Letters for Sept. 29, 2002
‘No’ to restrictions
Holy moly! I’m psychic. I think I’m having a clear and defined vision of the future. I just got done reading an article about a map being formulated concerning “man’s impact” in the Routt National Forest. Now I’m having a vision of environmental activists using the data to try to close roads and restrict access to public lands in our area. I’m sensing that they will use the Colorado Citizens Wilderness Proposal to try to demonstrate to governments ranging from city, county, state and federal that the people of Colorado want to close off huge sections of land to reasonable public access in the name of the Roadless Initiative.
All right, all right, so maybe this isn’t such a ground-shaking oracle because this is already happening on a fairly widespread scale across the Rocky Mountain West. By the way, did you know that not having roads in an area is not a prerequisite to being designated as a roadless area? It just needs to be an area that the proponents wish that there weren’t any roads.
Maybe I should qualify myself before many of your turn the page in disgust at what you think this article is going to be about. I am a huge fan of the environment and wholeheartedly support most of the existing wilderness areas as currently designated, but I think there’s more to a statement with the words “man’s impact” beyond the initial shock valve that it evokes out of many of us in Steamboat.
I probably cringe as much as any of us when it comes to permanently scarring our states’ wild places but we should at least address some of the background, and for that matter, the future of man’s impact on public lands.
The article I read mentions charred areas where slash piles were burned from previous logging operations. Now I’m not proposing that we start clear cutting our old-growth forests again so that we can sell even more timber to Japan for pennies on the dollar, but what’s done is done. The forest service has an obligation to allow people to make efforts to reclaim the land. Whether it was damaged by clear cutting or something more natural as in the ’97 blowdown where we have undertaken experimental salvage logging efforts in an attempt to mitigate other potentially destructive forces, cleaning up the slash and burning it has some positive impacts. It reduces the fuel load in the event of wildfire and opens up the land to allow the forest to regenerate itself more quickly. Like so many things in life, it’s a trade-off. I don’t know about you, but I’ll take recovering habitat with several burnt areas about the size of a major league pitching mound over hundreds of acres of unnaturally clogged forest floor any day.
Similarly, the same argument of trade-offs can be made for roads. I’ll be the first to admit that roads mean people, people mean problems, and more people mean more problems, but as our desires for management on public lands are increasingly emphasizing less tangible resources such as recreational access, we have got to accept the fact that the National Forest is still considered the “land of many uses.” No matter what your background is as far as how you prefer to get around in the great outdoors, it’s always good practice to be considerate of others. In my opinion, with three large wilderness areas in close proximity to our community, we are not short of opportunities to get away from civilization by traveling on foot or horseback only. Contrary to popular misconception, I believe that Mother Nature is actually fairly capable of absorbing some of our impacts when we spread ourselves out a little. I have observed several areas after the Forest Service had relocated trails or roads for one reason or another and have been amazed at how quickly the old trail grew over and became nearly invisible. This doesn’t seem to happen in locations where the human impact has become concentrated. The more land we close by turning it into de facto wilderness area using the roadless initiative, the more the land that remains open will suffer. Roads that are overused because of other road closures will suffer more severe the impacts when it comes to issues such as erosion and wildlife disturbance. I’m not even going to go into the fact that roads serve far more functions on our public lands than just recreational access, many of which actually result in positive benefits to the forest health.
Wait a minute, I think I’m having another vision. My sources are telling me the Green Extremists will continue to try to purport themselves as the majority in Colorado in an effort to pursue governments and land mangers that the public supports an agenda that involves the Colorado Citizens Wilderness Proposal and the Roadless Initiative. Hmmm, maybe my powers aren’t as keen as I thought because this can’t be true. I know a fair number of people both locally and statewide that A) consider themselves to be environmentally aware, and B) do not support legislation that bans reasonable access to large tracts of our public lands. You probably don’t hear much from us because we don’t need to be heard. It’s for the same reason that when a ballot memorandum is written, it must always be presented in terms of a “yes” vote means change, and a “no” vote means remain the same. This allows people who are not outwardly politically involved to vote confidently when it comes to hokey initiatives. I have a feeling that if a radically green agenda containing items such as the Roadless Initiative went to a statewide vote, it would be soundly defeated. We’re not out there pushing petitions and rallying at meetings because no one is trying to open the wilderness areas to new uses. We’re just a lot of people who understand that closing roads and restricting access is not an environmental policy. It’s political propaganda that lets a few people feel like they’re saving the Earth when they’re really just eliminating the public from public lands.
A sinking ship?
Has anyone read Mirriam and John Carver’s work on policy governance? Ask this school board if they are revisiting and evaluating their Community Linkage policies/plans and the Executive Limitations or just rubber stamping them each board meeting.
More than a year ago, I asked two school board members to think about this. Miriam and John would probably tell the board that there is something wrong with these plans if they are taking so much heat that they have to step out of policy governance and write their own policy about class size.
If you look even deeper, you’ll see that this board isn’t using the Carver model of Board Governance. They’re using the Colorado Association of School Executives or Colorado Association of School Boards form of policy governance.
Ask the Carvers what they think about one school board member being quoted profusely in the newspaper. Look around the community and you’ll find that the North Routt Community Charter School Board’s past and present members might be more educated in the Carver model of policy governance than many others in this school district. They have dedicated countless unpaid hours to learning and creating policies to avoid exactly what is happening in Steamboat.
Perhaps the Sound Off question this week isn’t a simple yes or no.
I’ve already spent more time and energy on this topic than my personal life can really afford, but there has been enough suffering at the hands of poor policy that I am compelled to write.
How much longer can our school community afford to live under the cloud of these policies that allow a CEO to work the system both ways and wield too much power? Is this totally the current CEO’s fault?
The answer doesn’t have to be destructive, but I feel it needs to be huge and radical. When these issues make it to the newspaper it means the school district has had a failure, a major malfunction.
The question becomes, who is at the helm and will lead the sinking ship safely to port for a multitude of repairs? Will they be using Band-Aids, super glue or really get after the problem by welding? Will they do it alone with empty promises? Are they brave enough to ask the right shipbuilders for help?
Will they truly keep the best interest of students in mind?
Teacher, Soda Creek Elementary School
In simple terms, policy governance is a method of corporate governance in which a board governs a corporation through the use of well-defined policies. Rather than micromanaging the workings of a corporation, the board creates a broad set of results policies (what they want) and executive limitations (the rules of the game). These policies are given to the CEO of the corporation whose performance is solely measured on whether she meets the specified results within the confines of the executive limitations.
Rather than running the corporation, the board charges itself with creating and reviewing its policies and limitations. The CEO runs the corporation.
In a school district, the board is the board of education, and the CEO is the superintendent of schools.
This form of corporate governance requires that the board speak with a single voice. Their role regarding representation of the people who elected them is limited to establishing results and executive limitations. All other authority is transferred to the CEO.
The board provided some of the advantages of policy governance in Sunday’s Steamboat Pilot & Today. Below are some of the disadvantages.
The shareholders of a school district are mostly parents. The end product of the corporation is the very education of the shareholders’ children. Because of this, parents often feel they need a stronger voice in the operation of the school district. Under policy governance, the board transfers its legislative authority to a non-elected official, the superintendent. The superintendent, who is under contract, can choose to listen or not listen to parents’ concerns without threat of voter recourse.
The school district is only as good as the CEO. The board solely evaluates the CEO. Board policy prohibits the board from formally communicating with employees of the school district on operational issues. Under this scenario, it seems unlikely that the board can make a sound determination of whether the CEO is within the boundaries of the board-set executive limitations. Without input from the administrators, teachers and staff, how does the board know what is going on within the schools?
Policy governance frustrates the constitutional rights of public employees. It is well established in constitutional law that public employees have the right to speak freely about issues of public concern. Steamboat Springs board policy B/SR-1 chills this right.
B/SR-1 is titled “Global Governance Management Connection” and reads: “The Board’s sole connection to the operational organization of the school district is the District Superintendent. This statement refers to operations and in no means deletes the Board commitment to staff relations and communications. The Board continues to believe in the informal person to person relationship between Board and staff by which the Steamboat Springs School District has traditionally benefited.”
This policy is vague. What is the operational organization of the school district? Can or has an issue of public concern ever fallen within the definition of “operational organization of the school district”? Is the definition of this term for the convenience of the board?
How can school employees decide what they can and cannot speak about if they cannot determine the limits of what falls into and outside of this policy? The end result, many employees do not speak up out of fear of retaliation when they should and have every right to speak.
Policy governance may be the right way to manage the school district if some changes are made to the policies in place. The main advantage of policy governance is that professionals do the administration and teaching, and, in theory, the board sets polices based on the desires of the community. Under this form of governance, the board does not micromanage the school district and instead focuses on strategic issues.
The changes I suggest to make policy governance work in Steamboat are:
The board allow formal communications with the employees of the district on non-employment-related issues.
The board allows the employees of the school district to be involved in the evaluation of the superintendent.
Establish a grievance procedure with the board for parents who do not agree with administrative policies established by the superintendent.
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