Members of Collier School District’s subcommittees feel ineffective

— Soliciting community input, the Collier County School Board formed two subcommittees last year — one to deal with education and one to deal with the operations of the district.

One year later, committee members commend the district for trying, but say they feel frustrated and ineffective in their roles.

“Perhaps the best I can do here is answer the question, ‘Why did I choose not to apply for another term?’ Honestly, I felt I was wasting my time,” wrote operations subcommittee member James Horner in an annual survey of committee members. “I’ve served on and utilized a number of ‘advisory committees’ in my 40 years as a teacher and administrator in secondary and higher education, plus civic, professional and governmental, but none so tightly structured so as to thwart creative and productive discussion.”

Horner’s comments are similar to other comments from members on both subcommittees. The comments were sent to the Collier County School Board on end-of-the-year reviews, which will be presented during Thursday’s board meeting.

Committee members were asked to fill out surveys after their meetings last month. The surveys highlighted what each committee discussed and asked members their input on the topics discussed, meeting times and other issues.

The Collier County School Board’s policy indicates that the purpose of the subcommittees is to “facilitate community understanding” of the district and to “gather community input.”

“The (School Board subcommittees) will give the administration an opportunity to bring forward issues and initiatives for community dialog,” according to the policy.

District officials said staff’s understanding of the wording of the policy appears to be different from the members’ perception of the purpose and function of the committee. Staff sees the committee as the place to review staff recommendations and information on topics that will go to the Board in order to get input on the recommendation. Committee members, on the other hand, saw their role as recommending things to the board prior to staff recommendations.

The education subcommittee took up five items in which members had to make a recommendation to the Collier County School Board. Those items were: high school credits for eighth-grade foreign language, the school calendar, the elementary grading policy, attendance and the performing arts school. The subcommittee also received information about career education, response to intervention, gifted education and Connect Now.

The operations subcommittee had four action items: a North Naples Middle School cell tower proposal; a draft capital improvement plan for 2010-29; a recommendation for the 2009-10 budget hearing; and the recommendation for the 2009-10 final budget hearing.

“Frankly, I got the feeling early-on that the main, if not sole, reason for establishing sub-committees was to make a favorable impression to gain certification ­— not advice or collaboration,” wrote Horner.

While most of the committee members thought the topics discussed were appropriate, they felt the discussion was coming too late in the game.

“Our input is not sought when items are first being discussed in the administration. Therefore our input is of limited effectiveness,” wrote education subcommittee member Jim Smith. “Being told at a committee meeting that a subject is going to be under ‘review’ and what aspects we might consider important to the review might make our input more useful.”

Libby Anderson, another member of the education subcommittee, said she felt “blind sided by topics” as they were not aware of all of the issues.

On the operations side, members thought the committee covered too few issues in a year.

“I would refer you to my recent correspondence in which I expressed frustration about lengthy staff presentations and lack of substantive issues (that have already been considered by the Board or on which the subcommittee input would have little or no effect),” wrote member Tara Norman. “It is certainly important and appropriate for the subcommittee to be generally conversant with budget and revenue issues, but ... there was far too much emphasis placed in this area. Realizing that the staff already has these presentations prepared for the Board, it almost seems that going through this exercise was the easy way out.”

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