, this is the clincher, I’ve never, EVER, had the opportunity to watch my competition present- or film. Typically, these presentations are considered “proprietary” information and strategy, and are managed in executive session, or via a sub-committee. It was enlightening to me. I’ll withhold commentary, but, as someone who has judged for the American Advertising Federation National Student Advertising Competition, I can say that most of the pitches weren’t even remotely structured like pitches.

And what was shocking to me, was that only B-63 and Hathaway stayed to watch any others. Of course, when I made the video public yesterday, there were exactly 8 views by today- which means my 7 competitors and one of my subscribers… (total assumption).

Yet, the need for marketing and PR pros is insanely obvious if you watch the remainder of the meeting after my presentation. The free form discussion wandered in some very dangerous areas. While discussing a failed effort to get staff to answer a professionally run independent survey they revealed that only 38 of 440 employees had responded, and then discussed the culture of fear that might be preventing completion. That kind of public sharing isn’t ideal. Neither is the admission by one board member that there used to be a “Hit List” of teachers to be gotten rid of. This opens all kinds of legal liability for the district.

Other discussion of how a consent agenda works, showed a lack of competence by staff or the board, at being properly briefed about it. DPS just moved to consent agendas recently, and while they still allow for a removal of any item, it’s basically a way to avoid so many role call votes for various items. You can read more here: OSBA on Parliamentary Procedure and Voting Makes a Difference.

I applaud Board President Denise Moore for championing that the board need to work on continuous education and improvement. However, as she is a 12 year board member one has to wonder what she was doing for the 11 years before she figured this out, and hired Tyrone Olverson to straighten out a district that had made its way to the basement.

The district didn’t say when they’d notify the agencies of a decision.

A few of the agencies had made an effort to attend a board meeting or retreat before. For at least three of them, their big “reveal” at the end of the pitch was that they had a red “608 to Great” rubber wrist band on.

Yet, my firm, had the forethought to buy the URLS www.thetrotwoodturnaround.com and www.608togreat.com and point them to a holding page that some staff person liked so much that they used it for the background screen for the whole district convocation at the beginning of the school year.

If you watch my presentation, actions speak louder than words. Best of luck to Trotwood in picking a partner. If you want to watch the sample video I included in my presentation directly, it’s here:

And of course, no other ad agency has a platform to reach the community the way Esrati.com does, for better or worse. Over a thousand unique readers a day can’t be totally wrong.