Complaints about shared governance, public access to school district information and a closed high school transfer policy were laid out at the Salt Lake Board of Education this week, but the issues were still a long way from resolution when the discussion ended.
In a session packed with school patrons, board members explored the three issues raised by board Vice President Stephen G. Boyden and members Lorna Matheson and Carolyn Kump in a memo last week. No decisions were reached, but the staff was directed to present possible options on the records access and transfer policy at the April 19 meeting.The memo said the three believe the district's policy of shared governance has been circumvented, thus affecting teacher morale, questions a decision that prevented two patrons from researching public information on the district's 1974 voted leeway election and challenges the district's closed high school transfer policy, which requires certification of mental, emotional or physical problems for a transfer approval.
Boyden said the issue of shared governance resulted from Superintendent John W. Bennion circulating, to board members, an article that espouses that no-confidence votes by teachers are a ploy to better their position at the bargaining table. Shared governance, a policy that allows teachers and parents to participate in making decisions affecting them, was an issue raised by the Salt Lake Teachers Association when it gave a no-confidence vote on Bennion in February.
Bennion said he was just passing along an article that was given to board President Keith Stepan, as he does other information. "I certainly feel those (teacher) concerns are real, and that we need to deal with them, and we are dealing with them," he said, referring to on-going talks between district officials, board members and teachers.
He said he wasn't surprised that shared governance became an issue, because the district has undergone a lot of changes rapidly in the three years he has served as superintendent.
Matheson said patrons, as well as the teachers, perceive their role in shared governance is gone. "These are feelings that are festering. They fester at Community Council meetings, at the grocery store, at church," she said.
Several board members talked about making a public declaration reaffirming their commitment to shared governance, although no action was taken on the suggestion. Stepan said no one has ever suggested changing shared governance, and the board has only worked at strengthening it.
On public information, district business administrator Gary Harmer said a decision to prevent two school patrons from fully researching district records for voted-leeway information came because the staff didn't have time to search all the information contained in a 17-item request.
He also said he believes that the request came from those who are looking for any way to oppose collection of the voted leeway, which brings $10.4 million into school district coffers annually. "We've got our heads in sand if we don't recognize this for what it is: People are looking for any way to challenge the voted leeway."
Several board members agreed with Boyden, who said records should be open to public inspection whether the questions asked seem relevant.
Although Harmer suggested hiring an independent auditor to examine the records, board members seemed to like Ron Walker's suggestion that the district staff seek direction from the state archivist on how to make records accessible to the public.
Calling the current transfer policy dehumanizing, Boyden said the three signing the memo are concerned that students have to share their innermost thoughts with principals, the district central staff and the school board when seeking a transfer. He said he favors an open transfer policy on a space-available basis.
Bennion said that would be theoretically possible, but it might be difficult to find available space at East and Highland next year. The staff was directed to study the issue and to outline alternatives for the board.
After the discussion, Bennion told the Deseret News that the discussion was "helpful in airing the issues so we can get an understanding of where we are all coming from."
He also said all three issues have roots in or were exacerbated by the controversial high school boundary decision. He said the boundary decision consumed time and energy that could have been used to nuture those involved in changes and is the underlying source of difficulties for the complaints about records access and transfer policy.