Board debates committee assignments

Published 9:57 pm Friday, January 10, 2020

Sixty percent and eighty percent.

Those two figures were a bone of contention for a pair of Suffolk School Board members who decried what they said was disproportionate representation by members on standing committees.

Phyllis Byrum, who was reappointed as board chairwoman, will serve as the primary member on 60 percent, or three, of the five standing committees — City Council Liaison, Finance, and Policy Review — while Dr. Judith Brooks-Buck, who was reappointed as vice chairwoman, will serve as the primary member on 80 percent of the committees — City Council Liaison, Finance, Policy Review, and Legislative.


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The board voted 5-1 during Thursday’s School Board reorganizing meeting in favor of the standing committee assignments, with Sherri Story voting no and Tyron Riddick abstaining.

“We have an awful lot of power that resides in 60 to 80 percent of the board,” said Story, who turned down a reappointment to the Policy Review Committee and was not appointed as a primary member of any other standing committee.

Byrum, as chairwoman of the board, recommends the standing committee appointments based on what she said was feedback from members on which committees they wanted to serve on.

The Pupil Personnel Committee will have David Mitnick, Lorita Mayo and Karen Jenkins — the only committee with three members.

Story was not appointed to any other standing committee, and, like board member Tyron Riddick, will not serve as a primary member on any of them.

Byrum recommended that Mayo be the alternate for the City Council Liaison Committee, Riddick the alternate for the Legislative Committee, and all other board members serving as alternates for the Finance and Pupil Personnel committees.

When Story said she did not want to serve on the Policy Review Committee, Byrum recommended herself to serve as the second member, while saying she would later recommend an alternate.

On the Legislative Committee, Byrum recommended board member Karen Jenkins to serve with Brooks-Buck, with another member, Tyron Riddick, serving as its alternate.

The appointments, and the appointment process, did not sit well with Story, who after Byrum announced her recommended appointments, asked what percentage of the standing committees would Byrum and Brooks-Buck be serving on.

Board member David Mitnick did the calculation on the percentage of standing committees, and then Story asked Byrum if she thought it was an equal representation of board members on standing committees.

“Well, Ms. Story, I would like to see you serve on the Policy Committee, but you said no,” Byrum said.
“Well, that doesn’t change that stat by much, does it,” Story said in response.

Story said she was hopeful that this year, the board would embrace a diverse group and that many board members could be involved in different committees.

“I don’t understand how a board can function cohesively if we have such a small percentage of people running the committees,” Story said. “That just doesn’t make sense to me, but I’m sure (Dr. Brooks-Buck) has a different opinion on that. But it does seem very unfair, and it doesn’t seem like there is a good distribution of the school board on standing committees.”

Brooks-Buck responded to Story’s statement, saying that, going into her eighth year on the board, she had never calculated how the representation on committees was divided.

“That speaks not to a policy issue, but a personal issue,” Brooks-Buck said. “I can’t deal with that. That’s not my problem. That’s somebody else’s. … The reality is we have work to do and we need to get it done, and if I’m willing to do it, that’s fine, if somebody else is willing to do it, (that’s fine).”

Brooks-Buck said everyone on the board had the opportunity to share with each other their credentials to serve on various committees, and that it was not fair to give the public the impression that other board members had no input.

“It wasn’t that Mrs. Byrum knew that she would be elected,” Brooks-Buck said.

Mitnick said he, too, was concerned about the standing committee assignments. He said he signed up for two committees — City Council Liaison and Legislative — for which he was not given an opportunity to serve.

“I just don’t understand the rationale behind how the committees are set up,” Mitnick said. “They are working committees, and I think each of us on the board is willing to work.”

Byrum suggested that she could remove herself and Brooks-Buck from the Policy Review Committee. Story said she thought that committee should have three members to be more effective, but other than the Pupil Personnel Committee, the standing committees have two board members each, and an alternate or alternates.

Riddick said the standing committee selection process has to be fixed.

“Right now, it’s tradition versus what’s in writing,” he said.

Jenkins, who offered to pull herself off of the Legislative Committee before the vote, said the board needs to move forward to help students, staff and parents who depend on the board to serve them.

“I don’t want any frowning faces that I wasn’t on this committee, because we’re all adults here, and we need to come together as adults and show ourselves, as adults, as examples that we can get along and we can get the job done,” Jenkins said, “and get (it) done well because our students, our children and parents, our administrators out here, are dependent on us.

“And we can’t take an hour trying to figure out who’s going to be on a committee. That’s why we put things in place.”