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Communications policy left for another day after school board members balk at language

Fred Marble, Kate Grandusky call some parts of potential pact with superintendent 'limiting' and 'restrictive'

Forest Grove School Board member Fred Marble called most of what's in it 'common sense' but worried some parts were 'limiting,' while his colleague, Kate Grandusky, declared its language 'restrictive' and 'insufferable.'

Recall target Anna Tavera-Weller said it could keep the board from experiencing 'friction' if individual members 'run amok,' and superintendent Yvonne Curtis called it 'a way to get clear about roles and responsibilities on the board.'

But after a half-hour discussion Monday night about proposed revisions to an operating agreement between the board and Curtis - much of which dictates how members should communicate with district staff and the public - chair Alisa Hampton tabled the issue for a future date.

'We've struggled with this each time we've talked about it,' said Hampton. 'It really is a muddy area.'

Saying 'individual board members have no authority to act independently,' Hampton said the agreements have value because of their focus on 'clarifying what we can expect of each other.'

The role of the board is to 'provide policy and manage the superintendent,' she said, duties that can cause confusion or 'seem to overlap.'

For at least two on the board, however, language in the agreement posed a problem.

Marble bristled at a paragraph that prohibits board members from directly asking staff members for information, and another that appears to obligate board members to write articles for the News-Times 'to help inform the public' - pieces that would be subject to proofreading by communications director Connie Potter and final approval by board leadership.

'Not everyone is going to want to do that, and there won't always be a need,' he said.

And, a clause stating board members 'will publicly support decisions of the majority after honoring the right of individual members to express opposing viewpoints and vote their convictions' amounts to overkill, Marble noted.

'If you have an amicable board and no one's trying to run the show, things tend to go just fine,' he said. 'This is really about how we treat each other.'

Kevin McCann, executive director of the Oregon School Boards Association, said Monday that operating agreements exist in nearly all districts across the state.

At best, he said, they 'create a unity on the board the public responds to much better than when they hear divisive conversations' from the dais. Within a framework designed to 'encourage boards to speak with one voice,' McCann said, his group tries to 'coach board members o engage in vigorous debates and make their priorities known.'

But he acknowledged such agreements are sometimes construed as a challenge to free speech rights.

'Districts can mold operating agreements any way they like,' McCann noted.

Grandusky, who joined the board in July, said the proposed language would make it impossible for her to sign the document.

'I've been on other boards, and this [agreement] bothers me,' Grandusky said. 'I feel like my free speech is being curtailed.'

Saying the community is 'richer and smarter when it has open discussions and conversations,' Grandusky balked at a paragraph that said board member visits to local schools would be planned in advance with Curtis and school principals.

'I will not sign this,' she said.

Hampton called the pact 'a work in progress' and suggested the board continue to hash out the particulars during a work session later this month.

Marble seemed to take a middle road.

'I kind of go for the spirit of the agreement rather than the letter of the agreement,' he said.