letter to the editor

About School District Transparency: “Right and Proper Trumps Legal Every Time”


Chairman Griffiths:

I have had an opportunity to read all of the documents that you sent me regarding the rules, regulations and procedures for conducting School Board regular meetings, particularly with regard to the preparation and execution of agendas. You are correct that School Board policy for agendas, “Electronic Posting of Agenda and Agenda-Related Documents,” is more stringent than the state requires and I applaud the Board for that.

Unfortunately, the agenda procedures outlined are, as often as not, honored in the breach. Phrased differently, the Board frequently conducts its business at a regular meeting that is in violation of the requirement that “those items on the agenda which have back-up, supporting, or explanatory materials to be considered by the Board members, such materials shall be posted on the web site and hyper-linked to the appropriate item on the agenda” and that shall be done at least seven (7) days in advance.

The only “punishment” when the Superintendent fails to link backup documentation is a complaint by a Board member. The public has no recourse to this failure, which is most unfortunate. I do not recall any time when a Board member has complained about the absence of linkage. Rather, Board members routinely agree to discuss items that they may well have not read as it was not available to them.

The above mentioned rules, regulations and procedures for “regular meetings” are very clear and specific. However, you did not send me the rules, regulations and procedures for “workshops”. I did some investigating on my part and learned that you did not send me that information mainly because it does not exist. The Board’s policies and procedures includes only a very terse description of workshops and there is virtually nothing as to how they are to be conducted. Furthermore, there is nothing with regard to the development and publication of the agenda for a workshop.

When we discussed the difference between “regular meetings” and “workshops”, you emphasized repeatedly that the salient distinction between the two is that action cannot be taken by the Board at a workshop. Technically, legally, that is correct. However, I would suggest that that is a difference without a distinction.

The School Board commonly has general meetings in which they conduct both a workshop and a regular meeting back to back at the same venue. The chairman simply bangs the gavel and the workshop ends as the regular meeting begins. If one is not paying close attention, you would not notice the difference.

Workshops in the Monroe County School District are a matter of routine, not exception. While the Board and the Superintendent may appreciate the action as the Board slides from a workshop into a regular meeting, I do not believe that the general public has that same appreciation. The Board certainly has made no effort to educate the public accordingly.

Regardless, the fact that the School Board does not have the same rules, regulations and procedures for workshops that it has for regular meetings does not mean that it cannot. There is absolutely no reason why the Board cannot insist, formally or informally, that the Superintendent prepare and execute an agenda with links for a workshop exactly as he does for a meeting. That, I would suggest, is the right and proper way for the Board to conduct business even if it is not mandated by law.

Educating the public about the content of a workshop will have the salubrious effect of educating the Board as well. If it is the intent of the School Board to conduct all of its business in an open and transparent manner, then requiring the same rules for workshops as apply to regular meetings should be the standard.

Right and proper trumps legal every time. You will never err by doing the right and proper thing. A full and comprehensive agenda for workshops must be mandatory.

Larry Murray

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