Collier School Board to change composition of subcommittees

— To make things right, the Collier County School Board will change the composition of its subcommittees.

The board voted Thursday to address increasing the number of community members on each committee from five to seven and whether board members should just observe committee meetings, rather than facilitate and vote.

The decision came as board members reviewed end-of-the-year surveys filled out by committee members. While not all of the reviews were negative, subcommittee members expressed frustration with the committees, saying they felt ineffective.

Board members agreed to move forward with a policy revision, but to get input from subcommittee members to help make those changes.

The Collier County School Board’s policy on the subcommittees reads 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.

But Chief Operations Officer Michele LaBute said staff’s understanding of the wording appears to differ from member’s 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, she said. Committee members, on the other hand, saw their role as recommending things to the board prior to staff recommendations.

“We were bringing recommendations and asking, ‘Do you agree,’ but I think some committee members seemed to think what we were bringing them was a done deal,” she said.

Board Vice Chairwoman Kathleen Curatolo said she read the surveys and had spoken with members and thought changes should be made to the board’s policy.

“I am not so sure board members should be part of the committee,” she said. I think we should have a seven-member, community committee ... that works with staff on a recommendation.”

Board member Richard Calabrese agreed.

“I think having board members on the committee is very intimidating,” he said. “And, because a board member chairs the committee, he or she can control where the discussion goes. Does that really help us get information?”

But Superintendent Dennis Thompson argued for a board member to be present at subcommittee meetings, saying their input was important, especially on volatile issues.

Board member Julie Sprague said she agreed with increasing the number of community members on the committee. She also said she didn’t see the need for board members to be on the board.

“There was an issue at an education subcommittee meeting where you had two community members and two board members and that was a quorum,” she said. “I don’t agree with that.”

Chief Instructional Officer Martha Hayes said she saw the positive in having board members present. Hayes served as staff liaison to the education subcommittee and saw her job as bringing the information to the committee, but staying impartial when it came to decision making.

“I think many times the education subcommittee would have gone astray if there hadn’t been a board member with knowledge of the issue there to help direct the conversation,” she said.

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