Flagg: Opportunity knocks for TPSWritten by Steven Flagg | | firstname.lastname@example.org
The Toledo Public Schools (TPS)Board of Education is between a rock and a hard place. The hard place is a community continually unimpressed with results to date, disappointed with the lack of vision and accountability of a dysfunctional board, and unwilling to invest any more money without major reform.
The rock is the TPS public sector employee unions that have spent the past 35 years pounding and grinding the board in one negotiation and election after another until near-control is achieved.
The just-completed performance audit defines clearly the many challenges that must be negotiated between the board and employee unions. Two chapters of the report demonstrably validate the obstacles. Section 3, regarding instructional delivery, has 20 recommendations of which 14 (or 70 percent) require negotiation. The human resources chapter — section 4 — has 20 recommendations with 50 percent requiring negotiation.
The gauntlet has been thrown and despite initial perceptions, TPS has been presented with an opportunity to change public attitudes, forge a common purpose among labor and management, save and/or deploy more effectively large sums of taxpayer money and create an environment where student success is fostered and expected.
Public trust is critical to meeting TPS’ mission with transparency and action integral to the equation. This is where the board has to depart from previous behavior of secretive, closed-door decisions without any accountability and move to a philosophy where it not only welcomes independent community oversight, but embraces it.
Three elements are critical if the spirit and intent behind a performance audit are to be met: community oversight, board accountability and staff implementation.
An independent oversight committee — let’s call it the Performance Audit Accountability Committee — is going to be hard for the board to implement due to the obvious political implications, but doing so is imperative in seizing this opportunity.
The sole function envisioned for an accountability committee is to monitor implementation of performance audit findings and independently apprise the community of progress and problems. The committee would make no decisions — the board and staff have responsibility for reviewing the findings and implementing solutions.
The board should sanction the committee by official resolution and provide complete access to all records, staff and other resources as deemed necessary by the committee to discharge its duties.
Establishing independent oversight ensures board accountability throughout the process regardless of the composition of the board. This fall, three board members must stand for re-election. Should any move on, a “new” board may not agree with the original intent of the audit. Future boards will have to take a public vote to eliminate accountability and void past promises to Toledo taxpayers.
For oversight to work, only individuals with no conflicts of interest should serve — that means no board members, administrators, employees or any individual with a financial interest. The committee should consist of at least seven individuals of varying backgrounds and must include — let’s repeat that — must include district critics and dissenting voices to add credibility and promote public trust. While the board should appoint committee members, the members should select their own leadership, determine their agenda and be free to design the necessary processes to complete their mission.
In developing an internal implementation process, the board has to be cognizant of audit report findings regarding board micromanagement. The implementation process is a good place to practice good board governance.
Each finding should have a “champion” assigned — someone accountable for the final result. The champion must have the authority and resources to pursue solutions and, after board approval, implementation.
The ideas presented are truncated and, most assuredly, can be improved. There are likely other methods that would accomplish the objectives discussed. But the TPS Board of Education doesn’t appear to want a public discussion about implementation until perhaps it decides what it should be, so these ideas are offered to foster debate.
Steven Flagg is a member of the Urban Coalition. Email him at letters@toledo freepress.com.