By Jennifer Wohlleb
While the new school board member training requirements in personal ethics, financial management and superintendent evaluations set to begin next year may seem daunting, those attending KSBA’s Fall Regional Meetings got a little reassurance that perhaps these changes aren’t as onerous as they seem.
During a regional meeting in Woodford County, KSBA Interim Executive Director David Baird told board members that the new requirements, called for by state Education Commissioner Terry Holliday, will build on an already established foundation.
PHOTO: KSBA Interim Executive Director David Baird goes over some of the new school board training requirements during the KSBA Fall Regional Meeting in Woodford County.
“A lot of you as school board members, you’ve been taking these classes or some form of these classes in the past through KSBA’s Academy of Studies,” he said. “It’s not really new information for you in many cases.”
The total number of training hours board members are required to take will remain the same, Baird said.
“What is different is that for those people in their first term, of the 12 hours mandated for you, you now are required to take one hour of the new ethics class, three hours of the finance classes, and one hour of superintendent evaluation,” he said. “If you are in your second term, of the required eight hours, one hour will be ethics training and it drops down to two hours of finance and one hour of superintendent evaluation.
“For those of you in your third term or more, of your four hours of training, one hour is now ethics, one hour is finance every year and one hour of superintendent training every other year.”
Board members will be able to meet those requirements with new training classes from KSBA as well as tweaks to existing courses in the Academy of Studies.
Superintendent evaluation training Kerri Schelling, KSBA’s director of Board Team Development, said board members should approach superintendent evaluations not as something to be checked off a list, but as something beneficial to the progress of the school district.
“As a board and superintendent team, you are responsible for setting the vision and the direction of your district,” she said. “And as a school board, you have the responsibility to make sure the person you have hired to manage this vision, and put these goals and objectives into place, is doing that and everyone is on the same page.”
Schelling said most boards already are doing what they need to for the evaluations; the new requirements just provide additional structure.
“Each board and superintendent team is now charged with having a deliberate conversation about three specific things – district delivery targets, some budget-finance pieces and some facility pieces,” she said. “When you break it down, that is really the only thing that is different in this current year. You have to document these discussions in whatever instrument you are currently using.
“So whatever tool you’ve been using and are planning to use this year, you can still use it, you just need to fold in a conversation. And not just a presentation about these components, but a real dialogue, a real discussion about these items.”
In discussing district targets, the conversation should include areas such as student proficiency, college/career readiness, graduation rates, closing achievement gaps and processes for implementing the new teacher evaluations.
The budget/finance talks should include specific questions such as how much is the district’s contingency fund? Is the superintendent communicating about how money will be spent? Is he or she making sure the needs of all students are being considered? Is the district in compliance with state and federal guidelines?
For the facilities and support systems areas, Schelling said boards can use the TELL Kentucky survey results as a basis for discussion, comparing results from 2011 and 2013.
Boards must have this conversation with their superintendent in an open meeting by Dec. 20. Schelling said the same conversations will need to be held again in the spring.
“There’s no loss of local control in any of this,” Schelling said. “You can still use whatever evaluation tool you are comfortable with. It just has to be equivalent to the model that KDE’s steering committee is developing in that it has to measure the same things. But you still have some flexibility in the tool that you use. KDE will issue a rubric to provide guidance on what it has to contain and that will come out in the spring.”
Personal ethics training
Schelling said this new training requirement is not about legal ethics.
“When we talk about ethics, we’re not talking about if you’re good or bad,” she said, “With board member ethics, we are talking about perspectives … you are presented with information and situations that are very challenging, how do you make those important decisions that you are faced with every day. It’s all about intentions and actions because we know sometimes no decision you can make is ideal. Sometimes it’s about making the best decision you can with what you’ve got. That’s what we’re talking about with this first board member ethics training.”
In putting this training together, KSBA contacted other state school board associations, NSBA, even some corporations, to learn what and how they teach about personal ethics. Schelling said KSBA will keep the course fresh by adding new scenarios and discussions from year to year.
“We’re going to talk a lot about things that have happened in Kentucky and not just things that have gone wrong,” she said. “We have had members face very tough choices and done a fabulous job making a decision and we want to learn from that. How did they get to that decision that really turned out to be really effective?”
District financial management training
Baird reviewed the four financial management courses KSBA currently offers in its Academy of Studies, how they are being updated and why board members need to take these issues seriously.
“We strongly believe that talking about finance and talking about budget is not something that you do one time a year; it’s not an event,” he said. “ You just don’t come to a board meeting in January and pass a draft budget. You should have discussions that go on several months leading up to that.”
The classes begin with basic finance and terminology and the “big picture.” They advance to more detailed information about the budgets boards work with, guidance and oversight, and putting together a responsible budget that supports the mission of the district. The classes help board members ask the right questions, Baird said. They end with a more philosophical approach to budgets and money, district goals and available resources.
In addition to updating the finance classes, Baird said several new finance courses also are being developed in response to the financial mismanagement state Auditor Adam Edelen found in some school districts. One course will look at what went wrong and how it can be corrected, and another new offering will focus on MUNIS reports, he said.
—A detailed session about the new superintendent evaluation process is being offered during KSBA’s annual Winter Symposium in Louisville, Dec. 6-7, as well as financial courses. For more information go to KSBA’s website at www.ksba.org.