North Kitsap School District considering policy governance

KINGSTON — The North Kitsap School Board is considering a new form of governance that could change the way the board manages the district.

The new method, policy governance, clarifies the roles of the board and superintendent, so the board’s chief responsibility is to develop policies regarding specific educational goals, or “ends.” The superintendent’s work is then focused on finding the best means to those ends.

“It reinforces the fact that this guy (Superintendent Rick Jones) is responsible to us, and we’re responsible to the community,” School Board President Tom Anderson said at a public hearing Tuesday evening at Kingston High.

Anderson and district 4 director Val Torrens led Tuesday’s meeting, along with Jones.

The policy governance model is derived from the John Carver method of organizational governance, in which the board must act on behalf of the public — the school district’s true owner — and the superintendent must act within the bounds the board places around him. A handful of school districts in the state, the closest being North Mason, already use the model. A policy governance model for the Central Kitsap School District was recently shot down.

Under policy governance, the superintendent can delegate and devise his own ways of accomplishing the school district’s goals, but he must not use any methods the school board finds unacceptable. The board sets policies, or executive limitations, that prevent the superintendent from using unacceptable means, and may punish him if they feel he has stepped outside his bounds.

“It’s their judgement and their call,” Jones said. “If they don’t think I’m making adequate progress, they can fire me.”

Opponents of the policy governance model fear it could put too much power into the hands of the superintendent.

“Anything not strictly defined by the board is open to interpretation by the superintendent,” NKSD parent Marcy Salo wrote in an email. “Those ‘Ends’ and ‘Limitations’ may be changed at any time, but unless strictly defined, the superintendent has all authority. That’s an awful lot of responsibility on the board to specifically and minutely define those ‘Ends.’”

Jones sees it differently, though. He believes the policy governance model will allow the board to better define what they want to see happen in the district.

“I really don’t think there’s going to be significant change,” Jones said. “The things the board wants to do are things that any good board would aspire to do. The policy governance policies just outline a little more how that can work.”

Another aspect of the policy governance model generating a harsh response from critics is the requirement that the board “speak with one voice or not at all.” Advocates say this will keep individual board members from going out on their own time and undermining the board’s decisions, giving the impression that the board lacks unity. But others say the clause unnecessarily censors board members.

“It is the school board’s responsibility to be able to answer the taxpayer’s questions,” NKSD parent Renee Arcement said. “If I have a question for my specific elected official I expect him to answer it, not the ‘one voice.’ How would I know how to vote the next time around when his office is up?”

Jones said the requirement that the board narrow its focus will be a good thing. Instead of getting tangled up in administrative minutiae, he said under the policy governance model the board can focus on its specific educational goals.

“Under this model, they get more specific,” he said. “That’s essentially, in my vision, the best part of this model.”

In addition to developing policies for “ends” and “executive limitations,” board members say the policy governance model reinforces the idea that the board is owned by the taxpayers who live within the school district, and that communication with the public is vital.

“I see policy governance as a way to shift our thinking and actually get better dialogue with the public,” Torrens said.

Torrens added the public will be involved in the evaluation of Jones’s methods of accomplishing the board’s ends.

“It’s an open system of evaluation. It’s an ongoing system of evaluation. The community is part and parcel of it,” she said.

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