Hollis Brookline SAU Governing board meeting calmer but bogged down in technicalities

HOLLIS – A second reading of the proposed reorganization plan for SAU 41 occurred at a special meeting of the Governing Board on Oct. 29 attended by 15 of the members of the board, Interim Superintendent John Moody and Barrett Christina, attorney with the New Hampshire School Board Association.

The board is attempting to adopt specific guidelines for running the SAU, particularly in light of the upcoming search for a new superintendent. At the Sept. 23 meeting, the Policy Governance Workshop Committee introduced its proposal to replace the current vertical structure of chair, vice chair and treasurer with one having three equal directors, each charged with a specific function. One director would handle agendas, minutes and day-to-day issues, the second would supervise budget and finances and the third would oversee personnel, including the search for a superintendent.

Discussion was quite contentious, with some members trying to push for a vote and others voicing concern over a lack of time to review the proposal.

Cooler heads prevailed, but concerns over balance of power were evident as the board got preoccupied with technicalities. Upon reviewing the statutes, the Policy Committee discovered that correct procedures for voting have not been followed throughout the cooperative board’s existence. According to RSA194, instead of counting votes by individual members as has been done, each board (Hollis, Brookline and cooperative) is supposed to be allocated three votes. That means that if five members from Hollis cast votes, each person’s vote is worth three-fifths; if four members vote, each counts as three-quarters and if only one member of a board were present, their vote would count for all three votes.

In an attempt to remedy the error, the board initiated the correct voting procedures but got bogged down in the details. Seemingly minor decisions, such as approving minutes or whether to table an item on the agenda, became complicated as Governing Board Chairman Bill Beauregard had to count votes of each board and then calculate the results.

Questions of potential power struggles and mistrust arose. James O’Shea, vice chair of the Cooperative Board, asked attorney Christina if it were possible for two members – each representing the three votes of a board – to overrule a majority of the remaining board. Other hypothetical situations were discussed before it was pointed out that if only one member were in attendance, he/she would have polled the other members and would be representing the voice of the entire board.

There were also arguments over quorums and how to handle abstentions. Eventually, attorney Christina intervened and instructed board members to avoid abstaining if possible.

“If you don’t support an issue, then vote against it,” he said. “If you don’t have enough information to decide right away, then vote against it.”

After another failed attempt by Tom Solon, chairman of the Cooperative Board and Policy Committee member, to get further readings of the policy waived and move directly to an approval vote, the board decided to have Christina make the changes discussed at the meeting and return with a revised document to be reviewed at the next meeting, currently scheduled for Thursday, Nov. 21.

“The SAU is at an important juncture,” Moody said. “As you go forth again in looking for a permanent superintendent, these policies are important. Once people start applying, they will be looking at the website and policies, they will be looking to see how the board works, relationships, goal setting and the evaluation process. You need to be timely so everyone has a clear understanding that it isn’t about now but what’s in front of you.”