Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Bridgeport Spaulding Schools And Transparency

Every year the schedule is set for the regular school board meetings and that schedule is available on the Board Of Education page on the schools website and also posted by the door at the high school. I share that information each year here on my blog so the public can easily find it.  They also hold special board meetings if necessary and they used to hold the boards' committee meetings on a fairly regular basis.  They have the Finance/Building & Grounds Committee, the Policy Committee, the Personnel Committee and also a Curriculum Committee.
Since the spring of 2015 I have been getting notices by email of any special board meetings and any committee meetings.  I had requested to be notified by email of the meetings and it has not been a problem until now.  Back in December 2016 I sent an email to the school administration inquiring about the meeting notices because I had not received any in months.  I was told that they had not had any committee meetings in months except for a Curriculum Committee meeting that had been held in October 2016.  I didn't inquire as to why I had not received a notice for that one because I just figured it was an oversight.  I was very busy back in October and probably would not have been able to attend anyways.  I also asked in this email if they would still be sending out notices in 2017 for the special and committee meetings and was told they would.  They asked if I would like to remain on the list for those meeting notices and I said that yes I would.
We are now in the middle of February 2017 and I have yet to receive a notice of any special or committee meetings.  They held a special board meeting on January 30th 2017 that was a training session for the board members conducted by the MASB.  I did not receive any notice of that but did happen to find it on the BOE page on the school website.   I was surprised that I didn't get a notice but didn't pursue my puzzlement at not getting a notice.
At the regular board meeting on Monday February 13th, I discovered that they had held another Curriculum Committee meeting earlier that day and again I had not received a notice that the meeting would be held. After the regular board meeting was over I did inquire as to whether they would still be sending out the email notices about meetings and am still trying to understand the response I got.  I am not sure if I will ever get another notice about any special board or committee meetings again, but my impression is that I will not get them any longer.  My understanding of the conversation is that the special board meetings will be posted on the BOE page on the school website, and that notices for committee meetings will be posted by one door at the high school.  I did look after I left the board meeting and the notice for the curriculum meeting was posted there.

All these meetings must by law be "open" which means that anyone can attend them and I am free to record them.  From the BOE Bylaws and Policies it states:
Section 1000 - Board Bylaws
1375 Mailing of Notices and Documents to the Public

Recognizing that the public has a right to request, in writing, paper copies of any Board  documents  that  are  created,  issued  or  disseminated  on  a  regular  basis,  such  as: Notices  of  scheduled  Board  meetings,  Board  Committee  meetings  (if  such  meetings  are posted by Board policy) agendas, minutes and newsletters, the Board hereby sets the cost of  such  items  at prevailing  cost  per  page.  Printed  or  electronic  news  media  are specifically exempted from any subscription fee.

Approved: December 14, 2015
LEGAL REF: MCL 15.233, 15.266

So it would appear to me that according to their own bylaws that they would provide me with any notices of the special board and committee meetings.

The Michigan Open Meeting Act is confusing at times to go through but the jest of it is that all meetings must be open and posted prior to the meetings being held. As far as any requirements to notify members of the public, it could be a little clearer in my opinion.  I found this on the states OMA workbook:
A public body must send copies of the public notices by first class mail to a requesting party, upon the party's payment of a yearly fee of not more than the reasonable estimated cost of printing and postage.  Upon written request, a public body, at the same time a public notice of a meeting is posted, must provide a copy of the public notice to any newspaper published in the state or any radio or television station located in the state, free of charge.

Again here I would interpret it to mean that I should be notified of these meetings since I have requested to be notified.

The school fills the minimum legal requirement of the meetings being posted by just posting them on the BOE webpage and on one of the doors at the high school, but in my opinion it is a slap in the face to the spirit of the law.   All public bodies must be perceived by the public that they serve as being "Open and Transparent".  If the Bridgeport schools are no longer going to send out notices to members of the public of meetings, then that is what I call operating in the shadows.  Do they really think that members of the public should have to go to the school everyday and check that one door to see if there are going to be any meetings?  Some people might think that they don't want the public to know about the meetings, don't want the public attending.
Back in May 2015 there was an issue concerning no notice being sent out about a committee meeting.  John Rhines had forwarded me an email exchange between Pat Nelson and Carol Selby concerning that meeting. I don't know where John Rhines got that email exchange from.  In the email that Pat Nelson sent Carol Selby, he expressed concern that they had finally begun rebuilding trust with the community and the staff and he was worried that if the meeting was not being posted, that they may be in violation of the OMA and would erode the trust of the community and they would be perceived as not embracing transparency.  I do have the email exchange and can provide it if anyone doubts it.

I have to wonder what has changed since then?  Do they no longer feel they need to be perceived as open and transparent?  With everything going on with this school district now, I would think they would want to work extra hard at building the trust of the community.
So Bridgeport, if I ever get another notice of a special board meeting or a committee meeting, I will try to attend and share the video with the public.  Sorry,  but I do not have the time to go to the high school everyday and check to see if there will be meetings.  Sad dark days for Bridgeport it looks like to me.

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