It is time for the school board agenda meetings to be opened up to the public and be conducted on the record, the way the Duluth city council conducts its meetings. Currently, only two of the public’s seven representatives–the Board’s Clerk and Chair–are allowed into the room, to set the agenda. The Superintendent, however, is free to attend the meeting with his management team. All discussion regarding the school board’s agenda is hidden from public view and off the record.
This arrangement is destructive to representative government. It creates a barrier of secrecy, hiding decisions about district priorities from the public. It also creates friction and miscommunication problems within the ranks of the school board, itself.
For years, much of the strife in the boardroom has resulted from a philosophical difference about what the role of the school board is. Some members refer to the Superintendent and the rest of Administration in almost reverential terms, as “our leadership.” They want the school board to essentially be an adjunct PTA, just another booster club. They have no problem with the Superintendent–technically the Board’s employee, an unelected bureaucratic–putting his fingers on the representative body’s agenda, behind closed doors.
Other members see Administration as informed advisors, worthy of respect, but also believe the school board has a vital check-and-balance role–a duty to exercise fiscal control and be a watchdog of the public’s purse.
Tempers have flared when some board members have discovered they’ve been kept out of the loop and denied access to information they deemed imperative to make a good decision in the public’s interest. Secrecy has to stop if we want better government. School board agenda meetings have to open up, allowing all Board members equal access to information from the onset of decision-making. The entire agenda process needs to be exposed to the disinfectant of sunlight.