Thursday, May 28, 2015

Why Minooka CCSD 201 Needs a Whistleblower Protection Policy

The main functions of a school board are to set a vision for the district and to provide oversight by ensuring that district personnel are meeting the vision set for the district in a professional, ethical and legal manner.

One of the key problems of a hierarchical organization like a school district is making sure that those at the upper tier of the hierarchy, such as school board members, are kept fully informed of important issues concerning the lower tiers of the hierarchy, such as teachers and aides. The school board should be made aware of the concerns that teachers, aides and other staff have regarding what is going on in their classrooms and at their schools, ideas that they might have on how the district could improve in its job of educating students, and any significant complaints that they may have regarding the educational process or their employment. Unfortunately, this type of information does not always reach the school board.

The school board also needs to ensure that those in management do not abuse their authority over teachers and staff, and sometimes even principals, by stifling the flow of information, ideas and complaints from employees to the school board.

I cannot tell you how many times I have heard about the "chain of command" in our school district.  It has been said many times that teachers or other staff should not be bringing issues to the school board but should rather follow their "chain of command" if they have ideas or problems with their job or with the educational process affecting students.  For example, this means that if a teacher has an issue they would like to raise, they need to raise it with their building principal.  It is then up to the principal to discuss the issue with the superintendent, who will presumably discuss it with the school board.  When the "chain of command" works properly, information flows up and decisions or directions flow down.

But what happens when that doesn't happen? What recourse does a teacher, for example, then have to let the school board know about their concern? Well, they should be able to come to a school board meeting and tell the school board what they want them to know. Or be able to ask for a meeting to discuss the issue with the school board. Or even be able to send an email to the school board. But employees in our district have not always been encouraged to do that, and some may feel that they have even suffered adverse job actions as a result of their doing this because they failed to follow their "chain of command."

So, let's talk a little about the concept of a "chain of command," a concept that is borrowed from the military.

What the district has done is to borrow one concept from the military but omitted the countervailing concept of whistleblower protection.  The concept of the chain of command allows the hierarchy to function on a day-to-day basis.  The concept of whistleblower protection allows issues and complaints to by-pass the chain of command and jump some or all levels of the hierarchy.  This concept serves a number of purposes: (1) it allows those at the top of the hierarchy to, at times, receive unfiltered information from all levels of the hierarchy; (2) it allows those at the top of the hierarchy to ensure that the mid-level managers are held accountable; and (3) it allows those on the "front lines" to know that they have a viable outlet for complaints without threat of retaliation.

Many types of disclosures are already protected under Federal and state law.  Other types of disclosures are not protected by statute but may be protected by common law or under constitutional provisions.  A whistleblower protection policy would protect disclosures that are currently in the "gray" areas or do not receive legal protection.  These would include disclosures such as those issues brought to the attention of the school board by teachers at a school board meeting.

Some will say that a whistleblower protection policy obstructs the day-to-day operation of an organization.  Basically, you don't want to have employees running amok and tattling on their supervisor every time their supervisor tries to direct them in their job--which supervisors are obviously allowed and required to do.  A whistleblower protection policy would not allow staff to disparage, insult or undermine their supervisors or otherwise impede on their supervisors legitimate decision-making authority.

Rather, a whistleblower protection policy would allow all staff the opportunity to notify the school board of important issues that should not be "swept under the rug" and which they feel their supervisors may be keeping from the school board.  Such issues generally do not get better with age and should be dealt with as promptly as possible so they do not grow into larger issues or infect the culture of an organization.  Such a policy would encourage staff to speak freely with the school board if they felt that their legitimate ideas or concerns were being stymied by their "chain-of-command" without fear of reprisal.

Whistleblower protection policies only make sense in an organization that cares not only that the job gets done (the "ends") but how the job gets done (the "means").  In other words, if one believes that the "ends justify the means," then a whistleblower protection policy is a foreign concept.  If one cares both about "ends" and "means," then such a policy is warranted.

1 comment:

  1. Hello Mr Martin
    I have been appalled in recent years to hear about the salaries and additional compensation for superintendents in Minooka. As if that is not enough, parting gifts such as continuing to pay medical insurance etc. is also sprinkled around like fairy dust.
    If I may please ask that in this new search, we do not have to meet salary compensation that is ridiculous in amount and additional benefits. For example, why should the highest paid people not pay their own TRS, and insurance? I believe that this person does not need experience but be hard working, ethical and willing to espouse the ideals of Minooka and focus on children. It looks to me that they have been focused on power, control and more and more money, even as they leave their job.
    I am asking that Minooka lead the way on taking fiscal responsibility for the compensation packages to all new hires. I just read that the board is worried that they will not get quality candidates. This is a laughable statement in my estimation.
    I think we should be worried and take into consideration the state of affairs of Illinois, the pension crisis, the impact the Gov Rouner is trying to exert on public education, and his latest approach to privatizing education utilizing Charter schools, and eroding local control of public schools by appointing the committee members that charter schools can appeal to if they are denied by the local school boards.
    Thank you for letting me express my opinions.
    Mary Lou Salato