The Duluth School Board will consider Tuesday the first reading of a policy change, which would allow for the restructuring of committees and their meetings.
Currently, the School Board has three standing committees: education, human resources and business. Each committee meets once a month and has three assigned board members, but the meetings are treated like work sessions where all board members are allowed to attend, and if there aren’t at least four members present the meeting gets canceled.
This structure differs from most other districts in the state, and the district was informed its current committee policy is not compliant, CFO Cathy Erickson said during the business committee last week.
The suggested new policy regarding committees removes the language that allows all board members to attend and participate in the meetings and it removes language that restricts the School Board to the three established committees. The new language will allow the board to create a new standing or ad hoc committee by bringing forward a resolution.
Erickson, who also serves as the business manager for the district, brought forward the new policy as well as suggestions for new and current committees. Erickson suggested that the board create a policy committee and combine the human resources and business committee into one.
“By having a policy committee, which is pretty normal for other school boards, then all policy changes can go to one committee instead of three, as it is now,” she told the board last week. Having all of the policy changes go to one committee would streamline the process.
The board spent some time talking about the committee policy changes during the business committee last week, but three board members were absent, attending Minnesota School Boards Association training in the Twin Cities.
Some of the board members who were present expressed concerns over restructuring the committees. Member Alanna Oswald said she was concerned about transparency issues.
“How would this look on a calendar if the committees didn’t meet every month on the same day and at the same time?” Oswald asked. “Would they all be recorded for the public to watch?”
Erickson said committee meetings would still have to be posted publicly at least three days ahead of time.
Board member Sally Trnka said she was concerned that the current School Board doesn’t have an updated strategic plan.
“The board needs to create a strategic plan and set board goals, and then that should drive the committees.”
Policy change stems from research
In 2018, then-board chair David Kirby created a subcommittee to do research on how other school boards in Minnesota structure their regular meetings and their committees. Members Jill Lofald, Rosie Loeffler-Kemp and Oswald served on that subcommittee.
Lofald, who is the current board chair, said she really dove deep into research mode. She said there were four things that stuck out to her after looking at about 28 school districts: separate finance and policy committees seemed universal, no one had human resources as a separate committee, all of them had consent agendas and some even had two regular meetings a month.
“A big discussion for us will be how do we stay transparent with our new committees, but at the same time still have flexibility with our committees so it works for the members’ schedules,” Lofald said ahead of Tuesday’s meeting. “We'll also have to have a conversation about videotaping every committee meeting. I want to see the budgetary costs of doing that. I think it will have some ramifications but I hope not a lot.”
Lofald said she believes if the board does move forward with restructuring it could lead better efficiency and having more time to discuss solutions to real problems that are directly affecting students.
The full School Board is expected to discuss the possible policy change at its regular meeting Tuesday at 6:30 p.m.