Common Ground Board of Directors – Meeting April 27th, 2015 – Minutes

Present: John Jessen, Wendy Battles, Bob Parker, Beth Klingher, Jane Lee, Kim Futrell, Michael Doolittle, Melissa Spear, Joel Tolman, Liz Cox, Rebecca Holcombe, Betsy Sneath, Kimball Cartwright.

Regrets: Frank Mitchell

1. Welcome 

2. Minutes

Minutes were moved for approval by Wendy, with a second from John. The minutes were accepted without revision.

3. Business Requiring Approval 

Truancy Policy. Liz explained that the policy was being changed to reflect a commitment to report data on attendance to the board on a monthly basis, in accordance with a recommendation from the State Department of Education as part of charter renewal. Bob moved to accept the amended policy; Wendy seconded. The motion passed unanimously.

Homebound/Hospital Instruction Policy. Liz explained that Common Ground has been trying to respond to the needs of a number of students who are out of school for an extended period of time as a result of medical circumstances. New Haven is responsible for homebound instruction for their students; Common Ground will sometimes provide supplementary supports, based on needs. The new policy, based on recommendations from Connecticut Association of Boards of Education, focuses on conditions, length of absence, and what services will be provided. It’s responding to a need on the part of students, and requests from doctors. The policy includes ten hours per week of support.

Board members asked questions about the costs and regularity. Liz explained the need for the policy, given demand for the services.

Bob moved; Beth provided the second. The motion passed unanimously.

By Laws. Melissa explained a set of proposed changes to bylaws based on new expectations based on the State Department of Education, including:

  • The Executive Director is an ex officio non-voting member.
  • Background checks are now required of all board members, including a state and national criminal records check and DCF check; the
  • Executive Committee will review and recommend action based on the results.
  • No person related to board members may be employed by the organization.
  • Meetings will be posted on the corporate internet web site.
  • Any check over $5,000, with the exception of regular payroll checks, will require board approval. The second signature will need to be from a board member. Board members can approve some regular payments of $5,000 or more if they are regular payments are receive two staff signatures.
  • The board will review and approve bank statements and credit card statement reconciliations on a monthly basis.

Kim moved; Jane seconded. The motion passed unanimously.

Accounting Manual. Melissa described proposed changes in the accounting manual, in alignment with these changes in bylaws. These changes also (1) include a provision that cash receipts are deposited the day after they are received, (2) clarify internal and board procedures for credit card reconciliation, (3) add structured policy on employee advances, (4) prohibits personal use of Common Ground facilities and equipment, and (5) adds structure to the process for getting competitive quotes and bids, and (6) made changes to process for purchase orders.

Board members asked questions about the appropriate level for going to bid on service contracts, and made an amendment to the draft manual changes to increase the level at which a competitive bidding process is required to $10,000.

Board members also recommended a change to the list of exceptions for purchase order requisitions; the Executive Director may not make exceptions.

Beth moved; Bob seconded. The motion passed unanimously.

Employee manual. Melissa described a proposed change to the employee manual on personal use of facilities. Wendy moved; Jane seconded. The motion passed unanimously.

Board members recommended that employees sign off on the changed employee manual.

Invoices to Newfield for $164,944.75. Melissa presented the spreadsheet that she is using to track expenses for the construction project. She explained the process for reimbursement by the state. John moved; Beth seconded. The motion passed unanimously.

4. Common Ground Diversity work conversation with Niyonu Spann, CEIO (previously scheduled for March)

Sixteen members of Common Ground’s staff and board are part of the core partnership team, working with Planned Parenthood and All Our Kin. The work kicks off on May 1st.

5. Director’s Report Construction Update

Melissa provided the quick update on construction. The foundation should be complete by May 11. There will then be a pause for utilities, followed by the slab. The next step after that is the arrival of structure from Bensonwood sometime after June 11th, though there has been some slippage on their schedule. The only glitch to date: They ran into unsuitable soils (with too much organic matter), and had to remove them, coming out of the contingency fund.

6. Program Highlights

School report. Liz presented average daily attendance data for the current year; it’s at 93.6%, with the goal of 95%. Chronic absenteeism is at 12.5%; last year, we were above 16%. We have put a number of things in place, and are looking for ways we can do more.

Liz also provided a legislative update. 1096, which would have put a moratorium on charter growth, did not pass. But the new budget doesn’t include seat growth. There is a rally in Hartford next Thursday, May 7th.

Tomorrow, we are administering our first SBAC test; it will be a 4-day testing period. This is our baseline administration; mastery, growth, and achievement will be predicated on this year’s junior cohort. We are also going to start implementing MAP, as a system for benchmark assessments. We will also be participating in the School Leaders Network. Next month, we’ll bring a new educator evaluation proposal to the board.

Liz, Bob, and Claudia will meet in the next month to conduct Liz’s administrator evaluation, a process in which Bob will be trained.

Community Programs. April and May are our two busiest months of the year. Summer camp registration is going really well, using a new online registration system, up from last year’s totals. Camp staff hiring is done. We have two Yale fellows for this summer, and ten counselors from Youth @ Work, plus 10 for our summer youth crew.

Our seeding sale and farm festival is Saturday, May 16th, 10-3.

We just started construction on the $32,000 budget for creating an outdoor learning lab at Elm City Montessori. This project will be done in the next three weeks.

7. Development and Outreach

Rock 2 Rock recap. Rock to Rock went really well. $185,000 raised for 25 local environmental groups, 1300 registered riders, including $22,000 last year.

Great Give. The Great Give is May 5 and 6! We have a new video that will show up on our home page.

Common Table. We have 21 tickets sold, up a lot from last year!

Organizational dashboard. Joel explained that, by next month’s meeting, have drafted some key indicators aligned with our organizational strategic priorities. We would appreciate feedback from the board: What is most useful to you?

8. Budget

Melissa presented an early draft budget for 2015-16, broken down by program area. It is currently showing a roughly $30,000 deficit. An updated draft will be presented at the May board meeting, and a version ready for board approval in June.

Jane requested that Melissa share a copy of the budget comparing 14-15 and 15-1.

8. Public Participation


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