The Highland School Board, on a 4-2 vote, rejected a board’s member request to have an attorney review material prior to board meetings to ensure as much information as possible is made available up front to citizens and the press.
Only Board member voted David Raymond voted in favor of Robert Miller’s proposal, which would have had the board’s lawyer look over the next three to four meeting packets.
Miller believes everything inside the board’s open meeting packets can be acquired via the Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA), and thus it all should be made available when board members get their packets. (This is the practice of the Highland City Council, which meets twice per month. Highland School Board meets once a month.)
Board president René Friedel, along with vice president Duane Clark, Joe Mott and Jim Gallatin rejected Miller’s request. Board member Steven Price was absent.
“It all comes down to holding a government body accountable for their actions,” Miller said via telephone Tuesday morning. “Why (the press and general public) don’t have the same documents I have, I am at a quandary why this is happening.
“I thought my request (Monday night) was pretty simple. I just want to get the information out to the people. But it seems like there wasn’t too much support for doing that. We aren’t making it user-friendly for people who want to come to a board meeting and get complete information.”
Clark, who is an attorney by trade, said he believes it would be a “waste of tax dollars money” to have an attorney look at the School Board packets.
Friedel said she also “disagreed wholeheartedly” with Miller’s view.
This month’s meeting packet was made available to the School Board on Thursday of last week. The packet was 80 pages. It would have been considerably larger if it included the proposed $29 million school budget and the district’s monthly financial report.
By comparison, the meeting information released to the News Leader was only 49 pages. Superintendent Mike Sutton said among the things not included in the newspaper’s packet were the meeting minutes from the board’s prior meeting, principals’ reports from each of the schools, and resignation letters from four staff members.
Sutton said he does not include the resignation letters in the media’s packet because these letters sometimes contain “sensitive information.”
The News Leader packet also did not include a copy of the proposed budget, the district’s financial report and the application for Recognition of Schools.
In the future, Sutton said he will include the principals’ reports (which was 11 pages this month) in the media packet.
But the superintendent said he will not release any of his personal notes, and any of the board’s pending actions inside the media packet. He cited the meeting minutes as an example.
Sutton said he meets every Wednesday before each monthly board to fine tune the meeting agenda with Friedel and Clark.
Up until the last two months, the News Leader has received only the the meeting agenda, which must by law be posted 48 hours prior to the meeting, with no supporting data from the district. However, the school district does regularly provide data to the newspaper when specifically requested.
Other requests rejected
In addition to a more robust meeting packet, Miller also requested to have a couple of other items placed on Monday’s meeting agenda. Both of his motions failed, including:
▪ A recommendation that the meetings agenda being posted by the Wednesday prior to the board meeting instead of the Friday prior. He said there have been a number of instances where he hasn’t been able to read the packets in their entirety before the monthly meeting.
▪ A recommendation that the board review, discuss and update how it responds to FOIA requests. By law, the board has five days to respond to a FOIA request. Sutton said the district replies to all such requests.
Audio tapes will be kept
Up until two months ago, the School Board approved a consent agenda by taking one vote. That consent agenda at the time had such items as meetings minutes, bills, the destruction of meeting audio tapes, which are 18 months or older, approved personal changes (including new staff, retirement and resignations).
The board now considers personal changes while discussing new business and takes a separate vote on new staff, retirements and resignations.
On Monday, the board by a 3-2 approved Miller’s request not to destroy the audio tapes from executive sessions which are 18 months are older. Raymond and Gallatin supported Miller on the request.
Miller said he didn’t want to have those tapes destroyed, because he was not serving on the board during last year’s contentious teacher’s strike, and he wanted to hear what was said at the time.
Friedel and Clarke, who were serving on the board during the strike, voted to have the tapes destroyed. Mott arrived about 15 minutes late at the meeting, and was not present when that vote was taken.
Mott later questioned why Miller was making his agenda requests.
“Is it because of the media?” he said.
FFA trip, not on agenda, approved
The board, by a 5-0 vote (with Miller voting present), approved the FFA’s request to send 15 students to next month’s FFA convention in Louisville, Ky. Sutton, who found out about trip earlier Monday, advised the board not to vote on the trip on Monday since it was not even on the meeting’s agenda. The two-day trip will be Oct. 28-30. The next school board meeting will be Oct. 26.
Voting on an item not on the agenda is a violation of the Open Meetings Act, Sutton said.
Sutton's recommendation was to approve the trip himself until the Board could officially approve the trip at the October board meeting so that travel plans could be in place.