A weekend interview with ...
... Pasco County School Board chairwoman Marge Whaley. During her 14-year tenure, Whaley has observed that the board never has had a strong hand in setting policy or budgets. It's generally deferred to the administration. Now the board, like many others across the country, is looking to take back the reins. She spoke with reporter Jeff Solochek about the effort.
MW: We just got finished with our workshop. ... I realized that I certainly was not the only one who was a little unhappy with the way things were going in different areas.
JS: Such as?
MW: Such as the strategies being handed to us. They were already made by someone else and, as it turned out, they were actually formed by the (Southern Association of Colleges and Schools) committee last year. ... We decided years ago that we wanted our workshops to be no more dog and pony shows. We want the stuff up front, we want a chance to read it. And if you're giving us a workshop, it's because we need to know something because we have to vote on it and it's an opportunity to ask questions outside the board room, and for us to be able to think about it before we get to a voting situation, and have discussion. Or, to have an opportunity for us to give input. One of those two reasons. Not just to showcase something. ... This board wants to be involved in planning the budget in a meaningful way. And that's hard.
Q: So you're saying that this board has not been included in a meaningful way?
A: I think in years past, no. And I think this particular board wants to give input in lots of different areas and not just be presented with a product and told, 'Here it is.' And that was kind of what Olga (Swinson, the district chief financial officer) was saying (at a recent budget workshop): 'Well, this is all you have. And if you mess with this, you're going to have to throw out another program.' And I don't think that's what people wanted to hear.
Q: As elected members of the board, I would think that you would have the responsibility and the public would expect you to have the responsibility.
A: Yes, but in years past, we have not been involved in that way.
A: Good question.
Q: Well, you've been on the board for 14 years. You should know better than anyone else.
A: Well, we had that workshop, almost an identical workshop from (the past CFO), the of course the numbers were much smaller. He said, 'This is all the money that you have, that you can mess with. Here's what it funds now. If you want to mess with that, you have to do away with something else.' And the board just threw up their hands. I read an article. This is not just a frustration of this board. I think it's a frustration of many boards. Because the budget process is a complex one, and it goes on all year long. Which takes me to my second point. We said loud and clear at that same meeting that we wanted to be involved in the goals and strategies and objectives that are being developed by our district. And we want to have annual ones. And we want to have benchmarks so we don't wait until the end and say, 'Well, that was a failure.' ... We're starting to work toward that for the first time.
Q: Why is this so important?
A: If you don't know where you're going, how will you know when you get there? How will you know how you're doing if you're not looking at things as you go along? ...
Q: So you think the school board as elected officials need to be making these decisions and ...
A: With the superintendent, yes. Shared responsibility.
Q: And right now it's not been shared so much?
A: No. And I will not fault Heather (Fiorentino, elected superintendent in 2004) there, because that's the way it always has been. ... We should be looking at those and annually going through the policy book. We should have a policy committee. We know that. All through the workshop there were things that we rated ourselves pretty low on. And then we'd say, 'Well, we don't have any objectives or goals. We can't rate ourselves high here.' That was said at least three times. The board does not.
Q: So you all are working together, starting this summer with the policy rewrite and the budget, to change all this?
A: Yes. And I have been wanting these goals and objectives for 10 years at least. ... I realize now the other board members are behind that also. ... Things change. Board members change. And this board wants it.