Early on in my tenure I was provided with the opportunity to seek out and establish a relationship “wiff” a firm that could assist us in addressing our governance issues that have been documented by the SACS monitors. Of the 11 action items, the first 5 in a very specific way, dealt with perceived and real deficit we had in terms of governance. The governance, as it was clearly defined for me and as I began to understand governance at every level, internal and external.
I reached out to McKenna Long & Aldridge governance center, which has been noted for many years as the foremost governance facilities and resources in the U.S. So, we began to work with them immediately from my earliest days here. I’ve been asked to share with you some background as for the work they’ve already done to assist administration and to address the critical issues that we face. They have been a critical partner in my efforts to address many of the challenges we face in the district. Much of the progress we’ve made is due to them.
This man was my lawyer for 12 years as I served at the Georgia Department of Labor, our former attorney general of Georgia, Thurbert E. Baker
Thurbert Baker ([00:03:04])
Thank you, thank you, thank you Mr. Chairman, interim superintendent, [etc … yada, yada, yada …]
We have the best governance practice in the country. It’s because of the 6 people here with me. [introductions … Mr. Ide, Mr. Tanenblatt and Mr. Johnson ] including Bill Ide.
Bill Ide teaches us how to run government, what good government looks like, good governance principles and best practices. He was general council for Monsanto and president of the American Bar Association.
Bill Ide ([00:09:47])
There are 2 slide decks. One is a summary and one is detailed. A 3rd is our proposed statement of government principles. It’s been adopted from best practices in the corporate world. We use it on one of the public boards I sit on.
I retired from Monsanto in 2001. About that time Worldcom, Enron … these corporate failures happened and communities were destroyed. SOX was passed. How could that happen. Enron had wonderful governance principles in place and many talented people. A few people overrode through the culture not being correct and caused great damage. That happened time after time in the corporate world. Corporate governance became a whole new concept not like we new before. It’s still evolving. You’ve heard about Dodd Frank. A lot of that is corporate governance. You ask, well how could we have the financial meltdown?
What’s interesting are the concepts of best practices that have been developed over time. Particularly, what’s the role of a board. How do you get the information and know what’s really going on? Some companies do it very well. How do you know what all your employees are doing and that they’re doing what you want them to do. That’s what governance is all about.
There are 2 school districts in DeKalb. The district of old when we came in and the district of new that’s here today. When we came in February of 2013, there was a Governance Crisis.
* SACS put the district on “Accredited Probation”
* Superintendent turnover
* Old board preparing for a hearing
* District facing a deficit
* Unhappy stakeholders
First Steps – Where We Began
* stabilize the district. Open communication and rebuild trust
* Interviewed over 130 stakeholders – Parents, teachers, principals, staff, etc… to find out what the real problems are. That alone helped stabilize the district … making the people feel heard.
What We Found
* A culture of mistrust, fear, poor communication and lack of collaboration
* Lack of adequate systems and controls
* High turnover in leadership and employees
Implementation of Reforms
* with interviews came suggestions and some obvious reforms
* The superintendent went out and spoke with groups
* Interpreters was an issue for one area, another area said Area Superintendents didn’t have any power
Examples Of Progress
* Worked with administration on nepotism policy. That symbolism of you adopting a nepotism policy was fantastic because people felt like they have been heard. How evasive was it? I don’t know. But the fact that the board stepped up and said here’s a policy, it was extremely helpful. Command and control – The perception was that it was one way communication from the top down. Too often, at times, it was the reality.
* Central office must spend 5 days a year at schoolhouse
* Facilitated meetings with other local governmental entities
* Facilitated contact with Governor’s office
* Recommended Code of Civility – We should conduct ourselves as if our children are watching
I’m currently working with the superintendent on changing the culture. Like at Popeye’s Chicken, it comes down to the person at the counter. Are they being satisfied and being provided a great service. Everybody ought to worry about that. That’s the culture we’re working for.
Illustration of Stakeholders’ Roles
* Children, teachers and parents are in the middle
* Everything else is around that trying to make that happen in the right way
This is the model we talked to the Superintendent about. The board has the oversight and has to say if the watch is running the right way. Do they have the right metrics they need? Are the buses running on time and is the food being done right, all those areas will report up to the board in some reportable fashion. You can’t do it yourself. That’s macro vs micro
Gathered stakeholder input through fact-finding and interviews, allowing the Superintendent to accomplish the following:
* Decentralization of decision making
* Elimination of Success for All (SFA)
* Rehire interpreters
* Reestablish Parent Centers
* Establish Career academy
* Engagement of a strategic planner
* Development of 90 day plan
* Improvement of school bus operations – buses won’t get lost because they now have their GS Pathfinder
Provided input to the Superintendent, allowing him to engage in the following critical actions
* Evaluation of senior level personnel in connection with fulfilling the District’s mission and culture.
* Personnel changes have been made by the Superintendent to eliminate the top down command and control. So, I think you now have the culture of today and the district of today is very oriented to the school room and bottom up empowerment.
MLA has advised the Superintendent and Senior Staff to facilitate:
* Greater transparency with the budget. You’re getting much greater transparancy and collaboration. People can now follow the numbers.
* Adhere to budget process – The budget approval process is much more understandable. No surprises.
* Rebuilding district reserves and fund balalance
* Focus on the needs of the classroom with the FY2014 budget
MLA recommendations have led to:
* Initiating best-in-class governance practices
* Reduced legal expenses
* Bridge Initiative – The bridge initiative is a very exciting initiative to make sure every child reaches their full potential
* Develop and implement best practices
* Prepare metrics and scorecards to ensure board is equipped with proper tools
* Governance Principles are prepared in a way to satisfy SACS
* SACS had good things to say about MLA
Key Aspects of Governance
1. Implementation (carry out the will of the board) – We discovered when we came in that the implementation phase was not in place.
2. Oversight (the board)
We now believe best practices are in place. It will take 12 to 18 months for all of this to snap together particularly on culture.
Oversight – We have identified a number of additional areas ripe for remediation including the adoption of Governance Principles.
Coleman – What are our next areas of focus?
Bill Ide – The first would be to oversee culture. The culture is going to take training. The other is metrics. What scorecard should you be concerned about.
Coleman – We are doing a scorecard in the context of strategic planning. What’s the timeline on that and best way to engage that?
Interim Superintendent – The strategic planning process is ongoing. We have been engaged for a decade without a workable strategic plan. The question you raised will be a critical part of that. The strategic plan will clearly define the work and how to measure the work. One of the things we’ve been able to do is establish the baseline for where we are and to acknowledge the deficits we’ve had. The Bridge Initiative, as it relates to academic achievement, I think is critical. As we analyze the data, we realize not all of our children are failing. We are not a failing school district.
Bill Ide – First you pick your areas the board cares about. Students, safety, IT, etc … Then you have to measure it.
Orson – I appreciate the business models you’ve laid out, but they aren’t always applicable to government agencies. Question 1 comes from page 4 about Board Committees. Choosing to create standing committees in the future which we have done the opposite. Best practices in the education field indicate that standing committees tend to silo board members who patrol over their specific area which was specifically addressed by the SACS review. Most districts have moved to a committee of the whole. So, why is that in there?
Bill Ide – We know what SACS said, so we put “may” in there. My experience is that culture is the key thing. If the board committees are sharing and getting information out, that’s a lot different than what may be going on with the committees. The reason I pushed the committee concept is … an Audit Committee is very detailed if you do it right. I personally think it’s more efficient to have a few people do deep dives.
Orson – And I understand that in terms of the corporate world, but the SACS findings and particulars in other school systems has been, there is a lack of engagement. If everybody is engaged, then why bother with a sub committee. Particularly in a setting where we are a policy setting body. The whole theory is the carvers theory about governance … they don’t even like committees of the whole. I appreciate your input, but it certainly seems to be contrary of what the direction has been.
At the top of page 3, when you talk about frequent board meetings, that gives me pause. One of the criticisms of the SACS report was the frequency of our meetings was a sign of our dysfunction, not our function. We’ve tried to move to a model of regular board meetings, so there’s predictability as to when we are engaged with the public. I’m trying to find out what you mean around “frequent board meetings”
Bill Ide – It is semantics and needs to be tailored around you.
Orson – The 6th bullet point on page 3, talks about board members receiving materials in advance of meetings. One of the things we’ve struggled with is what does that time table look like for us to be effective.
Bill Ide – I have strong feeling about this one. I’ve been on both sides. We finally told Senior Management, you can not show up 2 days before a board meeting and we’re not going to act on your items. When they finally got it, they started planning better. You have to have time to read things. And, once you read it you may need to make a phone call. I would push pretty heavy that you have to have the materials in advance.
Orson – How many days?
Interim Superintendent – I compliment MLA, but at the end of the day they provide information. As it relates to the Superintendent, it’s up to me to make the decision. The board has elected me to be Superintendent just like the voters elected you to be their board member. Those are the decisions once you have the information. What has hurt us is that we’ve been afraid to engage the broad range of information because we have preconceived notions as to what’s right and what’s wrong, and often times individuals will hesitate to engage or access new information.
So, one of the things I think … value added with this …. to be honest with you, I can’t say all or more or less, but much of the information I didn’t follow. Cause at the end of the day, based on the information and the facts and realities of the Superintendent, y’all hired me to do the job. You didn’t hire MLA to do it.
But you hired me to get as much information, so that I can make informed decisions that you all will accept or reject. So, that I think, Mr. Orson, it’s not so much do this, but this is something you can consider. As a board member accept it or reject it, but consider it. That’s the relationship. That’s what’s missing is that number one, we are a board with preconceived ideas. And, coming into DeKalb, one of the first things I had to do was to erase any preconceived notion I had. Then allow the data and the facts drive the decision making. That’s a huge challenge in a human being, because we all come with our life experiences. We know who we like and don’t like when we get here.
… 10 more minutes left to go through …