After a lengthy and rare debate, the Saline Board of Education approved new a new board ethics policy and board procedures.
The board voted 5-2 to approve the policy, which board secretary Tim Austin said codified existing procedures. President Heidi Pfannes, VicePresident Paul Hynek, Austin and Trustees Dennis Valenti and Michael McVey supported the motion. Trustees Jennifer Steben and Susan Estep voted against the motion.
Revisions to the board ethics policy duplicate some Open Meetings Act regulations, required members to respect board consensus and implementation of policies and follow newly revised board operation procedures. The new operating procedures provide guidelines for interaction between the board members and various entities, including the district, superintendent, fellow board members, general public and media. For example, there is a stipulation that board members not bring “surprises” to the board table. Another stipulation states that a board member’s role on a community or district committee is to listen and learn. One procedure asks board members to forward all media contacts to the board president or superintendent.
Supporters of the policies say the board needed policies and procedures to govern conduct. But others suggested they were repetitive and perhaps stifling.
Austin said while the document may be new, the ideas aren’t.
“Since I’ve been on the board, this is how we’ve operated. I don’t see anything in here that’s different than what we’ve been doing,” Austin said.
Trustees McVey and Valenti said the board could decide to alter policies and procedures if deemed necessary.
“This is a living document. We will have many opportunities to revise it. I applaud that we are taking a stab at it,” McVey said.
Trustee Steben said the Michigan Association of School Boards was hosting a session on board policies at the end of February and the board should refrain from voting until after that session.
Trustee Estep expressed concern about the general tenor in parts of the documents.
“I seems like they are micromanaging the board. I’m not comfortable with this as it is,” Estep said.
The more pointed criticisms came from the public.
During public comment, Lisa Slawson, a former president of the school board, urged the board to reject the proposal.
“I’m troubled, given what the board has been through the last several weeks, that there is some movement to chill the speech of some of its members,” Slawson told the board. “Act as a board, but don’t check your freedom of speech rights at the board table”
Slawson asked the board who wrote the language.
York Township resident David Zimmer, a former school board trustee, asked to address the board but was denied. He called the board “pathetic” and presented his remarks to The Saline Post. In his remarks, he said the board needed to adopt policies that build on a framework of collaboration. Instead, Zimmer said, the board is adopting policies that eliminate public comment by trustees, create an expectation of consensus decision making and reinforce a pervasive culture of conformity.
“Recent public awareness of our current culture shows how dangerous this atmosphere is for our school district and Saline. Just look at the impact of our culture of conformity that showed up in the global press in this past couple weeks,” Zimmer said. “It is time to set this mindset aside and adopt policies that encourage difference of opinion, encourages our young people to listen to their inner voice and become the adult they want to be.”