A Greenfield School Board member’s distaste about a new staff policy that tells staff not to come to the school board with concerns and complaints set off a war of words about the district's culture.
The policy, drafted by administration at the board's request and approved in July, directs staff to bring concerns and complaints that fall outside the previously established grievance policy to the administration—and not directly to board members. This is the heart of board member Rick Moze's issue with the new policy, which led to a tense and testy discussion at Monday's meeting.
The policy, after the board approved it, drew the ire of Greenfield teacher union president Kerri Jo Patten. Moze, who was not on the board when the policy was approved, agreed with Patten. He called the policy a violation of employees’ freedom of speech and said employees should be able to talk to board members whenever they want.
“The problem is the administration of this district does not like what citizens, taxpayers, employees and parents are saying about them or the district, so whenever possible, they censor whatever people are saying,” Moze said.
“The policy needs to be revamped so employees can come to us if they have a concern if they don’t feel comfortable coming to administration.”
Moze’s comments set off a lengthy debate about the policy and a back-and-forth about the district’s culture. At the heart of the debate was the policy’s first 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."
While board members seemed to come to a consensus that a chain of command is important and should be outlined, they also felt what some of them called a threat of discipline should not be included.
“Is that the culture we want to have, that this board wants to have, with our teachers and other employees and the citizens that approach us?” board member Russ Spahn asked. “The language needs to be improved, that cloak of secrecy and the threat (removed).”
Board member Cathy Walsh said staff should be able to come to board members at anytime without any repercussions, a common thread all board members appeared to agree on.
Superintendent Conrad Farner said administration listens to concerns from staff on a daily basis and that the policies in place are working. He added that no policy, new or old, has ever prevented a staff member from speaking at a meeting or approaching individual board members
“To characterize that wording as a threat, it’s not a threat,” Farner said. “That’s just saying that in the case of someone doing something inappropriate there may be discipline.
“We’re just trying to get the problem solved. …. Some people don’t like the decision that’s made and then go above the administration’s head. The point of this policy, I think was to address that because that can create a chaotic environment if every employee that doesn’t like a decision that was made essentially says now I can go right to the board.
“It’s just not fair to the administration. Administration’s not going to want to do their job if every decision they make is going to be second-guessed because somebody didn’t like it.”
Spahn said the policy, as it is written, is a gag order.
“I don’t want that culture here,” Spahn said.
“I agree, Russ. We don’t have that culture here,” Farner replied. “Just because some people say that does not mean that’s the culture. There’s too much evidence that suggests otherwise.”
Spahn said he has evidence that “says just the opposite” but did not elaborate.