Our View: School Board erred
April 20, 2004
The Steamboat Springs School Board erred last week when it came out of executive session and held a discussion on the Knowledge and Skills Based-Pay system.
The board’s mistake, while innocent, was serious. The Colorado Open Meetings Law is the public’s tool to ensure access to government. While we do not believe the School Board broke the law, we do believe the board violated the spirit of the law.
At its April 13 meeting, the School Board held a discussion on KSBP before tabling action on the pay plan until a future meeting. At that point, several audience members who had attended the meeting specifically to hear the discussion of the controversial pay plan left.
They had no reason not to. The only items remaining on the meeting agenda were the closed session followed by debriefing and planning for future meetings. Teachers and residents went home presuming that all the board had to say about KSBP had been said until a future meeting.
But when the board returned from executive session, board members realized there was not a convenient meeting date prior to spring break. The board then decided to proceed with further KSBP discussion. Since secretary Diane May, who normally takes the board minutes, had gone home, Superintendent Donna Howell took notes. Only the board members and Howell were present for the discussion.
Board President Paula Stephenson said the board’s intent was pure — to make progress on KSBP. “(The discussion) wasn’t planned,” Stephenson said. “We got out of executive session and talked about when we’d be able to schedule a meeting on KSBP. We ended up spending probably another 45 minutes talking about our stances and trying to find commonality.”
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While the discussion may have seemed sensible and practical to board members, it was unfair to the public, particularly those who came to the meeting for the discussion.
Residents should be able to trust that governing bodies will follow the posted agendas for public meetings unless a change is announced. Residents also should be able to trust that when an item is tabled for a future meeting, that the item won’t come up again after everyone has gone home.
The Colorado Open Meetings Law states “that the formation of public policy is public business and may not be conducted in secret.” In essence, the final 45 minutes of the April 13 board meeting was conducted in secret.
We don’t believe anyone on the School Board intended to hide the board’s KSBP discussion from the public. But one of the board members should have recognized that the discussion was inappropriate and moved to adjourn the public meeting until the public could again participate.