Call to order: Scottsdale Schools officials admit district deficiencies

The Scottsdale Unified School District Governing Board agendas are required to be posted at least 24 hours prior to a scheduled meeting. (file photo)

The Scottsdale Unified School District Governing Board is eying policy changes to better review district contracts and meeting agendas, officials there say.

On Thursday, March 8, elected school leaders met at Mohave District Annex, 8500 E. Jackrabbit Road, to discuss a number of items, including board policy BDG and functions of the district attorney.

As the policy is now, the district attorney reports to the superintendent and to the Governing Board. The proposed amendments would require general counsel to report directly to the board.

The discussion item follows a request from Governing Board member Pam Kirby, who asked district staff to add the policy revision to a future agenda weeks prior.

In addition, the legal department has some areas where better practices could be implemented, district general counsel, Michelle Marshall, noted at the meeting.

“How do we as a district instill a culture that anything that is legal in nature, that’s brought before this board, such as contracts, leases, employment agreements, maybe, comes through you before it gets to us? And, how would we know that it has come through you, without having to ask you?” Ms. Kirby asked during the March meeting.

“How do we start to change that culture?”

Ms. Marshall explained that historically, most SUSD staff knows to send contract information through her office.

“There are some areas where that’s not true, but we’ve done a pretty good job of communicating to staff, out at the sites for instance, that there’s only a few people authorized by the board to sign contracts on behalf of the school district, and that I have to, or my office needs to, review everything before it’s authorized to be signed,” she explained. “There are some areas for improvement.”

The district purchasing department is one area where sending contracts through the legal department hasn’t been customary, Ms. Marshall noted.

“There’s certain departments where it hasn’t been accustomed — purchasing has been one — unless it’s a certain issue,” she said. “That’s something that I’ll be discussing — we currently have a director of purchasing posted, we haven’t filled it yet — I’ll be discussing that with the person who’s hired for that.”

Michelle Marshall

Ms. Marshall says the legal department has some employment contracts and forms that her office will be looking at updating next year.

“There are some areas I think we could improve in terms of legal review,” she said.

“One other area that we’ve been discussing but haven’t quite gotten off the ground is getting back to a more thorough review of agendas.”

Ms. Marshall says that many staff members contribute to Governing Board agendas.

“What are people putting on? And, backing that up with us having enough time to talk with cabinet and whoever is s submitting items for the board agenda,” she explained.

“What are you saying in the agenda? Is it enough information? Are you including the dollar amount? Why do you want the board to approve this? Are there any contracts associated with it?”

The discussion has been started at the district level, Ms. Marshall says.

“I think we need to continue and desperately need to improve in that area,” she said. “There’s a lot of different people who submit items and right now we don’t have a process to look through everything in time for us to make changes so that we can post it properly.”

In Arizona, the Tucson Unified School District is the only other school district Ms. Marshall says she found with a board policy similar to what SUSD is setting out to change. In addition, not all districts have an in-house legal team.

“Regardless of who I report to, I represent the district. So regardless of anyone who is adverse to the district, they are not my client,” Ms. Marshall said. “As has been in the past, if I need to come to the board president with something, I’ve always been free to go to the board president. That won’t change.”

Ms. Marshall says the advantage to having her report directly to the board will be the perception it gives to others.

“It will tell people I ultimately report to the board, and the board ultimately reports to the community. It’s a clear straight line,” she noted.

Governing Board President Barbara Perleberg says the perception of the Governing Board agenda doesn’t match the actuality of its process.

Barbara Perleberg

“The perception is that it’s all filtered through the superintendent, but then you realize ‘oh no, it’s been added on to by different groups,’ and has not had one person, or even two people, understanding the whole picture, reviewing what’s coming behind it making sure that action item is solid,” she explained.

“I agree with fellow board members that fine tuning that process to make sure that we have clear understanding of why everything is on there, and everything that is on there is proper, would be fantastic.”

The March meeting is the Governing Board’s first read at the policy revision. A second read and a vote will be scheduled at an upcoming meeting, district officials said.

The proposed policy amendment reads, in part:

“The General Counsel reports to the Governing Board. The General Counsel is expected to represent, advise and assist the district’s administration on a daily basis, but shall recognize that the position of General Counsel exists to represent the organization acting through its duly elected Governing Board. The Governing Board retains the authority to terminate the employment of General Counsel, in compliance with applicable state laws, District Policy and the General Counsel’s employment contract.”

Northeast Valley News Services Editor Melissa Rosequist can be e-mailed at mrosequist@newszap.com or can be followed on Twitter at twitter.com/mrosequist_.

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