Education leaders seek ways to improve communication

2013-01-08T23:45:00Z 2013-01-31T10:03:07Z Education leaders seek ways to improve communicationBy ELYSIA CONNER Casper Star-Tribune The Billings Gazette
January 08, 2013 11:45 pm  • 

CHEYENNE, Wyo. — State education officials on Tuesday sought ways to better communicate in order to complete work on a statewide system of education accountability required by the Wyoming Legislature.

At the State Board of Education meeting in Cheyenne, topics of discussion between board and Wyoming Department of Education representatives included ways to plan their work to avoid confusion on matters such as what statutory tasks belong to each entity and how financial issues involving both groups could be made clearer.

The board also discussed how to answer legislators’ questions during the session that began Tuesday and how to best communicate the board’s positions.

The board took no action during the Tuesday work session, and the discussion will continue during the board’s business session Wednesday.

Despite the lack of action, “It has been a productive day,” board chairman Joe Reichardt said after the meeting.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Cindy Hill, also a board member, agreed.

“I think we’re working together, and we all recognize there are improvements to be made,” Hill said. “It’s complex, the accountability, and we all have some communication improvement areas that we would like to see enhanced. And so we will.”

Board member Sue Belish pointed out a need to plan after, and perhaps during, the legislative session which parties will be responsible for what new accountability tasks.

“It seems like we’re always behind and that we're always trying to catch up,” Belish said during the meeting. “And that just feels unsettling.”

The Wyoming Legislature may make significant changes in how an accountability system would be implemented. For example, the Select Committee on Statewide Education Accountability in December passed motions that included proposing legislation to shift responsibilities from the department to the board.

John Masters, the Wyoming Department of Education accountability director, and board Coordinator Paige Fenton Hughes agreed to meet daily through the legislative session to plan work between the department and the board.

“(Lawmakers) can bury you in a big hurry, and I think communication between you two is critical,” said board member Ron Micheli, a former legislator.

“This is an opportunity for us just to strengthen that collaboration and to try to work together to advance some common ideas,” Fenton Hughes said after the meeting. “The board is taking advantage of an opportunity to have their voice heard on some important issues.”

Among other issues board members and department officials discussed was the creation of a clearer process for paying bills. Some recent confusion between the entities involved invoices that had not been paid to consultants. Department officials said they needed verification that work was complete and they could authorize payment, while board members worried consultants hadn’t been paid in a timely fashion. Board members said the matter has since been cleared up, but that it shows a need to establish a process, possibly a checklist.

Board members and department officials also talked about informing the board when work is initiated in order to avoid efforts being duplicated, Reichardt said.

They also discussed how to improve communication with the public and legislators, and when a special board meeting is required. The latter issue arose when Hill in a December memo to the rest of the board expressed concern that a majority of the board had not been more and earlier involved in a memo to the Select Committee on Statewide Education Accountability.

"I think we're consistently and constantly working on improving communication," board member Walt Wilcox said, noting several entities are involved in the accountability effort. "The more we're talking about processes to improve communication, the more likely it is to happen."

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