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Charles City School Board debates operating principles as bond measure moves forward

Charles City School Board debates operating principles as bond measure moves forward
Professional chef John Sugimura served up a karaage-don traditional Japanese dinner dinner to the Charles City School Board at its workshop meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 6. Press photo by Travis Fischer
By Travis Fischer,

Contentions over operating principles were discussed during a work session for the Charles City Schools Board of Education on Tuesday.

Board members have traditionally rotated reading the board’s operating principles, along with the board’s mission and vision statements, as a routine part of the start of every regular meeting.

The operating principles say: “Information for one is information for all, no surprises, verify facts, think ahead, disagree (explain your thinking) and then commit.”

The matter was brought up as board member Dr. David Schrodt expressed his disapproval of the operating principles, stating that he feels they are being used to compel dissenting members into “falling in line.”

“In general, I think there can be value in operating principles,” said Schrodt. “I think specifically the ones passed down from previous boards do not hold value.”

Superintendent Dr. Anne Lundquist led the discussion by asking the board members if they felt that a stated operating principle was worth having and worth reciting at the top of meetings.

While acknowledging that the operating principles may be redundant as the board’s code of ethics covers the same ideas, the board members largely agreed that there was value in reciting them.

“It sort of sets the tone for the board meeting,” said board member Janiece Bergland.

“I think the value is in reminding the public what we’re doing,” said board member Josh Mack.

Having informally decided that the board should continue reciting its operating principles, the discussion turned to what those principles should be, with Schrodt specifically disagreeing with the portion that calls for commitment.

“I’ve never seen operating principles that command something,” said Schrodt.

While Schrodt expressed his disapproval of the operating principles in general, the issue has been brought to the forefront due to a disagreement with board President Pat Rottinghaus over the role individual board members should play regarding divided board decisions.

The school district is currently moving forward with a proposal to bring a bond referendum to the community that would, if approved, authorize the district to bond for a $27 million auditorium and high school renovation project.

At the previous meeting, the board approved the petition language for the bond referendum and members in support of the project are making efforts to collect the signatures needed to have the issue put on the ballot for a special election in March.

Schrodt however, citing concerns over the expense of the renovations, is expressly opposed to the project and has consistently voted against motions that would move the project forward.

This has resulted in a difference of opinion between Schrodt and Rottinghaus, which has carried over into conversations outside of meetings, over what is appropriate behavior for school board members that disagree with board decisions once they are made.

Where Rottinghaus believes that board members should be united in their efforts once a decision is collectively made, Schrodt does not want to give the impression that he is personally in favor of the project by publicly advocating for the bond referendum or by holding back his personal opinions.

Circling back to the topic of operating principles, Superintendent Lundquist asked each board member to identify a portion of the code of ethics that resonates with them so that a revised set of operating principles can be developed at a future meeting.

In other business at the workshop session, Lundquist presented the board with some material regarding the impact that cell phones in the classroom has had on students as personal devices have become common among younger age groups.

“It’s increasingly a challenge for us in terms of student engagement,” said Lundquist.

As a result, the district will be revising its mobile device policy for the upcoming second semester of this school year.

The board also received a presentation from Director of Finance Evan Marten, who offered the board a draft of the new annual financial report. The report highlights the district’s finances through a variety of charts and graphs that detail its expenditures and revenues. The board provided Marten with feedback on everything from readability to what information it would like broken down to preference on pie chart graphics.

And the board enjoyed a traditional Japanese meal prepared and served by Chef John Sugimura, who works for Taher Inc., the company that provides the district’s food services. Sugimura was in Charles City this week to work with culinary class students and to help prepare a traditional Japanese box lunch for the students’ Thursday lunch.

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