School Board Meets (and Meets and Meets) Where the Sun Don’t Shine
By DAVIDA AMENTA and
ShorewoodNewsroom staff writers
But when those adults are a government body with $65 million in public money to play with, what they do is the public’s business.
Can you imagine what the Shorewood School Board was doing when it slammed the door on taxpayers 14 times this year – an average of one closed door meeting every other week since January 1, 2021? We aren’t talking prurient interests here, but civics.
Wisconsin state law is clear that governmental bodies can meet in closed session only in exceptional circumstances, such as personnel matters, to discuss potential or actual litigation, or for labor negotiations. In such cases, the government body must give notice of the meeting and indicate the specific nature of the business.
The board wants to quote only a statutory exemption rather than provide specifics so that the public can object if the meeting is not legal. That is like a teen-age couple announcing they are going to do homework then retiring to a bedroom and locking the door. When the parents knock and ask what is going on, they reply “Our lawyers said we could be in here in secret.”
While the board discussed the evaluation and contract of former superintendent Bryan Davis on January 21, 2021, the wording of the 11 other closed-meeting notices implies they also involved Davis, who quit this summer. According to board policies:
The board considers Superintendent performance to be identical to district performance. District accomplishment of the Board’s Results policies, and district operation according to the values expressed in the Board’s Operational Expectations policies, will be considered successful Superintendent performance. These two components define the Superintendent’s job responsibilities, and are the basis for the Superintendent’s performance evaluation.
In addition to the 14 closed-session meetings, in 2021 the school board has met five times with restricted public access. Four of these five meetings concerned the Integrated Comprehensive Systems for Equity (ICS) initiative and were open to only select members of the community. Board members also attended a workshop on Coherent Governance on May 17, 2021. Although ICS and Coherent Governance both are central to the board’s operations, Board President Paru Shah said no board business was conducted at any of these meetings.
By comparison, the Whitefish Bay School District has held 12 regular meetings and Committee of the Whole meetings, two per month since January, and met in closed session just six times. The Greendale School District has held two closed session meetings so far in 2021.
Shah said that while “the Superintendent is the only employee the board directly supervises, our work also includes discussions with administration about other personnel issues. And as you know, we have been in the process of selecting an interim superintendent, which has required a number of additional meetings.” She said the board cleared the meetings with its lawyer.
So, the kids are in the bedroom until the parents kick down the door.
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