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Phongsavanh: School Committee members spread too thin

October 1, 2011

WOONSOCKET – Vimala Phongsavanh believes the School Committee on which she serves has too many subcommittees and wants her peers to take on a restructuring of the list of 19 panels.
Phongsavanh has offered the committee members a Power Point presentation detailing her concerns that members are spread too thin in their assignments to the subcommittees, and that consolidation of the list could result in better transparency and accountability for the boards.
On Wednesday, however, School Committee Chairman Marc A. Dubois suggested Phongsavanh may need to wait for the election of a new school committee in November before taking on her ambitious reworking of the list of boards.
Dubois is leaving his seat on the panel to run for City Council in the Nov. 8 election and a related primary, and School Committeewoman Linda Majewski is not seeking re-election. Phongsavanh and committee members Anita McGuire-Forcier and Eleanor Nadeau are among the 10 candidates seeking election to the committee in November.
“We have three meetings left,” Dubois said while noting that time is running out for action on any matter by the sitting panel. Changes of committee policy require two votes and that could not be scheduled within the time left to the sitting board, Dubois noted.
“You would be better off waiting until you have new members on the committee,” Dubois said.
Other members of the panel questioned the need for a major reworking of the list, given the requirements already on the subcommittees to comply with Open Meetings Law guidelines for posting public sessions and taking minutes, and also the fact that several of the panels are dormant after completing the tasks they were assigned to take on.
The school uniform committee has completed its task of adopting a school uniform policy that is now in effect and would only need to meet to make changes if needed, Majewski said.
Forcier said she understands Phongsavanh’s interest in looking at the make-up of the School Committee’s subcommittees but also sees some of the existing panels as entities run by other organizations such as the Parents Advisory Council (PAC). A committee member attends the PAC meeting but does so on a committee liaison basis, Forcier said. She, too, said some panels are more active than others and pointed to the Health and Safety Committee, on which she serves, as continuing its work to address community concerns on a regular basis.
Phongsavanh said she still wants to look at the roles of the different sub-panels and determine how they operate.
“I just want an understanding of how the subcommittees are running so we can develop a policy, a written policy, on how it is done.”
No more than two members of the committee are typically assigned to a subcommittee so as not to create a quorum for an official meeting of the full committee.
The existing panels include the Building Committee, activated when construction of new school buildings are proposed; the Facility and Planning Committee, to deal with day-to-day physical plant operations; the Finance Committee for budget matters; the Food Services Committee for cafeteria issues; the Transportation Committee; the Minority Concerns Committee; the Legislative Committee for General Assembly bills and state education laws; and Special Needs/Early Childhood committee.
There are also committees of the PTO/PAC; Personnel/Contracts; Policy; Recognitions; Safety; Sick Bank; Special Needs and Early Childhood; Strategic and Instructional Planning; Technology; Transportation; and the Woonsocket Area Career and Technical Center committee.

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