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Table of Contents

A. Board and Governance
B. Planning
C. District Management
D. Site-Based Decision-Making

BACKGROUND

Each Texas school district is governed by an elected Board of Trustees, which governs and oversees management of the schools. School board members are elected by district residents either at-large, as in districtwide, or from single-member districts.

Each board derives its legal status from the Texas Constitution and state laws. The board must function in accordance with applicable state and federal statutes, controlling court decisions and applicable regulations pursuant to state and federal law. Under Section 11.151 of the Texas Education Code, each board must:

  • Govern and oversee the management of the public schools of the district;
  • Adopt such rules, regulations and bylaws as the board may deem proper;
  • Approve a district-developed plan for site-based decision-making and provide for its implementation;
  • Levy and collect taxes and issue bonds;
  • Select tax officials, as appropriate to the district's need;
  • Prepare, adopt, and file a budget for the next succeeding fiscal year and file a report of disbursements and receipts for the preceding fiscal year;
  • Have district fiscal accounts audited at district expense by a Texas certified or public accountant holding a permit from the Texas state board of public accountancy following the close of each fiscal year;
  • Publish an annual report describing the district's educational performance, including campus performance objectives and the progress of each campus toward those objectives;
  • Receive bequests and donations or other money coming legally into its hands in the name of the district;
  • Select a depository for district funds;
  • Order elections, canvass the returns, declare results, and issue certificates of election as required by law;
  • Dispose of property no longer necessary for the operation of the school district;
  • Acquire and hold real and personal property in the name of the district; and
  • Hold all powers and duties not specifically delegated by statute to the Texas Education Agency or the State Board of Education.

CURRENT SITUATION

The MPISD board consists of seven members elected at-large for three-year terms (Exhibit 1-1). Terms are staggered so that a maximum of three seats is filled each election.

Elections are held each year on the third Saturday of May. In the election held in May 1998, one incumbent was re-elected and one position was filled by a new member.

The board meets at 7:30 pm on the third Thursday of each month in the board room on the second floor of the Central Services Support Building.

Exhibit 1-1
MPISD Board of Trustees
1998-99

Name Title Term Expires Years of
Experience
Occupation
Mary Hearron President 1999 3 Community college faculty member
Ezeal McGill Vice President 2000 2 Retired teacher
Billy Wayne Flannigan Secretary 2001 4 Attorney
Royce Carr Assistant Secretary 2000 1 Independent geologist
Clint Rivers Sergeant at Arms 2000 2 Plant manager
Jesse May Member 1999 3 Retired game warden
Mike Reynolds Member 2001 6 Trailer sales company owner

Source: MPISD.

FINDING

In a written survey conducted by the Comptroller's review team, teachers, parents, campus administrators, and central administrative staff were asked to "grade" the school board (Exhibit 1-2). Sixty percent of teachers and 57 percent of campus administrators gave the board an "A" or "B" grade. Forty-three percent of parents and 33 percent of central administrative staff graded the board with an "A" or "B."

Exhibit 1-2
Grades Given to the MPISD Board by Teachers, Parents,
Campus Administrators, and Central Administrative Staff

Group A B C D F Don't Know
or No Response
Teachers 12% 48% 10% 8% 1% 12%
Campus administrators 9% 48% 30% 2% 0 11%
Central administrative staff 0 33% 38% 4% 4% 21%
Parents 13% 30% 23% 9% 5% 20%

Source: TSPR Survey Results.

A majority of the members of the board and a large number of community members who participated in focus groups raised concerns about recent disagreements among board members that have sent a negative message to the community. Board members cited a number of votes on key issues, such as passage of the annual budget and purchase of new buses, that were decided on 4-3 votes. Community members mentioned incidents of incivility by board members toward other board members and residents, a contentious discussion and attempt by several former board members to get rid of specific personnel through the elimination of automatically-renewing contracts for employees, and specific incidents of poor treatment and lack of professional courtesy by board members toward MPISD staff members in meetings.

Recent elections have altered the composition of the board, and the board has undergone an extensive, four-day training course in team-building conducted by the Texas Association of School Boards (TASB). However, a majority of the board still felt that disharmony and distrust existed among board members either toward other board members or the administration.

The review team found that communication among board members tends to be limited to the monthly meetings and executive sessions of the board. In contrast to some other school districts, the MPISD board has no standing committees, which could afford more opportunities for communication. In private industry, board committees allow members to handle detailed evaluation of complex items such as budgets, financial audits, personnel matters, and benefits. Committees evaluate staff recommendations and supporting information, assess the impact of the recommendations, and make recommendations to the full board. This approach allows board members to interact with staff members, ask questions, and raise differences of opinion in a working session rather than at the board dais.

Committees have not worked in every Texas school district. None of MPISD's peer districts have standing committees. According to the board president in Spring ISD, which successfully uses the committee structure, several factors must be in place for committees to work:

  • The district must have a plan that governs all decisions of the board and action of the staff. The committees use the plan as the guide to ensure that recommendations are in line with plan goals.
  • Board members must understand that their role is one of policy-maker not administrator. The board must avoid "micro-managing," getting too involved in the details of each issue. It must set clear priorities, ensure the resources are there to accomplish them, and monitor the staff's performance.
  • Board members must trust each other. Without mutual trust in the actions and motivations of all board members by one another, there is no basis for accepting the recommendations coming from the committees.
  • Board members must have respect for the capabilities of other board members and for the district's staff. Board members must treat each other and the staff as professionals dedicated to serving the needs of the students of the district, not furthering their own best interests.
  • The staff must be open and candid with the board, provide all information necessary to make decisions, and engage in frank discussion. If the board feels the staff are withholding information, the committees will not use the staff and will not have the information necessary to make intelligent, meaningful recommendations to the full board.
  • Board members must be willing to commit the time necessary to make the committees function. The role of the committees is to digest complex issues, thoroughly discuss and evaluate options, and make a recommendation to the board. The board as a whole should not have to review the work of the committee to ensure that it has thoroughly evaluated all information and alternatives.
  • Leadership of, and membership on, committees should rotate so that each board member has an opportunity to be both a committee chair and a member on various committees.
  • The areas covered by the committees should be changed periodically to reflect the changing priorities of the district. Spring ISD uses annual input from citizens in the district as well as a survey of parents, teachers, and students every five years to help mold priorities.

Some of these conditions exist within MPISD:

  • The board formulated goals for 1998-99 and intends to measure progress toward accomplishing each one.
  • With the changes in board composition, a majority of members appear to work together on a consistent basis and trust one another's recommendations.
  • The working relationship between the board and staff has improved.
  • Board members all expressed a willingness to spend the time necessary to accomplish the work of the board. Collectively, members have invested numerous hours in team-building training to make meetings more effective.

In the other areas, more work is required to establish trust among all members of the board and to elevate board members to a joint role of policy-makers rather than administrators.

Recommendation 1:

Explore a committee structure to address key areas of district operations.

One area of consistent contention has been the annual budget. This could be used as a pilot to determine whether a committee structure could work in MPISD. The goals of the board could be an initial point to provide direction to the staff in formulating spending patterns for the next year.

The committee would work with the staff to clarify each goal, develop strategies to accomplish them, and to set timelines for accomplishment. The committee could provide periodic reports to the full board and discuss key items that may require full board input.

The committee should begin its work at the outset of the budget preparation process. As the staff proceeds in building the budget using the direction set by the goals, the board committee should meet with the staff to assess progress and make changes. The district's budget calendar can be modified to include timing of board committee meetings and key items for discussion at each meeting.

IMPLEMENTATION STRATEGIES AND TIMELINE

1. The board solicits information from the Texas Association of School Boards and districts where committees are working well. March 1999
2. The board meets with senior staff and evaluates the committee structure, identifies potential committees and what issues will be coming up, and discusses how the committee structure could function. April-May 1999
3. The board discusses the advantages and disadvantages of using committees and makes a decision. June 1999

FISCAL IMPACT

There is no fiscal impact associated with this recommendation.

FINDING

The superintendent plans to retire at the end of 1999-2000, leaving board members until early 2000 to identify the qualifications, qualities, and experiences they desire in the next superintendent. In January 1999, the board extended the superintendent's contract through June 2000.

A superintendent search often begins with the hiring of a search consultant and ends with the interviews of final candidates and a hiring. This process typically takes 120 days depending upon the availability of candidates with the qualifications set by the board such as prior experience, areas of strength, and special educational qualifications. However, reaching consensus among board members on the qualities and experiences they want in a superintendent can be a more time-consuming process.

Given that there has been disagreement among MPISD board members on the priorities of the district and on major items, it would be appropriate to begin developing a set of desired qualifications well before the formal superintendent search begins. Desired qualifications could include, for example, experience in facilities management and construction, working in a majority-minority district, improving minority test scores, and developing community relations.

Typically a district's goals and objectives are reflected in the desired qualifications and in the search process. According to the board president for Texarkana ISD, a similar process during its superintendent search improved the working relationship of the board, clarified district priorities, and increased the board's overall effectiveness.

Some districts, such as Cypress-Fairbanks and Katy ISDs, used a board committee to manage the search. This committee invited public input at special meetings to help the board understand what the community desired in a superintendent.

Recommendation 2:

Develop a profile of the ideal superintendent to be used in seeking and selecting a superintendent.

A board committee should be formed to get community input as well as work with the full board in establishing the desired qualifications for a superintendent.

IMPLEMENTATION STRATEGIES AND TIMELINE

1. The board president appoints a committee to receive input from the community on the desired skills and attributes of a new superintendent. March 1999
2. The committee holds meetings and forums with business and community leaders, parents, and other interested parties to gather information. March - May 1999
3. The committee provides a report to the board on the community information. May 1999
4. The board uses a facilitator from a local college or other community organization to assist it in developing a profile of a new superintendent. June - August 1999
5. The board uses the profile to begin the search process. September 1999

FISCAL IMPACT

There is no fiscal impact associated with the development of information on the new superintendent profile. A facilitator can likely be located for a nominal fee or donated by the individual or organization.