BY KRISTEN BUCKLES
An item on this afternoon's agenda for the Greene County Board of Education is stirring controversy between the chairman and a member of the board.
The board is scheduled to meet at 5 p.m. in the board room at Central Office to consider a wide variety of agenda items, including proposed revisions to the board's committee policy.
The committee proposal would recognize only four "standing committees"of the board -- policy, bid, curriculum, and long-range planning. Three board members would serve on each committee.
Previously, all committees acted as standing committees but rarely met.
Under the proposed policy, other committees, such as the building, safe schools and insurance committees, would be created as needed, and disbanded after their work is completed.
Board Chairman Roger Jones would appoint members to the committees, but all board members would be invited to attend any committee meetings.
Board members would also continue to attend certain administrative committees.
This matter has been heavily debated in recent board workshops, with Chairman Roger Jones preferring to eliminate most committees and allow the school system administration to present recommendations during board workshops.
The views of other members of the board on the subject vary, with board members Kathy Austin and Deborah Johnson likely the most opposed to Chairman Jones's position.
Austin and Johnson have expressed their desire to see all board members serve on every committee, and they have strongly opposed administrative management of the committees.
With no compromise to be found during the last board workshop in early February, the board informally agreed to halt discussion until the workshop scheduled for 4 p.m. today, preceding the formal meeting of the school board.
When tonight's board agenda went out to members earlier this week, however, the committee proposal was on the agenda.
This came as a surprise to Austin, who has said she spoke with Director of Schools Dr. Vicki Kirk on the matter.
After Austin's call, she said, Dr. Kirk agreed to discuss the item with Chairman Roger Jones, who aids her in forming each month's agenda.
Jones then sent an e-mail to all board members to address the matter on Wednesday. Austin later provided a copy of Jones's email to The Greeneville Sun.
In the e-mail, Jones states the following:
"We were requested by several of you to place the board committee item on the agenda.
"I realize that we discussed bringing this back up at a workshop, but since we will have to discuss and vote on this for two meetings since it is a policy change, it needs to be addressed now on first reading.
"I appreciate the board members' time and efforts helping our system to move forward. We have a full workshop agenda, and we will briefly go over the board agenda to help with clarity."
Austin also provided the Sun with a copy of her reply to Jones, in which she calls into question several system policies and Jones's authority to place the item on the agenda since additional discussion of the committee issue at today's workshop had been agreed upon in early February.
"You do not have the authority to take the board committee discussion out of the workshop to the agenda," Austin wrote in reply to Jones.
"The board didn't "discuss" bringing the committee issue back up at [today's] workshop. The board said we 'would' bring the committee issue back up at [the] workshop.
"I have verbal and written documentation of the full board's decision to do this from the last workshop where this issue was discussed (see The Greeneville Sun, Feb. 7, 2013, page A-12).
"That aside, you nor any number of board members can just decide to skip the workshop discussion on this issue, write the policy, and then put it on the regular agenda.
"There is policy and TCA that backs that up (policy 1.100; 1.101; TCA 49-1-101; 49-1-102 (c); 49-1-103; 49-6-3104; 49-2-207; 49-1-302(A) (3); 49-2-203(a) (10).
"If there have been decisions made by you and some board members (someone wrote the new policy) outside an official board meeting on this issue, could there be a problem with the Sunshine Law here?
"I would like the names of the board members who requested that we not follow the full board's decision to discuss this item at tomorrow's workshop.
"Tennessee Code Annotated tells us that individual board members have no authority outside of an official board meeting.
"You, Dr. Kirk, nor other board members have the authority to circumvent full board discussion on this issue and write the policy without full board input at the workshop.
"I don't understand why you did this?
"There is no hurry to implement this new policy. We can continue with the committees as they currently are until/if we decide to make changes."
In an interview this morning, Jones explained that his understanding of board policy grants the chairman and the director of schools the authority to set the board agenda.
"We had discussed the composition of committees at two different workshops," he said, explaining that he knew it would be a matter of changing policy.
"It's one of [Dr. Kirk's] tasks to draft policy and bring it before the board," he said.
He also said that there has not been any Sunshine Law violation because it is normal for board members to bring agenda requests to the chairman.
"It happens in all government bodies that the members request things from the chairman," he said.
"Several board members have expressed that they want to put this on the agenda because, being a policy change, we would have to discuss it and put it on two [additional] board agendas anyway.
"There's no hurry," he continued. "It's just one of those things you try to address."
"There's nothing binding on any workshop discussion whatsoever," he added.
Director of Schools Dr. Vicki Kirk also addressed the matter during an interview this morning, as well as in an e-mail sent early this morning to board members and to The Greeneville Sun.
She explained in the interview that she did not feel the board's informal agreement to discuss the item during the workshop prohibited her from including the matter on the board's agenda for this meeting.
She also noted that the board is voting purely on a policy "concept" that she would then have to take to the board's Policy Committee to address specific wording.
This wording would then return to the full board for two more meetings on first and second reading.
Additionally, she noted that it is "not possible" to approve all agenda items with every member of the board.
In her e-mail, she explained the situation as follows:
"I am compelled to respond this morning via e-mail. I want to assure everyone that there will be no violation of the Sunshine Law as this e-mail is informational in nature only, and I intend to print it out and read it at the workshop this afternoon.
"The Executive Committee, comprised of the board chair and the director of schools, is charged with preparing the agenda for board meetings.
"The committee's item was placed on the agenda with the understanding that the topic had been discussed in workshop on January 24th and February 6th.
"In my notes on January 24th I had noted in reference to the committees item, 'may need to come back to this.' I had no notations from the February workshop regarding this item.
"I had noted from that workshop that we had some follow-up work to do on retiree bonuses. I had also noted that the budget items would need to be completed at the next workshop.
"This item [committees] was not placed on the board agenda with any intent to forgo or to circumvent discussion.
"I brought this item to the Policy Committee in January for their information, but I made the decision to discuss it with the full board in workshop as it is a policy regarding board operations.
"My reason for bringing it to the board in the first place was because the policy was not aligned with itself; the first paragraph states that the board will not operate with standing committees and then standing committees are named further down in the policy.
"Mrs. Austin called on Tuesday of this week to object to the item being placed on the board agenda, citing an agreement to discuss at the upcoming workshop and referencing The Greeneville Sun article. I did not have the article at my disposal, but I did call [Chairman] Jones to let him know about it.
"He said he would look into it, and he later sent the e-mail stating that he would be leaving the item on the agenda.
"This agenda item was submitted by me; I wrote it.
"It is stated in the item that I intend, if the board passes this item, to take the revisions contained in the item through the Policy Committee to make a formal change to the policy itself, which will require review by the Policy Committee and approval on first and second reading of the policy by the board.
"Lastly, the board always has the option of revising an agenda after publication through a vote to pull any item the board deems merits further discussion or review."