With so many issues still surfacing in the newly formed Shelby County School district, at least one school board member wants to make sure its employees have a way to be heard when expressing concern about them.
David Reaves had planned Tuesday night to present to the SCS board at large a resolution that would allow district employees to have “empowerment” regarding their jobs as educators. The idea, said Reaves, is to create a policy in which administrators and teachers could approach board members about specific issues without fear of retribution.
It’s a fear, said Reaves — a Bartlett resident who will remain one of the seven board members of the unified district when 16 members drop off later this year — that he’s heard from several employees. The issue is particularly serious, he said, from school principals because they are closer to the central office administration.
“The whole process has made people a little gun shy,” said Reaves. “I want to make sure that these people get 100 percent representation from board members.”
As it stands, school district employees are not represented by any particular union that can speak on their behalf if necessary. Reaves said he is aware several unions that represent certain factions of employees are attempting to have themselves recognized by the board. But Reaves, who said he understands the need for universal representation of all employees, believes such unions will be more detrimental than helpful.
“I want to be able to have feedback from everyone,” said Reaves. “I want employees to feel as though they can approach board members with ideas, and that those ideas will lead to us being able to make recommendations for action.”
The need for such a resolution has come after several recent administrative policies have come under fire. For example, the district put in an automated system to handle transfer requests for students and teachers within the district. But the system had glitches, including one instance where a transfer request was put in for a set of twins. One twin was accepted for the school transfer, while the other twin was denied, said Reaves.
“A system is a system,” he said. “We’ve had to go back through and make some manual adjustments on a case-by-case basis.
“But this will allow us to have a formalized way to hear such grievances and do something about it,” said Reaves. “We’ve hired a superintendent to do these things through policies. But there’s no way to do a judicial review of the cabinet in that office.”
Reaves hopes that with the formalized policy in place, employees will feel more comfortable about approaching board members about such issues and not worry that they are jeopardizing their jobs while voicing their concerns.
Any vote Tuesday night would not put such a policy in place. Once Reaves presents such a motion and it’s accepted, the resolution would get passed onto the internal board operations committee so that the committee could create such a policy to bring back to the board during a subsequent meeting at a later date. The board would then vote on the issue as part of its agenda for that meeting.
Reaves said he believes most of the board members would be in support of such a policy. His only concern is that some board members — specifically former Memphis City School board members who might be more sympathetic to individual unions — might try to add parallel unions to the policy for certain subsets of people.
“To me, that’s a waste of the efforts of this policy,” said Reaves. “I think it would violate the spirit of what we’d be trying to do.”