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School board promises transparency

 

AMANDA SEBASTIANO

Staff Writer

 

“We’re going to be an open book, and will make sure that transparency is there,” Lincoln County Board of Education member Bob Silver told the Times-News on Tuesday.

“The culture of this board has changed and everybody wants the public to know that we are all making an effort to make sure they understand.”

As board committees met on Tuesday, members demonstrated unanimous positions on ethics and transparency. For newcomers, such as Mark Mullen who attended his first Budget and Finance Committee meeting on Monday, the discussion on the morals of the committee was something he felt he needed to hear, as he starts the new year as not only a committee member, but also as School Board Vice-Chair.

Prior to entering into a closed session meeting to discuss a personnel issue, stand-in attorney to the board and its committees, Dean Shatley, decided to review the group’s Code of Ethics policy, highlighting areas he felt may not be executed properly among the local education officials.

Decisions have to be made and discussed openly, Shatley told the group as he spoke on the importance of not conducting action during closed sessions, and being as clear with the public as (legally) possible about what happens behind closed doors.

“I think what needs to be done by the board, and existing board members, is to question themselves to be sure, are we following the (ethics) code to the best of our ability?” Silver said. “We need to make sure we’re following the code to the letter.”

Recently elected Policy Committee Chair Cathy Davis spoke with the Times-News about the need for transparency and honesty on the new board, something she felt may have been an issue in the past.

School Board Chair Candy Burgin agreed with the fellow committee members that all employees should and will be held accountable for ethical violations; various policies and procedures are going to be looked at in the new year, with revisions to ensure gray areas are eliminated.

The most important issues at hand are the students, teachers,staff and accountability to taxpayers, Burgin said.

Shatley said he also sees some existing ethics policies that are not being properly followed in several areas, but focused especially on the need for mutual respect among board members.

In order to set good examples for the students and to have healthy, successful conversations, members’ opinions must be both respected and listened to, regardless of the speaker’s peers’ personal views on the situation, the policy reads.

“If you don’t do what that policy (number four) says, then you will have issues that won’t allow you to make good decisions for the kids,” Shatley said.

Returning member Tony Jenkins noted that this particular portion of the document wasn’t something that he feels was handled properly during his previous time with the board, and has since spoken about the need for clarity and openness among the current group, keeping students’ best interests in mind.

Everyone was in agreement that this board will be different from its predecessors’ history of not fully letting the public in on certain topics, the members reviewed the policy as a refresher of what their jobs entail, aside from looking over budgets and cost saving initiatives. New members will be required to attend two full days of ethics training in Raleigh, as part of the requirements for accepting their seat.

With ideas of active community involvement, clear-cut understandings of acceptable behavior, and fully executing the principles the board was founded on, the new committees and the board head into the new year.

Other items discussed during Monday’s session:

  • The Policy Committee unanimously agreed to recommend the School Board approve the addition of an 11th nonprofit group to the approved list of organizations that can distribute and display materials at local schools.
  • A representative of the Denver Spartans, Bryan Simmons, went before the board last week and requested permission to distribute material about the organization to area middle school students once a year — the first person from a group to do that in a while, Assistant Superintendent for Business Steve Zickefoose mentioned. Currently, students from East, North and Lincoln Charter high schools are playing in the Denver group.
  • Shatley verified that the group is a nonprofit organization, whose members are unpaid and do it strictly for the interest of the kids who participate.
  • Changes to the construction plans review and approval process for area school projects, code 9020, were unanimously approved and will be recommended to the full board for approval next year.
  • The 120 day-window prior to the beginning of construction will be considered for deletion from the code. Other ideas were mulled over in hopes of saving time at School Board meetings, avoiding taking up time to talk about small projects that can be deemed as maintenance.
  • Administration is working to restate the wording of the policy. “New language” will be brought to the Policy Committee in January, Executive Director of Facilities Darrell Gettys said.
  • Silver suggested having state officials visit local schools, to determine whether or not the county’s education facilities are security savvy should a situation arise, in light of last week’s shootings in Connecticut. Lock down procedures and drills have been reviewed recently, schools Superintendent Sherry Hoyle reported. The group also brainstormed ideas for how to improve the security at schools in the area, such as buzz-in systems and key-less door entries.

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