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With 17 schools, two in the works, and about 1,200 students and 1,700 employees to preside over, being a member of the Brunswick County Board of Education is no small task.
Policies to modify, employees to screen and hire, approving programs that will benefit student education—the jobs of the board are endless. And with one board meeting and one day of committee meetings each month, there’s no time to waste.
But lately, this board has wasted a lot of it.
I will say the board does a pretty good job of staying on schedule and conducting the monthly meetings well. The agenda is followed, items are discussed and voted on in a timely manner, and meetings do not exceed the allotted time.
The monthly committee meetings, however, are not nearly as efficient.
The board recently began having one day of committee meetings—which includes finance, policy, curriculum, operations, human resources and safe schools—instead of each on a separate day.
The third Tuesday of the month, the board has a five to six-hour meeting to tackle all of these committees. While it may sound like a good idea, killing five birds with one stone, it’s proven to be a bad idea that wastes everyone’s time.
The committee meetings are open to the public and at times, the board does vote on issues. Because of this, the agenda should be followed closely.
With meetings lasting five to six hours, parents may want to come only for one issue or section. But this board makes it impossible. The agenda is printed and handed out, but it is never followed. Sometimes they will start in the middle, other times at the end.
Sometimes they will begin with one committee, put it on hold, look at another issue, and then come back to the original issue.
Since all-day committee meetings began, I cannot remember one where the board got through the entire agenda, which only pushes the information off to another committee meeting where it might not be discussed.
Being on time and being present also proves to be a problem. Some board members come several hours late, and some leave several hours early. Many times if they are there, they are constantly stepping outside or into the hallway to take a call on their cell phones.
Now, I don’t know who they are talking to, but it definitely isn’t board business, as that’s what the meeting is there for and that’s where their main focus for the day should be.
Because of the agenda hopping and board members coming and going as they please, a lot of important information is missed or pushed on the back burner.
Take school meal prices, for example. This issue has been going on for several months now.
It was originally discussed at a committee meeting, then at a monthly meeting, then back to the committee.
At the monthly meeting, there was much confusion and discussion about the issue. Board members acted as if the issue was never presented and wasted a lot of time listening to the information that was already discussed in great detail with handouts that clearly stated all the information.
I could have presented the material myself from memory without even referring to the handouts.
I’ve even heard board members say, “I read in the paperee” which absolutely shocks me.
My job as a reporter is to be at the meeting and write about what happened to inform the readers who couldn’t make the meeting, not to inform the board members who decided not to show up what happened at the meeting.
Board members are elected by the public vote for a four-year term in office. They are paid by our tax dollars—$692.76 a month per board member and $790.58 a month for the board chair— to act as the deciding and governing force of the public schools in our county.
One day of your presence at the committee meetings each month, beginning to end, is not too much to ask.
The information presented at committee meetings is important, and as elected officials, board members need to know the information the first time around and make informed decisions as quickly and as efficiently as possible.
If that means going back to having a committee meeting a week, do it. You weren’t elected for two meetings each month or whatever fits into your schedule. You were elected to make the best possible decisions for Brunswick County Schools no matter what it takes.
Seeing a little more dedication and presence would be a refreshing change of pace.
KATHRYN JACEWICZ is a staff writer at the Beacon. Reach her at 754-6890 or email@example.com.