Public School Board Accountability

For a week now I’ve been putting my thoughts together on some recent happenings around the state regarding public school boards good and bad. First, the following article was published in the Journal regarding Cape Henlopen’s problems with the perception the public has of what goes on behind the closed doors of Executive Sessions.

Cape Henlopen faces suit over spending
By MOLLY MURRAY
The News Journal
06/29/2006
A citizens group that claims the Cape Henlopen School District repeatedly violated the state’s open meetings law and misappropriated public money asked Sussex County Chancery Court today to order the district to stop doing business with its architect and construction management company.
If the court grants the request, the action could halt planning and design of a proposed new high school.
A hearing on the request for a temporary restraining order and a permanent injunction has been set for 10 a.m. July 25 in Dover.

As elected members of a Public Body, School board members at times must conduct themselves and their meetings under the rules of the Delaware Code Title 29. That title says boards can enter into executive sessions to conduct certain business that they can’t in public. Below is a copy of the section of this title that covers this issue:
TITLE 29
State Government
PART X
General Regulations for State Agencies
CHAPTER 100. FREEDOM OF INFORMATION ACT
§ 10004. Open meetings.
(a) Every meeting of all public bodies shall be open to the public except those closed pursuant to subsections (b), (c), (d) and (g) of this section.
(b) A public body may call for an executive session closed to the public pursuant to subsections (c) and (e) of this section, but only for the following purposes:
(1) Discussion of an individual citizen’s qualifications to hold a job or pursue training unless the citizen requests that such a meeting be open. This provision shall not apply to the discussion by a licensing board or commission which is subject to the provisions of § 8735 of this title, of an individual citizen’s qualifications to pursue any profession or occupation for which a license must be issued by the public body in accordance with Delaware law;
(2) Preliminary discussions on site acquisitions for any publicly funded capital improvements;
(3) Activities of any law-enforcement agency in its efforts to collect information leading to criminal apprehension;
(4) Strategy sessions, including those involving legal advice or opinion from an attorney-at-law, with respect to collective bargaining or pending or potential litigation, but only when an open meeting would have an adverse effect on the bargaining or litigation position of the public body;
http://www.delawareonline.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20060629/NEWS03/60629039

Now I won’t guess as to what the Cape Board was discussing, but without being in the room, and as long as voting is held in public they have the legal right to enter Executive sessions. This protection does not excuse a board from performing its duties to the best of its ability. I am not passing judgment on the Christina Board, but its members have a lot of ground to makeup to the public. Open meetings will not be “pretty” for sometime, but each of you must decide what is best for the children and parents in your district which may mean some real hard decisions! As the elected representatives of your districts you can’t hide from those that put you there.

Public School Board behavior has also found its way into editorial pages of the Journal, and one really peaked my interest recently. One letter by a woman from Middletown talks about the accountability of the public school districts and boards. First, this parent points out a shortcoming of the Vocational training offered in all three counties of the state. That is most if not all schools public and charter in the state don’t, “teach young adults life skills and trade. Not everyone is college material, nor can they afford it. Kids need to know how to read, write, type, do basic math and spell, and they need job training. We are failing this segment”. We are back at an issue that I still have trouble understanding, and that is when did our Vo-Techs become College-Prep? The children who are not looking to college have to go through “hoops” and interviews to learn a trade!
I am not sure what district or board the writer is referring to when talking about abuses, but all public school boards are accountable to the people of their district, and the DOE! One comment I will make however is that Vocational Boards do not answer to the public as they are not elected to their posts! They are appointed by the governor so they don’t answer to the Public! November is around the corner lets make sure our state government hears through the ballet box!

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About Gary M Wolfe

The Author spent 10 years as a member of the Milford Delaware Board Of Education, and is currently seeking the 18th Senatorial seat in the Delaware Legislature.
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