Thursday, August 26, 2010

First Things First: School Board Governance

August 26, 2010, 10:00 a.m.

Iowa City School Board Hires Governance Consultant
(bought to you by*)

The School Board (ICCSD) has announced it's going to bring in a consultant (a practice it regularly uses, most recently with drawing District boundaries and hiring a new Superintendent) to help it come up with some notion of "governance." Gregg Hennigan, "Iowa City school board may hire ‘governance’ consultant," The Gazette, August 20, 2010.

My hat's off to them, and our new Superintendent, Steve Murley, for displaying the leadership to undertake this always-ongoing "Job One," extraordinarily difficult and time consuming, but absolutely essential task.

I have written at length on this subject, during my service on the Board and since, and won't repeat all that here. However, recently a blog entry of mine from a year ago has been receiving a lot of hits. The viewership may have something do with the School Board's new effort. It was written about the Iowa City City Council's difficulties with their City Manager. "River City's Problem: Council-Manager Governance; The Necessity of Governance Theory and Practice," April 18, 2009. Here are its concluding paragraphs that someone may find relevant to the Board's current undertaking:
Most of us enter into our roles as members of corporate or non-profit boards, multi-member public bodies (such as school boards or regulatory commissions) with some notion of substance (such as "education" in the case of a school board or the Board of Regents, or a city government's functions in the case of a city council) but little to no thought about governance process.

It's something the group has to perceive as an individual and group benefit, something each member wants to do. Otherwise it won't work. Carver has walked away from what would otherwise have been very lucrative work sessions once it became obvious that there was not that kind of commitment on the part of every member of the group. (Speaking of which, there's no need to hire Carver; the school board went through the process all on its own, relying on the books.)

Thinking through what that process should be, understanding and implementing a "governance" model (there are others besides Carver's), are among the most difficult jobs a city council member will ever undertake -- and given their responsibilities that's saying a lot. It takes individual study, research, hours of analytical thought and hopefully writing, the kind that causes little drops of blood to form on your forehead and drop onto the keyboard, before you are even ready to begin the group's discussion, agreement, and drafting that can produce your own specific application of basic governance principles. Although the process can be facilitated by an outsider, the end product is not something that can be delegated to a consultant or to staff. It has to be done by each individual council member.

No wonder most city councils and boards of all kinds aren't enthusiastic about undertaking such a task.

But there's a word for those who do. They are called "successful."

And their city managers tend to stay on the job for more than 11 months.
Good luck, folks. I'll be watching with interest -- and hopefully, in the end, with admiration.

* Why do I put this blog ID at the top of the entry, when you know full well what blog you're reading? Because there are a number of Internet sites that, for whatever reason, simply take the blog entries of others and reproduce them as their own without crediting the source. I don't mind the flattering attention, but would appreciate acknowledgment as the source -- even if I have to embed it myself.
-- Nicholas Johnson
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1 comment:

Nick said...

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