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School board might agree to get along

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SMITHFIELD — Johnston school board members haven’t gotten along well in recent months.

So last week, they reviewed but took no action on a “operating agreement” that would govern their interactions going forward.

“The point of this document is to help guide our board,” said board member Tracie Zukowski, who read highlights of the proposed agreement.

Among many things, the document lays out “interpersonal behaviors, expectations and norms ... to promote positive communication and proactively establish parameters (that) facilitate the management of potential interpersonal conflict between and among (the) superintendent of schools and members of the board of education.,” Zukowski said.

“We do recognize that sometimes conflict does happen between board members, but it can be managed with certain considerations,” she said.

Among them, board members should:

• Refrain from passive participation in any discussion or topic or subject or acts of criticism outside in the public.

• Praise and reinforce each other, lift each other up and accentuate the positive and authentic manner that each board member has.

• Disagree agreeably and maintain the focus on students and staff.

• Provide constructive feedback.

• Never assume that any board member knows or understands the situation at hand or believes what is being said. “So in other words, ask questions and verify,” Zukowski said.

Also, “we’re asking that all electronic devices be turned,”she said.

The guideline would appear to be for board member Todd Johnson, who has told the news website that he has recorded some conversations with other board members.

The agreement also reminds board members that they set policy while the superintendent manages the day-to-day operations of Johnston County’s public schools. “So the superintendent has a role and each board member as one collective agent has a role that we must uphold,” Zukowski said.

In other words, board members should “refrain from micromanaging,” she said.

Former interim superintendent Jim Causby cited interference from some school board members in his decision to resign.

The proposed agreement also reminds board members they should never act for personal motives, they should make no promises to staff and they should refrain from politicizing personal and operational issues.

Board members and the superintendent will share information that affects the school system with each other in a timely fashion, the agreement states. “So we will all be aware of praises as well as concerns that our constituents and staff have, so we’re all on the same page,” Zukowski said.

Also, the superintendent will provide the board with a weekly digest and, if need be, pass along any essential information in between weekly digests.

Board members who receive communication from the Johnston County Association of Educators will share the communication with the superintendent, who will share it with other members as soon as practical, the document states.

“Directing and supervising district administrators and other district staff is the sole responsibility of the superintendent of Johnson County Public Schools,” Zukowski added.

When board members receive emails from school system employees, they will share those emails with the superintendent, the proposed agreement states. When they receive emails from the public, board members will thank the sender and then forward the email to the superintendent, the agreement adds.

When speaking with constituents, board members should remind them that while the board is made up of individuals, it acts collectively, the document says.

“You are welcome to talk to any of us,” Zukowski said. “That’s why you voted us in. That’s what we’re here for, to represent you. But individually, Tracie Zukowski can’t make any promises. I have to come to my board, and we have to all be on the same page.”

But while any constituent can talk to any board member, the board chairman or his designee would be the sole point of contact with the media, the proposed agreement says.

“We want to leave a legacy of teamwork for Johnston County Public Schools,” Zukowski said. “This document is going to help us to stay focused on what’s most important — our staff needs, our student needs and achievement across the school system.”

“And I just want to say,” she added, her voice cracking with emotion, “that I’m so proud of the community members and the staff members who’ve stepped up this past week to spread the positive and remind every single one of us what our jobs are and what we should be doing.”