An “I” for an “Aye” – School Committee Meeting Follows Familiar Pattern

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The Franklin School Committee held its first meeting of the month Tuesday night. On the agenda were Citizens Comments, the Superintendent’s Report, Administrator Introductions, and the 2021-2022 District and School improvement Plans.

After those matters, the Committee had three agenda `action items,’ namely item A, approval of the School Improvement Plans, item B, appointment of two people to the Franklin TV Board of directors, and item C, the Superintendent’s Evaluation.

What makes those  items uniquely Franklin is the language written into the agenda (in bold below):

A. 2021-2022 District and School Improvement Plans Approval I recommend approval of the 2021-2022 District and School Improvement plans as detailed.

B. Franklin TV Board Appointment I recommend the appointment of Dr. Anne Bergen and Rose Turco to the Franklin TV Board of Directors.

C. Superintendent’s Evaluation The chair recommends approval
of the Superintendent’s Evaluation as discussed.

The “I” and “the chair” of course refers to former school principal and current School Committee Chair, Dr. Anne Bergen. And the imperious tone is unusual if not in fact unique. A cursory examination of the agendas of the Town Council in recent years and the agendas of other deliberative bodies in Franklin show no similar language. Ditto for the school committees and boards of neighboring towns or other towns in the region such as Natick and Sharon.

What is concerning is that in most cases, the “I recommend” agenda items seem to have been routinely approved by Committee members. To be sure, a chair always has significant power to shape the agenda of a committee, but when voting instructions are included in agendas, that power would seem to be all the greater.

Last night’s meeting, according to two Committee members present, was a partial exception because one member requested further research on item B, concerned that the School Department might not actually be allowed to appoint two members.

But push back is not that common.

Nor is the “I recommend” practice unique to Bergen’s period as chair. A review of agendas going back to 2015 (the oldest readily available on line), a period that goes back to the tenure of Dr. Kevin O’Malley as chair, shows exactly the same practice.

Voting instructions for members of a deliberative body may be seen as an efficiency measure, designed to reduce meeting durations and get more done. But we wonder whether that meets the expectations of the voters who elected committee members with the hope that their interests and those of the children in the system will be represented through wholesome, open-ended discussion and debate.

That Franklin is a unique town is often a point of pride, but sometimes less so than others.

(image from 1989 Simpsons episode used here under Fair Use Doctrine)

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