State opinion: South Washington County School Board violated meeting law
The South Washington County School Board violated state law in its handling of Superintendent Mark Porter’s final performance evaluation, according to a state opinion.
The nonbinding opinion sought by the South Washington County Bulletin concluded that the District 833 School Board violated the state’s Open Meeting Law when it did not publicly summarize its evaluation of Porter at a meeting immediately following the closed-door workshop used to conduct that evaluation.
Board members voted at that public meeting to not renew Porter’s contract, but a summary of his evaluation was not made public until a month later. Board members in that evaluation indicated dissatisfaction with Porter’s leadership.
The state opinion was issued Wednesday by the Department of Administration’s Information Policy Analysis Division, which interprets the state Open Meeting Law. At issue was whether the School Board complied with a requirement that a performance evaluation conducted privately be summarized at the public body’s “next open meeting.”
The Bulletin contended that should have taken place at the regular meeting immediately following the closed-door session Dec. 15.
School Board Chairwoman Leslee Boyd instead summarized Porter’s evaluation Jan. 26. An attorney for the board later claimed Boyd was given inaccurate information and should have provided the evaluation summary at a School Board workshop Jan. 12.
In a letter to the state office that handled the Bulletin request, the School Board’s attorney disputed that the summary should have been made public Dec. 15. Attorney Michael Waldspurger claimed the closed-session workshop and public meeting, which started minutes later, actually constituted one meeting, so the evaluation summary was not required on that date.
Waldspurger said the School Board acknowledged “an inadvertent error” occurred when Boyd received inaccurate information from a Minnesota School Boards Association representative she had consulted about when to summarize Porter’s evaluation.
Minnesota Administration Commissioner Spencer Cronk in the opinion acknowledged that the School Board sought advice to determine its obligation regarding when it needed to summarize the evaluation.
However, the commissioner disagreed with Waldspurger’s interpretation of the Dec. 15 meetings. The workshop held privately to conduct the evaluation was not a regular meeting because it was not on the district’s schedule of regular School Board meetings. Also, it started 30 minutes before regular workshops are scheduled to start. That made it a special meeting, the commissioner concluded.
“The South Washington County School Board did not comply with Minnesota Statutes … regarding its summary of the superintendent’s performance evaluation it conducted at a special meeting held December 15, 2011, because the board did not provide the summary at its ‘next’ meeting, which was its regular meeting that immediately followed the special meeting,” Cronk wrote in the opinion.
The commissioner advised the School Board to review its process for regular meetings and workshops to avoid “the kind of confusion that resulted here.”
There is no penalty to the district or School Board as a result of the state opinion.