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When she arrived for a regular school board meeting late last month, San Diego Unified School District trustee Shelia Jackson found a giant stack of papers — all needing review before a meeting scheduled for later that same day.
The documents described a proposed textbook adoption for the district — and needed to be voted on that day, or the district risked losing out on state dollars. An angry Jackson, describing it as one in a series of last-minute proposals drafted by staff, demanded that it never happen again.
Ahead of next week’s meeting, she has proposed a reorganization of the school board that she says will allow board members more time to review new policies. Under her plan, the board would break into new committees to more closely review district policy proposals before they reach the full board. One version would allow each of the five school board members to chair a committee of his or her own; the new bodies would hold their own separate meetings, in accordance with state open-meeting laws, and allow for public input.
San Diego Unified, Jackson points out, is the only urban district in the state that does not currently have smaller board committees to more carefully vet new policies.
“If you look around the other school boards, they have committees, so by the time something comes to the meeting, those committee members ask questions and they can get the answers earlier in the process,” she said. “It also builds trust between school board members. … I just want us to start looking doing things that would solidify us more as a board and increase trust among each other.”
In addition to providing more opportunities for members of the public to comment on district affairs, a new committee system could also shift the balance of power between the board and the district staff by giving the elected board members a more direct say in the drafting of new policies.
At the Del Mar Union School District, for example, the board created its own committees earlier this year in the wake of the controversy over the district’s private fundraising arm.
However, Jackson said the committee proposal is not meant to suggest that she is dissatisfied with the district’s superintendent and his staff.
“We have a really, really great staff, and I think what I’m doing at Tuesday’s board meeting is really thanking some of the departments for that,” she said. “Some of these people work from sunup to sundown. I’m just really, really happy with many of the departments, they have transitioned the district into being more open and more accessible to the community.”