By Susan Meek, parent
October 9, 2013
Denver Post Your Hub
Public school boards are required to discuss the public business of schools before the public. Executive sessions or closed-door sessions are the exception to this requirement and are few and far between, and are meant for personnel issues, law suits, etc. Given that closed-door sessions have moved from 8% of total meeting time in 2009 to nearly 50% of total meeting time in 2013, the topic of executive sessions and the Open Meetings Law is an area of great interest for many citizens in Douglas County. Given this drastic change from discussing public school business before the public, there is truly a need to provide greater reporting to the public on what transpires during executive sessions.
At the December 2012 Douglas County Board of Education retreat, school board Director Williams stated, “As I thought about education, I put together some of my ideas that I am going to give out to the Board during executive session.” Of course, a school board director’s opinions on education does not meet the strict threshold of what qualifies to be discussed behind closed doors during a public school board meeting. The public would like to hear and be involved in those discussions. Another example is one which resulted in more than 500 local citizens signing a public petition asking the school board to hold public discussions about potential ballot measures that were being deliberated behind closed doors during executive sessions. When asked what those measures were about – funding, vouchers, school safety, etc. — Board President Carson replied, “We’re still deliberating. That’s really all there is to say because the board hasn’t made a decision.” The public was removed from hearing any deliberation or even knowing what topic was being discussed.
The law and policy of this state affirm that the formation of public policy is public business and may not be conducted in secret. The intent of the Open Meetings Law is to ensure that the public has access to meetings, including school board meetings, where substantial taxpayer resources are allocated. The law guarantees that citizens will be given a greater opportunity to become fully informed on issues of public importance so that meaningful participation in the decision-making process may be achieved.
It is time to include the public in the decisions being made that impact our local public schools. It is time to value public input.