Having spent two decades working in the private sector before running for our local school board, I was unaccustomed to a school district’s degree of openness. Like most public agencies, ours is essentially an open book—all of our board meetings are held in public (with limited exceptions), all of our contracts are public, vendor bidding is public, all decisions are made public, and all employees’ salaries are public.
That makes a lot of sense, doesn’t it? We use tax dollars as our main source of income. We are stewards and trustees of these taxpayer dollars. And we must hold ourselves accountable to the taxpayers for the prudent use of that money. We must be transparent. There are only a few exceptions allowing for secrecy, including areas such as student discipline, employee discipline, and discussions of lawsuits.
For me, transparency took some getting used to, as business interactions are by and large secret. Secrecy allows businesses to shield the “sausage making” process from their stakeholders, make decisions much more quickly, and pick and choose which information to make public or even disclose to their own employees. Through my straddling of both the private-sector and public-sector worlds, I have noticed that most people don’t think through the implications of these fundamental differences on how an organization can be managed. Although these contrasts should not be used as an excuse to defend poorly performing public institutions or public representatives, simply saying “just do it the way business does it” ignores reality. There is a fundamental difference between learning from private organizations and copying them.…Read More