MARIETTA — Cobb school board members were advised to leave “adult issues” and personal agendas out of meetings and to focus on the county’s children during a training session Tuesday.
The issues that most plague boards around the state tend not to deal with children at all, according to Zenda Bowie, of the Georgia School Boards Association, who gave a three-hour presentation to the board as part of its required governance training.
She said avoiding politics and accepting difference of opinion, while still supporting the final decisions of the board, are the keys to public trust and the board’s success.
“Once the board has voted, it is the responsibility of the members of the board to be supportive of that action,” Bowie said, adding that board members should still express their opinion during board discussions. “What we’re basically saying is don’t sabotage the school board’s decision.”
She also said it is of dire importance that the board be open-minded when hearing the opinions of other members and of the public, but that they “stay in their lane.” Decisions on staff hiring, budgeting, facilities and student instruction should be left to the superintendent and his staff and board members opinions should never turn into decisions on behalf of the district, she said.
David Chastain, the board’s chairman, said he believes the Cobb school board has done well to avoid bringing personal matters to work. Chastain said while there have been a handful of heated debates at meetings, the board is still fairly new as a group and communication will likely improve as time goes on.
“It’s a challenge trying to keep all seven people on track when you’re having a discussion,” he said. “I want to say that hopefully we can see some improvements ... We’re still getting to know each other.”
Vice Chairman Brad Wheeler agreed. Wheeler added that each member needs to focus on not taking another’s opinion personally. He said difference of opinions on the board represent a difference of opinion in the community, but “you have to be careful that you don’t make things personal, because then things break down.”
Board member Charisse Davis said, especially with her and Jaha Howard’s recent election to the school board, the board is having to consider new opinions in a way that has not yet been considered. Davis said new board members bring new experiences, and she hopes to see more open-minded discussion of new ideas in the future.
“As long as everybody feels like they have a voice and a way of communicating and their opinion is valued, then OK,” she said. “We’re not always going to agree and that’s OK too.”
Bowie also challenged board members not to speak for the board and reminded them to keep lines of communication with both the public and each other open and flowing. She said board members should share their opinions with each other prior to meetings so board members are not be surprised by each others’ votes or comments. Bowie further encouraged every board member to share their opinion during meeting discussions, as an elected representative’s silence does a disservice to the community, she said.