Salt Lake City board members want more flexibility, input
Two members of the Salt Lake City Board of Education want to change how the board operates, including better tracking of issues and more accountability.
The newly elected Michael Clara, a well-known community activist, and Rosemary Emery, a two-year veteran, said they will voice their concerns during Tuesday's public meeting. The seven-member group oversees the education of about 24,000 students.
At issue is whether the seven board members should have more leeway in bringing up issues. Currently, the agenda is set by the board president and a member needs the backing of two others before a topic can be discussed, Clara and Emery said. During his campaign, Clara also claimed there's a public perception that the board doesn't question the superintendent's agenda.
"To me, in public education, as an elected official, with seven of us, we should be able go into there and have influence, but the bureaucracy runs everything and they have every expectation that we're going to rubber stamp everything they're doing," Clara said Monday.
Clara and Emery further believe there is no district follow-up to public comments at board meetings.
"Nobody does anything or responds when you address the board," Clara said. "There needs to be greater transparency."
Emery said she has tried more than once to discuss the topic of high school schedules during her time on the board.
"I've been trying to get things on the agenda for two years," said Emery, a retired Salt Lake City teacher. "All the education articles say you have to have the teachers and parents involved in the decision-making. I personally feel in the past 11 years it has deteriorated."
Board President Kristi Swett could not be reached Monday for comment. But in a Dec. 31 email to Clara, before he had been sworn in, Swett responded to his concerns.
"We do not believe we have ever acted to 'stifle the free flow of ideas.' Moving forward, we would ask that you help us be inclusive without allowing our board meetings to run out of control and off the published agenda," the email said. "We appreciate your attendance at some of our recent board meetings and your obvious diligence in researching issues central to your role as a member of the board. Please keep an open mind about the motives and conduct of board members, recognizing that you may not, at this point, have all the information you might later acquire though experience."
As far as discussing high school schedules, Swett wrote in the email: "At no time was Ms. Emery's request 'denied.' The challenge has been how to frame the discussion in a productive way that encompasses the perspectives of all board members."
Clara also wants the entire board meeting, not just certain portions, as is done now, to be available to the public on audio. According to the district website, citizens must bring a flash drive to the business office if they want to hear "audio recordings of other segments of board business meetings and study sessions, such as introductions and recognitions, public comments, consent agendas, and superintendent's reports."
In an effort to improve transparency, Clara said he will launch an education blog next week on his website, http://www.michaelclara.com, that will deal with board business.
Emery said she welcomes Clara's more open approach to board meetings.
"I've been trying to say for two years that parents and teachers should be making the decision of the schedules, not the seven members of the board," Emery said. "I want the teachers to make the decision because they're in the trenches."
If you go
The Salt Lake City School Board meets 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at the district office, 440 E. 100 South.
O View the agenda > http://www.slcschools.org/board-of-education/board-meetings