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Workshops tout best practice, policy, proficiency

A highlight for many people attending the 71st Joint Annual Conference in 2003 was the pre-conference workshop. This extended event took place Friday, Nov. 21, at the Sheraton Hotel, where 696 attendees chose one of seven workshops to learn more about effective leadership, governing in a democracy, detecting a vision, school law and finance, winning referendum strategies, personality typing in decision-making, and board presidency skills.

The single largest course drew 150 attendees to the Basics of School Law and Finance. This popular workshop targets newly elected board members and superintendents who want to help guide newer members into the mainstream of board work.

Larry Kuster, a Jacksonville attorney, and Robert Madonia, superintendent with Frankfort CCD 157C, were assisted by Dave Love, director of field services for IASB, Springfield.

In addition to discussing the basics, Madonia led the group through the impact of the Property Tax Extension Limitation Law, otherwise known as tax caps. Explaining how the national Consumer Price Index this year affects next year's tax levy, he said it is essential for boards to communicate the cap's impact with their communities.

"Keeping up your tax base is absolutely crucial in tax capped districts. By all means, never leave anything on the table," Madonia insisted.

Because county clerks automatically adjust (and often lower) tax levies after the district announces them, if the board sets the levy too low, the district will lose the difference and never make it up.

"I encourage strong, close communication with the community about this. Get out and explain it, and they'll accept it," he said. "But they'll holler even louder if you fail to do this."

Communications were also a central theme in the workshop for Myers-Briggs Type Indicator as a tool for boards.

Explaining the difference between thinkers and feelers, Mary Scott Borea, an MBTI instructor from Chicago, said boards make decisions based on how they gather information. The process each member uses to gather and evaluate that information will influence the deliberations and ultimately the decisions of the group.

"Thinkers decide with their heads; feelers start with their heart, their convictions," she said. "One is observational, the other personal; both are valuable."

She was assisted by John Cassel, director of field services for IASB, Lombard.

In the workshop, Making the Move from Good to Great, IASB field service director Donna Johnson and policy services assistant director Susan Farrell Herrmann asked participants a series of questions to help them decide whether they were meeting community expectations.

Herrmann said the board's policy manual is an effective gauge.

"You don't have to memorize it, but you need to read and use it," she said. "That's where it begins. If you don't believe in and follow those policies, then your administrators won't. If it's at the table but not looked at or used, then it won't work. If a policy doesn't work for your district, change the policy."

Updated policy manuals also enable a board to stay on task and focus on board work instead of staff work, she added.

Another workshop, Winning at the Polls, explained how focus groups can help districts to determine what obstacles may be encountered when contemplating referendum drives.

"A pure focus group can be used early in the process or later, as a trial balloon for ideas," said Sissy Henry, executive director of the Georgia School Board Association. "But don't confuse these groups with task forces."

A focus group can narrow the issues to help define the message in a referendum. "A focus group should be controlled; by invitation only," she continued. "But make sure all the demographics in the community are represented. You may need to conduct several focus groups, depending on the size of the community."

All of the early workshops at the 2003 Joint Annual Conference qualified board members for points in IASB's Master Board Member service and recognition program and as qualifying core or elective courses in the IASB LeaderShop professional development program. Advance registration and fees are required to attend. Costs include breakfast, lunch and workshop materials.



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