Cobb school board member Charisse Davis says she plans to suggest the board consider separating its work session and voting session meetings into two days.
Davis also plans to ask the school board to vote on establishing a formal relationship between the school district and the county government.
The board merged two meetings a month into one about a year and a half ago, according to board member Randy Scamihorn. Before then, work sessions were held at least a week before voting sessions.
Meeting days often keep board members and staff in meetings for up to eight hours, with a work session in the afternoon, a closed-door session at 5:30 p.m. and a voting session at 7 p.m.
Pointing to last month’s afternoon work session, which saw a nearly two-hour discussion on a single board business item, Davis said some items from that agenda had to be moved to this Thursday’s meeting because of the time constraints.
“There was a whole presentation that had to do with student achievement that we didn’t even get to,” she said.
This week’s agenda is also packed, she added. Davis said when agendas are so often full of items requiring thoughtful discussion, board members and the public alike are expected to absorb an abundance of information in very little time.
“I feel like since Dr. (Jaha) Howard and I have gotten on the board, I feel like a lot of meetings, we’ve been ... rushing through a lot of content,” Davis said.
A split board with four Republicans and three Democrats may be partially to blame for drawn-out discussions, Davis said. But, she continued, even on short meeting days, the public should have a chance to absorb and research the content of discussion, as well as provide their feedback before a vote is taken.
It is far more likely that would happen if an afternoon work session was held a week or more before an evening voting session, according to Davis.
“For me to be the best board member I can be, it would be nice to have that time,” she said, adding that quality of discussion suffers when meetings are “crammed” into one day. “I don’t think that the time commitments, even for those of us who work full time, makes it not doable.”
Board member Randy Scamihorn said one day of meetings is more efficient and cost-effective for the district. A single day of meetings, Scamihorn said, ensures district staff only have to prepare relevant documents and presentations once a month.
He also said members of the public who want to attend the meetings only have to take half a day off of work with the current meeting structure, rather than two under the former.
“There’s been no complaints. There were some concerns from a few citizens when we first proposed it, but everybody took a wait-and-see approach, including the board, and to my knowledge, we have not had any complaints about it,” Scamihorn said. “So as far as meeting time for discussion, that’s a non-starter for me.”
He also said board members receive the meeting agendas about a week in advance, and have time to ask district staff questions about those items. Davis said those agendas are limited in specific details.
Appearing on the agenda for a second time is Davis’ call for more collaboration between the Cobb County Board of Commissioners and the Cobb school board. Joint discussions could include, but would not be limited to development, she said.
Davis said she plans to ask the board to take action Thursday to formalize a relationship between the school board and commissioners. Without saying specifically what she would ask for action on, Davis said a formal relationship could mean sharing of meeting materials or a joint meeting of commissioners and school board members.
“I think right now there’s just a disconnect about what’s even going on in the school district, and people may just assume that this just happens,” she said. “I don’t think that’s necessarily the case right now. Seemingly what we’ve been relying on is these independent relationships that certain board members may have with county commissioners. I’m asking us to formalize that.”
Davis also said responsibility of organizing meetings or other joint work between the two governing bodies could fall to the school board chairman.
Chairman David Chastain did not respond to request for comment for this story, but last month cautioned against a joint meeting, saying he would be wary of appearing to sway commissioners’ development decisions.
Scamihorn said any additional communication between the school board and county is helpful, but individual board members are also responsible for cultivating relationships with their commissioners.
“Every commissioner knows me and David Chastain, and I think (Vice Chair) Brad Wheeler personally,” Scamihorn said. “There’s always been collaboration, so I’d have to listen to further discussion to see where we go from here.”
In other business, the school board is expected to consider:
♦ Approving the recommended name of the Clay-Harmony Leland Elementary School replacement off Factory Shoals Road in Mableton;
♦ Authorizing the purchase of nine school buses;
♦ Approving a list of the district’s 2020 legislative priorities; and
♦ Approving the Kennesaw Charter Science & Math Academy’s local board governance fiscal 2020 training plan.
The school board meets Thursday for an afternoon work session with public comment at 12 p.m., an executive session at 5:30 p.m. and a voting session at 7 p.m. The meetings will take place in the board meeting room at 514 Glover St., Marietta.