11/08/11 — Board members raise questions

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Board members raise questions

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on November 8, 2011 1:46 PM

Two of the school board's newest members again questioned board procedures Monday night, lobbying for their counterparts to join forces in several areas.

Len Henderson and Arnold Flowers have become perhaps the board's most vocal members since joining the board last year.

Henderson, appointed by the county commission to fill the remaining term of Shirley Sims from District 2, and Flowers, a former commissioner elected last November upending veteran member George Moye from District 5, have each had their own causes.

For Henderson, it has been discipline policies and of late, the higher standard dress code. Flowers has taken issue with finances and spending of district funds.

At Monday's meeting, the board approved a spate of policies, including the student dress code and school improvement plans, and voted to lend support to the upcoming education fundraiser, Dancing Stars of Wayne County, with a $5,000 donation.

As the rather lackluster meeting wrapped up, the two members took advantage of the board comment segment to raise their concerns.

Henderson said he hoped the board would "seriously consider" changes being made to the student dress code and appearance policy. He said he was not against the higher standard dress code but rather favored parents having a choice in the matter.

His suggestion was that, sometime in the spring, parents be resurveyed at the six schools where the higher standard dress code was adopted -- Brogden Middle, Carver Heights Elementary, Dillard Middle, Goldsboro Intermediate, North Drive Elementary and School Street Elementary.

He also expressed concern about the school improvement plans.

"I don't think that the objectives are as measurable and data driven as it's intended to be," he said.

Flowers took issue with the agenda's consent agenda, described as "routine business or have been thoroughly discussed in committee meetings," neither of which happened this month, he said.

He said he had "repeatedly voiced my opinion that the board needs to have more input in the financial contracts," which totaled $1.3 million this month.

"This board needs to be aware of what we're spending the money on and have an explanation on," he said, adding that he had held a meeting with Nan Barwick, assistant superintendent for finance, to gain a better understanding of the contracts.

Flowers said he would prefer to have support from the entire board, saying he "can't change this" unless three other board members agree.

"After tonight, unless some of the board members approach me that they feel like they can change it, I'm going to submit to the collective wisdom of the board," he said. "I feel like this board should have more input into these contracts that we enter into every month."

At meeting's end, board member Rick Pridgen produced a copy of an e-mail sent Oct. 28 by an administrative assistant, offering to make available all information of current contracts to board members since Pridgen had jury duty at the proposed time of the committee meeting.

Board Chairman Thelma Smith used her time to address Henderson's comments.

"We have hired a leadership team to do the business that we're concerned about. I respect that we do have highly qualified people in order to do that and I hear you, Mr. Henderson," she said.

She said she was confused by his comments since he had initially indicated the principals did a good job on the school improvement plans, then came back and said he was dissatisfied.

"You want me to clarify? I will," Henderson replied.

"Not at this particular time," Mrs. Smith said.

She said it appeared he was "the only one that is complaining," prompting Henderson to ask how many on the board had actually read the school improvement plans. Mrs. Smith said that was not the point.

"I'll go further to say that when we make our board comments, well, you're doing what you want to do, but I think the community needs to know that we're here to do business and I think some of you are taking it a step beyond that," she said, questioning the rationale for the dissenting comments.

Mrs. Smith added that the board's role is to set policies, hire and fire a superintendent, but that there are also others hired to do supporting jobs, like those fulfilled by the leadership team.

"I don't think we're here to micromanage anybody," she said.

Henderson said the board has a "statutory responsibility" to accept and approve the school improvement plans.

"Thank you, and I don't know anybody that has problems with it other than you," Mrs. Smith told him.

She added that the higher standard dress code will be addressed at the next board meeting. And while she agrees that district parents have a right to vote on the matter, she noted that she has heard nothing but positive feedback from principals and administrators since the policy was implemented.