Leader Blues

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

EDITORIAL >> PCSSD must be more open

The Pulaski County Special School District’s Board, which has arrogantly thumbed its nose at the state Freedom of Information Act, got some bad news during executive session Wednesday—it shouldn’t have been in executive session.

An attorney for the Arkansas Association of School Boards, phoned for his opinion during an executive session, told the board it takes more than uttering the word “personnel” to allow a board to go into executive session.

The board is sometimes in such a hurry to conduct the public’s business in private that it goes into executive session without even voting—just a motion, a second and a stampede for the back room.

It has done that three times at least.

This newspaper and one other have repeatedly warned the board that it was in violation of the FOI, but the board claims that its lawyer, Jay Bequette, says the board was right.

Now, we like Bequette, but the board hires and fires him (and in recent months it’s done both), and we don’t remember a time he couldn’t find a rationalization for letting the board do whatever it wanted—sort of the Alberto Gonzales of the PCSSD.

So far the board hasn’t resorted to waterboarding, as far as we know.

Whether the board members actually believed that all you had to do to meet in private is to utter the word “personnel” in the motion for executive session, or just hide behind that word, they were wrong and now they know.

Board member Mildred Tatum first refused to go into the session, saying it was illegal and she wouldn’t participate, then decided that someone had to witness the transgressions.

It was Danny Gililland who challenged Board President Tim Clark on the issue and the two men called the association lawyer from the office of the superintendent.

A school board may go into executive session only to hire, fire or discipline personnel.

For instance, the board may go into executive session to fire a teacher who comes to work drunk or a coach who struck a student or to pick between several qualified candidates for a promotion.

Good luck getting rid of a drunken teacher, by the way, if he or she is a member of the teachers’ union.

The board may not go into executive session to discuss whether or not to reduce the number of vice principals in the system, or to discuss where to make cuts in the budget, or whether or not to change board policy or the student handbook, or much of anything else.

There is an exception for discussing the purchase of real estate.

Otherwise ­— Hire. Fire. Discipline. Period.

We continue to have high hopes for interim Superintendent Rob McGill, but he needs to distance himself from his primary benefactor, Tim Clark. There have been a couple of times daylight has appeared between the two on issues at board meetings, but the perception, and perhaps the reality, is that Clark is much too involved in the day-to-day operations of the district and too familiar with the inside of the superintendent’s office.

Assert yourself, Mr. McGill.