School Committee Says No to Allowing Unseated Members Giving Goals Evaluations
Monday night's discussion on the proposed new policy pitted arguments of respect for democracy versus respect for accrued experience.
Every summer, the Westford School Committee evaluates how the Superintendent of Schools performed in achieving their yearly stated goals, but should recently unelected School Committee members get to submit "lame duck" evaluations on their way out of office?
On Monday night, the School Committee said they should not after three motions on the proposed policy and debate between respecting the will of the voters versus respecting accrued experience of outgoing members.
The policy, P2103, requires the Superintendent to file a self-assessment on how they believe they met their stated goals for the year (policy P2012), which is then graded by members of the Committee in June.
Proposed amendments to the policy would have allowed outgoing School Committee members who had just lost their seats on the board during Town Elections a few weeks earlier to provide their grades due to the insights they had obtained during the length of their term, serving as a non-voting guest evaluator.
Supporters of the proposed change, such as School Committee member Margaret Murray, noted that the average time in office for a Westford School Committee member is only one to two terms, with some elections providing several new members on the board.
"I think people who serve on the School Committee for a year alongside the Superintendent have a greater depth of knowledge than that of those who may just watch meetings on occasion," said Murray.
On the other side of the argument, chairwoman Angela Harkness believed the proposal flew in the face of the democratic process itself, noting that the proposed policy change would make comments from the outgoing member mandatory.
"If the voters are inclined not to elect somebody, for us as ongoing sitting members to solicit opition on such an important function is wrong," said Harkness. "Nobody asked Richard Nixon to come back and talk about the Secretary of State or China after he left, even though he was an expert."
Harkness also added the difference between opinion and information, noting that the board welcomes information from anyone, and that it already can voluntarily solicit information or opinions from those it chooses or those who testify in open forum parts of meetings.
Murray moved to amend the proposed change to remove calling the outgoing School Committee member as a "subject matter expert", which was approved 4-3, with Harkness, David Keele and Terrence Ryan voting in opposition.
However, approval of the proposal was defeated 2-5, with only Murray and Erica Kohl voting in support.
The policy as a whole, excluding the portion adding the outgoing member's role altogether, was approved by a vote of 6-1, with Keele voting in opposition.
Although Murray said that the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education requires each district to have a policy comparable to this one, and that this one was not in compliance, Keele disagreed, stating that the old version of the policy was fine was it was.
"We're changing the policy for the sake of changing it," said Keele.
Keele also disapproved of the timeline relating to the initial goals, citing that the timeline should be more truncated to avoid needless analysis and second guessing by the board.
Superintendent Bill Olsen replied to this viewpoint by stating the timeline was mainly there for the sake of staff member schedules.
Outgoing School Committee member Judith Culver said prior to the vote that she would not participate in next June's goals evaluation regardless of board's decision.
The board also unanimously approved a new policy (P5115) specifying residency procedures when a student's family lives in a property bisected by multiple towns.
Specifically, the policy says the location of the house is the main criterion for what town the student should go to school in, with the student's bedroom being used if the house itself is in more than one town, and common sense being the main deciding factor if even the bedroom has the town border going through it.