The Washtenaw Intermediate School District
You probably don't even know what they do! If you had asked ten years ago, I would have said they spent most of their time on three areas of services for all the local school districts and charter schools: professional development; coordination and services for certain special education students; and data and reporting.
Well, that was then. Now, they are increasingly coordinating lots of services. . . transportation; back-end administrative services; the Washtenaw International High School; Washtenaw Alternatives for Youth.
And in my opinion,
they are rather OPAQUE about what they do and how they do it.
A couple of years ago, I read an article in the Ann Arbor News about school graduation rates by (I believe) income. The article said the information was based on a study had been done by the Washtenaw ISD. Unfortunately, the online version of the article didn't have the chart I wanted. When I called to ask for the information, I was told that it was "not public." Yes, I've since learned I could have probably FOIA'd it, but pack rat that I am, I found that I had a hard copy.
More recently, I had these two interactions:
Me: "Do you have a copy of the IB presentation that you have made to Saline, Ypsi, Ann Arbor... (Latest version) up on the WISD web site? If so, can you send me the link--I couldn't find it. I am also interested in other supporting documents: proposed budget, staffing scenarios, transportation information. If that is available please send me links or documents."
The WISD: "You can find the Ann Arbor presentation and related documents here:
1011/files/092410_blue.pdf Scroll to pages 9-64."
Ummm, seriously? You want me to open a very long presentation in a particular district's board document, and scroll through to your section? If the Washtenaw International High School is important, don't you think you could have a section of your web site devoted to it? [Side note: this is actually a really long and important piece of reading, although it was super hard to understand and had not scanned in very well. It has the consortium agreement in there. In other words: what, exactly, did the districts agree to?]
Here's another one:
Me: "I'm also wondering about the WISD board. Is there an election for the board? Or is it appointed, and if so by whom? (I see some former school board members on the current board list.) I am confused about the board minutes. I see that you post a summary, but not the actual minutes. Why is that? The summaries don't even state who was present at the meeting. Also, how would one get the supporting documentation--for instance, financial reports or plans for service changes (e.g., consolidation)--and the actual minutes."
The WISD: "For more information about WISD and the Board see: http://wash.k12.mi.us/files/
WISD101.pdf. We're in the process of updating our website and board minutes will be included. In the meantime, if you want a copy of the minutes please contact Colleen O'Sullivan at firstname.lastname@example.org."
So, until recently you couldn't get the WISD board minutes online. [They are now available back to 2008, which is a VAST improvement.] And, how exactly is their board made up? They didn't tell me in the email, even though it seems so obvious to me that they could have explained in a couple of sentences. Once I looked the requisite section up it was also clear why they didn't want to do so. Here is how their board is made up:
(This information is taken from the link above referring to the board. I had to scroll through several pages there as well.)
9) How are WISD Board members elected?
Members of WISD’s school board are elected biennially on the first Monday in June by a body of electors composed of one member from each constituent local school district board of education. WISD Board members’ terms are staggered. Each member serves a six-year term.
10) Who are the WISD Board members?
The following are members of WISD’s 2010-11 Board of Education:
Mark Van Bogelen, President
Gregory A. Peoples, Vice President
Dayle K. Wright, Secretary
Diane B. Hockett, Treasurer
Mary Jane Tramontin, Trustee
In other words, there is no direct election of WISD school board members. It doesn't say who creates the nominations. . . or when board members' terms are up. . . or if they get paid and what they get paid.
It's not very transparent at all.
To the WISD, I say this: If you want me, and other people who care about process, to vote for the special education millage that is coming up, then you had better find a way to be a LOT more transparent in the coming months. And I say that even though I think the special education millage is important.
To those of you who are journalists or passionate observers of the local school scene, I say: it would be a good idea to have journalists at the WISD board meetings. The WISD is becoming a more, and more, important player.
The next meeting is Tuesday, January 25th, at 5: 30 p.m., at the WISD. They will be discussing the Superintendent search (they have an interim Superintendent now) as well as Washtenaw Alternatives for Youth.
I would tell you to contact the WISD board members by email or phone and ask them to develop a better process for sharing information with the public, but their emails are not posted, only a central phone number: 994-8100 x1300.