Friday, October 26, 2012

Fox C-6 School Board Meeting Minutes Issues

How accurate or how much detail should be included in school board meeting minutes?

Should Public Comments be documented with ANY of the topics of concern that were stated during Public Comment by a citizen?

For example, from the December 2010 Fox C-6 board meeting minutes my Public Comments were documented as, “Concerns with the district.”  Is that enough detail for the public to know what concerns were presented to the school board?

Would the school board be able to recall what those concerns were when they read the meeting minutes at the next board meeting and voted to approve the minutes as written?

In an email response from Dianne Brown the Fox C-6 School District superintendent dated May 17, 2011 regarding the lack of detail documenting my Public Comments, she informed me that:

“The Board secretary contacted MSBA’s legal counsel the following day after the April meeting.  They informed her that the district was in compliance in the manner in which the BOE minutes are reported.”  

Our superintendent's response was quite terse and stated that, "After reading your concerns, many are false and inaccurate."  Her response was only sent after I had emailed school board president Ruth Ann Newman and school board secretary on May 17, 2011 after never receiving a response from the school board per Policy 403 “All questions will be responded to by an appropriate person with the week wherever possible.”  This could be why it is a rare occurrence for people to speak during Public Comment because they rarely receive a response.

So, after never receiving a response from the school board concerning my questions that were expressed at the April 2011 board meeting, I emailed regarding how my December 2010 meeting comments were documented in the board meeting minutes as well as asking for a response from the questions and comments made at the April 2011 board meeting.

Do you think there was enough detail in the December 2010 board meeting minutes to know what my concerns were?  I would venture to say that an audio or video recording of the meeting would have had a bit more detail as to what questions were presented to the school board.

So, should school board meeting minutes be transcribed from an audio recording of the meeting or simply from what the board secretary heard at the meeting?  At the March 2012 school board meeting, Dianne Brown stated that:

We are finally ready for the forms and manuals and policies to be reviewed.  This would be an overhaul of all of the school district policies. They will be placed, I believe tomorrow night, Debby, on the website? And, sent out to staff or we will have a place that staff can log into.  We're not sure if we can send that big of documents for download. And we're going to leave them up until June so that staff can make recommendations and the public can make recommendations.  Then we'll bring those recommendations back and my guess is....". 

Dianne’s statement was transcribed from my audio recording taken at the March 2012 school board meeting.

By the way, audio and video recording school board meetings is permitted per Policy 0410 per the guidelines adopted in regulation 0410.

So, on March 29, 2012, a little over a week after Dianne’s statement at the board meeting, I emailed the school board secretary (Dianne Brown's secretary) and Ruth Ann Newman the board president and asked where I could find the updated district policies.  I received the following email response to my question from Dianne Brown:

“The draft of the Board Policies and Regulations are sent via email to the staff for comments (not for public review at this time in the process).  Policy review and adoption has always been handled in this manner. They then will be placed on the district web site after they have been adopted by the board.  Drafts of Board meeting minutes are not for public view (policy 0405).  Only board minutes that have been approved by the board are made public, which you can obtain on the website. You can view the March 20 meeting minutes upon approval of the April board meeting.  It usually takes a week or two, so please be patient.” 

I replied to Dianne Brown’s email and provided her with a transcript of what she stated at the March 2012 board meeting and received the following response from Dianne Brown:

“Hello Rich! Debby will gather all of this information and shoot it to you electronically today.  Please let us know if it all doesn't transmit.”

So, what is wrong with this picture, first of all, if I had not made an audio recording of Dianne’s statement made at the board meeting, I would have had nothing to back up what she said at the board meeting and the updated policies and regulations would have never been made available to the public for them to review and make recommendations to.  The district did finally post the documents on the district website after I followed up to make sure that they were per our superintendent's statement.   I wonder if I would have been told the same story initially by our superintendent if our school district audio or video recorded our board meetings?  I have asked the school board several times to record board meetings and post them online for the Public to view just like they do at other school districts and as they do at Arnold City Council meetings and at Jefferson County Council meetings.  In fact back in 2002, this was requested by another citizen and even documented in the board meeting minutes that a similar request was made.  So, I am not the first person requesting this.  However, to date, the school district refuses to record our board meetings and post them online.

But, the story doesn't end here!  When I received a Draft copy of the March Board meeting minutes, Dianne’s statement regarding the posting of the updated board policies was documented in the minutes as follows:

“Dr. Brown reported that the Board Policy/Regulations/Forms are read for Board review and comments.  These will also be available on the district website for viewing and reading for the Fox C-6 Staff." 

So, I emailed the board secretary and Ruth Ann Newman asking that the minutes be corrected to reflect the fact:

“that the documents would also be available on the district website for the Public to view, read and make recommendations to as well and that they will be left on the website until June for review.”

From this email, I received the following response from our school board secretary (Dianne Brown's secretary):

“The minutes that were transcribed are reflective of what I heard at the meeting.  The minutes are not a verbatim recording of the meeting.”

One of my friends that read our board secretaries response said it sure sounds to me like they need to record their meetings.

Should the minutes have been updated to reflect what Dianne stated at the board meeting?

Or, is it OK to just leave the minutes as they were written? 

I believe the board meeting minutes should have been updated to reflect what was actually stated at the meeting so the public would know that the documents would be placed on the district website.

In order to get a truly accurate documenting of our school board meetings, Fox C-6 needs to audio and/or video record board meetings and make them available online like other school districts or the public will never know what truly happened at our board meetings.  Needless to say, the board meeting minutes were not changed after my request.