Some people were quick to point out that my definition of democracy varied from Webster’s – after my last blog post in which I related some of my experiences as (non)democratic. In order to avoid further confusion, let’s review the definition of governance together now:
Governance refers to “all processes of governing, whether undertaken by a government, market or network, whether over a family, tribe, formal or informal organization or territory and whether through LAWS, NORMS, POWER or LANGUAGE.”
To be clear, we are going to discuss governance, or (non)governance, in reference to IPS, a formal organization. Whether you deem it to be governance or (non)governance depends entirely on your point of view. My point of view on this matter just so happens to be front and center, since I am still technically one out of seven people who together comprise the governing body for Indianapolis Public Schools…although I must admit, I’m feeling like I’m definitely on the fringe of the group. Maybe even on a last-to-know basis.
I guess they don’t like my blog, y’all. Sometimes the truth is so bright it’s blinding. It could make you run for your momma.
Any-whoo, my views are my own and I have never purported to represent the views of the entire board… And I still think there’s something like protected free speech in this country. So let’s go.
The definition of governance above refers to four processes of governing: through LAWS, NORMS, POWER, or LANGUAGE. Let’s explore these, shall we? I think it will be fun!
The laws which outline governance for the Indianapolis Public Schools can be found in Indiana Code 20-25-3 sections 1 through 15, among others.
The bylaws are developed by the IPS school board and are our way of governing ourselves and the way we conduct business. Our bylaws can be viewed by visiting board docs
– I am including a link because it’s very tricky to find on your own and requires some navigational skills. Once you visit you should probably bookmark it. This site is where you will need to be if you care to view our meeting agendas or policies. You can find the categories for bylaws, meeting agendas and policies at the top of the page.
If I could pick just a few of the most telling bylaws it would go something like this:
The school board exists to govern a free K-12 public education for children within IPS boundaries. (PURPOSE)
The Board shall have the management and control of all facilities and programs in the Corporation and the employees, students, and other persons entering upon its premises. (POWER: not as individuals, but as the governing body collective)
The Board shall focus its efforts on maintaining adequate communications with citizens of the school district:
The citizens of the District are to be viewed as the ownership and clients of IPS, to whom the Board is primarily responsible and for whom the Board acts.
(Bet you didn’t know you had this POWER, did you? The board was elected by the citizens of the IPS district and is therefore expected to reflect their wishes!)
Members of the Board have the responsibility to attend all Board meetings, intelligently and objectively discuss items on the agenda, make suggestions and recommendations in the best interest of the total educational program, and vote upon motions and resolutions presented in accord with their conscience. (defining expected NORMS)
It is important that Board members be non-partisan in dealing with school matters and not subordinate the education of children and/or youth to any partisan principles, special interest group, or personal ambition. (defining expected NORMS)
Individual Board members have no unilateral authority to make decisions about policies created by the Board, and Board members have no unilateral authority to supervise or direct the Superintendent but no member of the Board shall be denied documents or information to which s/he is legally entitled and which are required in the performance of his/her duties as a Board member. (defining expected NORMS)
Since I have been on the board, in just the past couple years, I have seen a significant shift in the norms, or unspoken rules and expectations of the school board. This really is the most important part of this particular blog entry, and one that I hope constituents will pay the closest attention to. When I first became a commissioner, we had six meetings per month. There were two big meetings, one agenda briefing session on the 3rd Thursday of each month, and one action session on the following Thursday where votes were taken on the items we were briefed on the preceding week. There were also four smaller committee meetings per month. The four committees were Legislative, Education, Community Outreach, and Operations. The intent of these committees was to provide a public forum for discussion on relevant topics before they reached the briefing agenda.
Contrast that with the current board meeting schedule: two regularly scheduled meetings per month. TWO. One briefing and one action session, which take place only two days apart, on the last Tuesday and Thursday of the month.
In the “AGE OF TRANSPARENCY”, the IPS board has cut our public interactions and information-giving sessions in the form of regularly scheduled meetings by 66 PERCENT.
The second norm shift that I have noticed is a new paradigm which suggests that board members fly at 30,000 feet above the district (mentioned in articles by the Indianapolis Recorder
and Chalkbeat Indiana
). I am in absolute agreement with the fact that the board’s job collectively is to navigate the course, while the superintendent drives. However, I have received way too many phone calls from disgruntled constituents who have tried to get other commissioners to listen to their concerns, to no avail. In light of the IPS policy language illuminated earlier, “The citizens of the District are to be viewed as the ownership and clients of IPS, to whom the Board is primarily responsible and for whom the Board acts,”
I find this to be a morally reprehensible stance. We are officials elected by the people to represent the people. If we cannot hear the voices of the people we represent while flying at 30,000 feet, then we are not doing the job we were elected to do. Unfortunately, some elected officials feel beholden to the organizations which financially supported their campaigns (or indirectly pay their paychecks, or support them in other ways) rather than to the voters, taxpayers and residents of their district. Yep, I said it…and yep, I got that money too. Good thing I had a wake-up call, a revelation, an epiphany of sorts. You can read all about how that happened in a previous blog entry of mine.
Closing thoughts on governance: If special interest groups, politicians, well-to-do investor types, tokens, and other windbags all over the city can abuse their POWER to influence NORMS and LAWS and craftily co-opt LANGUAGE to spread false tales about the good they are doing our children with this privatization scheme…
then certainly I can find POWER in truthful LANGUAGE that illuminates an immediate need to challenge purchased legislators’ LAWS and the NORMS that accompany corrupt forms of GOVERNANCE.
(UPDATE: There are some policy revisions on the agenda for the upcoming week. Some of the aforemetioned policy may be subject to change. I’m also taking bets on how long THIS –> “The citizens of the District are to be viewed as the ownership and clients of IPS, to whom the Board is primarily responsible and for whom the Board acts” language will remain as a part of IPS policy, now that I have lifted it up. It certainly is not evidenced in current practices of the board majority.)
My thoughts are not reflective of anyone other than myself. If what you have read today concerns you, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
The definition of governance excepted from: Bevir, Mark (2013). Governance: A very short introduction. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.