Sunday, March 21, 2010

Does a School Board 'Retreat' Violate the Open Meeting Law?

That is the question raised in this article in The Republican today. The Springfield School Committee is spending the weekend at a resort in the Berkshires for a training program led by a group called the Center for Reform of School Systems.

The district attorney gave the gathering a green light. Strictly speaking, the "retreat" would not violate the open meeting law, provided -- and this is an important proviso -- the group engages in no deliberations. The law defines "deliberation" as "a verbal exchange between a quorum of members of a governmental body attempting to arrive at a decision on any public business within its jurisdiction."

In my opinion, the school committee is treading on dangerous turf here. If they are huddled together over the course of a couple days, with a facilitator whose agenda is school reform, discussing this all day, sharing cocktails and meals in the evenings, it seems highly unlikely that they can avoid discussing school policy and business. If they cross that line, and discuss matters within their decision-making purview, then they have violated the law, in my opinion.

1 comment:

Casey Warren said...

Although it might be hard for the committee not to talk about their work, they are not in any violation of any open meeting law. Superintendent Ingram reassured athat the purpose of the training was to strengthen the effectiveness of the superintendent-school committee governance team and that no official business or deliberations would be taking place.

The open meetings law is state and federal statutes that require that certain meetings of public agencies be open to the press and the public. A good open meetings law will specifically define a meeting by giving the number of members of who will be present to constitute a public meeting, by stating that all deliberative stages of the decision making process are considered meetings and must be open to the public, and by stating that social gatherings are not considered meetings and are therefore excluded from provisions of the law. In all but 13 states open meetings laws contain provisions that no final action can be taken at an executive session, that the board or commission must reconvene in public before a final determination on any issue can be made. If this in fact, one of these 13 states, then even if they do talk about the issue on the retreat, no decision final decision will be able to be made. Reguardless, this meeting has been announced in advance and the public notified, leaving this meeting in no violation of the law.