Is School Board A Rubber Stamp?

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Concerned over the perception they don’t follow open meeting law requirements, the members of Payson School Board decided to change how they run their meetings.

With a new superintendent starting on July 1, the Payson School Board hoped to nail down communication policies, meeting procedures, and public perceptions at their retreat on June 9.

“There is a public perception that we don’t follow open meeting laws,” said board member Barbara Shepherd.

Shepherd explained that people who attend board meetings wonder why they see the board read off an agenda item then vote without any discussion. She said people wonder if the board makes the decision behind the scenes.

Karen Beckvar, a specialist in leadership development for the Arizona School Boards Association, moderated the daylong retreat, which touched on open meeting laws and board member responsibilities.

“There is a public perception that we don’t follow open meeting laws.”

Barbara Shepherd

School board member

Open meeting laws have strict guidelines regarding how public entities may communicate. The 1978 court case Oklahoma Association of Municipal Attorneys vs. State, established the concept of open meeting laws. Prior to that case, many decisions that affected the public happened behind the scenes.

Board members worried that the public believes the board simply rubber stamps administration recommendations.

In part, that’s because the public often doesn’t see the key documents or hear the questions a board member asks the superintendent before the meeting, said Shepherd.

In contrast, the Town of Payson and the Gila County Board of Supervisors attach all the key documents to an online electronic agenda. Members of the public may click on an agenda item and a copy of the original document will pop up.

State law doesn’t require such easy access to documents, but does lay down rules to ensure elected boards make their decisions in the open, including posting agendas at least 24 hours ahead of time.

Board members may not have a majority (called a quorum) meet outside of a public meeting. In the case of the Payson School Board, only two members may meet up outside of a meeting.

Beckvar suggested that board members re-evaluate how they run their meetings. “Have a discussion on an item prior to voting on it,” she said.

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