Policies, Handbooks Remain Hot Topics for School Board
The 2012-13 employee handbooks are still awaiting approval by the board, and board-staff communication policies continue to be debated.
Greenfield School Board member Don Carlson has no problem with continuing discussions the board has had regarding its employee handbooks and what have become hot-button policies that define board-staff communications.
That is as long as those conversations, which began nearly three months ago, remain focused on coming to a solution and not on personal attacks.
One week after board member Rick Moze publically criticized district administration, including Superintendent Conrad Farner, and accused administrators of trying to censor employees and citizens, Carlson voiced his displeasure with his fellow board members at Monday’s board meeting.
“Last meeting, there were some accusations that were made in reference to that (board-staff communication) policy which kind of bothered me,” Carlson said. “It kind of reminded me of accusations made by noted Wisconsinite Joe McCarthy back in the '50s. If we’re going to discuss these things, I hope we can keep it on the level and discuss the issues and not the accusations about people.”
McCarthy was a U.S. Senator who believed there were several Communist spies and sympathizers within the federal government.
The board decided the handbooks and policies in question would be discussed again at a meeting 6:30 p.m. Oct. 29, after Moze brought before the board a myriad of suggested changes to the proposed 2012-13 handbooks board members received for review in late summer but have not yet adopted.
Moze offers changes
Moze’s amendments were wide-ranging. He suggested that teachers be given more time to decide whether or not they are returning to the district and that teachers be notified on June 1 of transfers, rather than June 8.
Among several other changes, Moze asked that employees be able to donate sick days to employees that are terminally ill or need surgeries that will keep them out of school for long periods of time.
He also said that the liquidated damages policy needs amending to either include teachers and administrators, or abandoned completely.
“At the present time, we charge teachers, but we don’t charge (administrators),” Moze said. “Either we charge both, or we don’t charge either.”
Policy issues to be addressed
At the meeting Oct. 29, the board will also again discuss board-staff communication policies 3112 and 4112, which were at the crux of Moze’s comments Oct. 1, and drew the ire of board member Russ Spahn, who called them gag orders.
Farner said the policies have, in large part, been in place for years, with major changes being made to them in 2010. He said the most recent changes, which address the proper chain of command for staff-board communications, were made at the request board member Cathy Walsh.
The changes included wording that board members have expressed concerns with, particularly the final two sentences of this paragraph:
"The Board of Education has a legitimate interest in maintaining order by directing that employee communications to the School Board move initially through the chain of command to the District Administrator. Employees are expected to follow the established chain of communication as described in this policy. Failure to do so may result in employee discipline.”
Board President Bruce Bailey said the wording should be softened.
Farner said the wording was recommended by NEOLA, a company that specializes in board policy services. He provided the board with examples of 10 districts that have similar polices in their handbooks. (See attached PDF).
“If you’re going to change policy, it’s important to see what other districts have done,” Farner said. “Quite a few of them use the exact same language we have. The Mequon-Thiensville district also uses NEOLA, but lopped off the last sentence or two that seems to cause the most concern.
“The spirit and essence of the staff-board communication really seems to be consistent as you read through these.”