Wednesday, March 9, 2022

Sign of a Thaw in RISD Board Room?

Every month, the Richardson ISD Board of Trustees holds a regular meeting, as well as a worksession, and sometimes a special called meeting. The public can attend. Agendas are published. Video is available. It's all very transparent. Except for those pesky agenda items labeled "Enter Closed Meeting." The Texas Open Meetings Act allows secret meetings on a narrow range of subjects. The board agenda only needs to state what the subject of a secret meeting is. No detail is required, no minutes, no video. That leads to a cottage industry of speculation of what's going on behind closed doors. This month's RISD board meeting was different in one significant way. It's time to speculate about what it means.

For the first time since September, 2021, the agenda of a regular monthly RISD board meeting didn't contain a closed meeting for the stated purpose of "Superintendent's Evaluation" or "Interim Superintendent's Evaluation." With one exception. The infamous board meeting of December 13 swapped out the closed meeting with an open meeting action item to approve the voluntary separation agreement of the superintendent, Dr. Jeannie Stone.

There was much speculation that behind closed doors for months before that, the board criticized, harassed, insulted, and/or bullied the superintendent until that fateful December 13 meeting at which she and the board mutually agreed to part ways. Pick your verb. Given the result, a resignation by someone who loved her job, whatever verb you pick should be an active one. A strong one.

The evaluations of the new interim superintendent picked up in January and continued in February. Given that the interim superintendent was closely associated with the former superintendent, speculation that the board was pressuring her, not supporting her, is understandable.

Then came this week's March meeting. Oh, there was still a closed session. But this time for another agenda item that's become common: "Consultation with Attorney." Given the lawsuits the governor and attorney general have threatened school districts with in the last couple of years, there's been no shortage of work for lawyers. But that's another topic to dig into another day. For now, I take pleasure in noting that "Interim Superintendent's Evaluation" is no longer an automatic agenda item on this board's secret meetings.

Of course, I could be all wrong in feeling hopeful that something's changed. The lack of an agenda item "Interim Superintendent's Evaluation" this month could just be a sign that March Madness is beginning. Trustee Megan Timme was conspicuous by her absence from the meeting.

We'll see how long my hopefulness lasts. The board eventually will have to face the question of that "Interim" designation in the superintendent's job title. If I were part of the process, there's one question I'd ask candidates for the permanent job. "Is your name Tabitha Branum?" Whether the board asks that question will determine whether the ice in the board room has really melted.


Eric said...

Very good blog topic. For me, the idea that the General Counsel Mia Martin’s tenure has been so lengthy is interesting. Obviously every school district requires a general counsel and Ms. Martin is no doubt very proficient in her position. One has to wonder how much the advice and counsel of long time District employees has in the role & conduct of what is placed on the agenda for closed door sessions vs. public sessions. My two cents as a tax payor and parent of a child in the District.

Mark Steger said...

Mia Martin resigned as RISD's General Counsel in December. Leticia D. McGowan is RISD's new General Counsel.