The Oregon school board is returning to a traditional committee structure to help members better understand issues they’ll vote on.

After going without traditional committees in favor of a “committee of the whole” model since last April, board members voted unanimously Monday night to have president Steve Zach appoint chairs for the reinstated policy and visioning committees. It will meet in a committee of the whole format – a less formal meeting of the entire board – as necessary.

The board moved to the committee of the whole structure with an aim to reduce the number of meetings and time spent bringing board members up to speed on committee discussions they weren’t a part of. With the committee of the whole structure, the board met before regularly scheduled meetings to have those preliminary discussions as a group.

Zach said the experiment was a “good idea” worth a try, but didn’t turn out quite as effective in practice as in theory.

“I was hoping it would work because of the administrative convenience, but I don’t think we’ve gotten as much work done as we probably should have,” he said, suggesting rotating the vision and policy committee meetings to be held before Monday night board meetings.

“I’m in favor of going back to the old structure, as we’ve got some visioning stuff that really could use some shepherding from the board and guidance with Dr. (Leslie) Bergstrom coming on (as new superintendent in July) and helping to facilitate that.”

Krista Flanagan said another advantage of the committee structure is giving more board members chances to be in leadership positions, noting that long-time members Courtney Odorico and Barb Feeney will leave the board in April.

“It’s going to be a relatively inexperienced board, and committees give you an opportunity to be in a leadership position and to help look to the future of what the board should be doing and learning policy,” she said. “The policy committee is a really important job, because you really learn about the management of a school district through board policy and board governance.”

Flanagan said the committee of the whole format didn’t always allow for proper discussion.

“We’ve been looking at the clock, because we want to get into a board meeting and get rolling,” she said.” These things are weighty subjects, and we need time for deliberation outside the board meeting night … that allows us research, both staff and board members.”

Feeney said she was “torn” on the matter because of the value in avoiding “having important discussions at the committee level that then have to be replicated again with the full board. She suggested that on big issues, the entire board be in on the discussion from the beginning.

Tim LeBrun said he missed having the committee meetings – quipping that he “never thought (he) would vote for more meetings” – bur realized they allow members to “get together as often as we need to and coordinate a few less schedules to have those meetings happen.”

“We’re a little more agile having those smaller groups of people do the research and have the conversations, and come back here to make recommendations and have that group be able to answer questions,” he said. “I think it works better.”

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