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Pasadena School Board Considers Eliminating Committee-based Structure

Board would hold additional special meetings instead, in Cahalan’s proposal

Published on Friday, February 8, 2019 | 5:46 am

School Board Member Patrick Cahalan spearheaded discussion February 7, 2019 of a proposal to eliminate all Pasadena School Board committees. File photo

In an agenda short on action items but long on discussion, the Pasadena Unified School Board Thursday looked at a proposal to alter the Board’s committee structure, perhaps even to eliminate its committees entirely. This would mean all discussions on all governance issues would take place only at full Board meetings.
Based on bylaws introduced in 1996 and updated in 2014, the Board currently has six active committees—Board Policy, Facilities and Capital Projects, Finance Committee, Master Plan/Boundary Subcommittee, Measure J Ad Hoc Committee, Student Safety and Conduct Committee, 7-1 Surplus Property Committee—and one inactive committee, the Drop Out Task Force Committee.
According to Pasadena Unified Board Member Patrick Cahalan, “no” local school districts have the same committee structure that the Pasadena School District does.
“[Other Districts] bring up [issues] during the actual meetings, perhaps, or they have extra meetings where these things are discussed,” said Cahalan. “So we are unique, at least with the folks I’ve talked to.”
But Cahalan agreed there was value in the formal structure of committees and incorporating the use of District staff to research various issues, and also noted that staff or residents may not be comfortable being “on camera” at Board meetings prefer instead take their comments to committee meetings.
But the disadvantage to the Board’s current committee structure, said Cahalan, is that they hold the same discussions that are later repeated at full Board meetings and that there is a “perception that the Board uses committees to hold discussions out of the public eye.”
Cahalan suggested instead holding monthly regular Board meetings and adding two special Board meetings, at least one dedicated to committee-type discussions.
“This will give us three meetings a month instead of four,” Cahalan said, adding that conversations would not be duplicated, and Board Members would not necessarily be obligated to attend each of the special meetings.
“If this was a subject a Board Member had no interest in, they could skip it,” said Cahalan. Meetings would still be recorded and broadcast for the public.
Cahalan also noted that the new configuration would free up Board Members’ time, “freeing up five or six more hours to do more things like visit City Council meetings, or meet with their constituents.”
“It changes the way we are doing things without necessarily changing the substance of what we are doing,” he said. “Sometimes changing things just for the sake of changing things sometimes shakes things up a little bit, and that’s not a bad idea.”
Reaction to the idea was mixed.
Board Member Scott Phelps supported the idea, while Member Michelle Richardson Bailey was against the idea.
“I look at closing committees like closing schools,” said Richardson Bailey, chair of the Facilities Committee.
She said her meetings are often packed, “and I don’t see those same people at Council meetings. If we eliminate that process, it would mean just Board meetings where we are not allowed to dialogue back and forth with questions we are asked at that time.” (State Brown Act laws prevent Board Members from responding directly with residents at full council meetings.)
Phelps noted that oftentimes, residents think that committees change or approve or vote on policies, which they do not do.
Board Member Elizabeth Pomeroy spoke in support of Board study sessions “that are specific to various issues.”
“We get a lot of background information on issues at Committee meetings,” said Pomeroy, “but only three of us are getting what that is” Shifting to study meetings would benefit all of the Board Members equally, Pomeroy added.
As the committee discussion was listed as an information item only, and came with no staff report, the full Board will consider the proposal again at a later date.
“To be continued,” said Board President Lawrence Torres.

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