Before the Aug. 29 Vassalboro school board meeting, Steven Bailey, executive director of the Maine School Management Association (MSMA), led a workshop on board members’ responsibilities, including reminders of what they should not do.
Although school board members are elected by town voters, their roles and responsibilities are defined by state law, Bailey said.
Individual members cannot act officially, unless the full board has so authorized in a specific case. For example, if someone brings an educational concern to a board member, the member can listen sympathetically, but the next step is a referral to the full board or appropriate administrator.
Superintendent Alan Pfeiffer said he tries to offer an initial response to public complaints and concerns within 24 hours, understanding that resolving an issue will often take longer.
Bailey emphasized the respective roles of the board and the administration. Board members are not supposed to be “down in the weeds” dealing with daily operations; they are supposed to set goals and policies, which direct the superintendent as he delegates implementation to school staff.
In summary, Bailey said, the board’s responsibility is not to operate the educational program, but to see that it is well operated.
This division of labor does not mean that board members cannot join the parent-teacher organization, or volunteer services, though Bailey cautioned they should avoid taking leadership roles.
Another important task is to keep communications open with school staff and with town residents. State law requires that board meetings be open to the public (with exceptions for executive-session discussions) and that each meeting agenda include a public comment period. But, Bailey added, board members must make sure public discussion does not distract them from doing their job, which is to deal with the business on their agenda.
He reminded board members that emails about school business are public records. They should use their official school accounts for school-related emails and should avoid including confidential information.
And he summarized some of the laws passed or amended during the recent legislative session. Some of the state changes may require amendments to school board policies, an on-going process with Vassalboro board members.
Bailey congratulated VCS on having only “a few” open positions; other Maine schools have many staff vacancies, he said.
Gaga pit installed at school
One of the summer projects at Vassalboro Community School was construction of a Gaga pit on the school grounds, Principal Ira Michaud reported at the Aug. 29 school board meeting. He added a photo of the pit to his report.
A Gaga pit is an enclosure in which to play the game called Gaga. Wikipedia says the name is from the Hebrew word for “touch, touch” and calls the game “a variant of dodgeball.”
Players in the pit slap a ball, trying to strike another player below the knee (rules vary, but below the knee seems to be most common). The ball is soft, foam or rubber or similar. A player hit below the knee is out and leaves the pit; a player whose ball hits another player above the knee is out; the winner is the last person still in.
Michaud said the VCS Gaga pit is a 22-foot-diameter wooden-walled box. It can accommodate two dozen players, but is more suited to a dozen at a time. He planned to try it out the day after the meeting; Superintendent Alan Pfeiffer said later that the games were postponed for a day because of rain on Aug. 30.
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