The Strong Schools Coalition started a petition Aug. 8 it hopes will spur the Douglas County School Board to give details on its July 26 executive session.
The group has twice asked the board to share its discussion during the closed-door session, after which the board voted unanimously to reserve space on the November ballot for an election question. Board members wouldn’t describe the issue further, only noting it likely would focus on education reform.
The meeting’s one-item agenda called for “Consideration of Resolution to Preserve the Option for a Coordinated Election.”
Though the district’s legal counsel said the board’s discussion was in accordance with Colorado’s open meetings law, Strong Schools vice president Susan Meek isn’t so sure. She also thinks the public has a right to know more about the potential ballot issue.
“The lack of responsiveness and communication to the public results in parents and employees relying on rumors or Facebook postings to learn about salary schedules, political push polls, and new policies,” Meek said to the board during its Aug. 7 regular meeting. “We are left in the dark as well as to how precious resources will be allocated. We respectfully ask that you live up to your statement that this is the most transparent board.”
No record of the private session exists because one isn’t required if an attorney for a local public body determines the discussion “constitutes a privileged attorney-client communication.” The session met that definition, the district’s attorney Rob Ross said.
Meek, the school district’s former spokeswoman and a fall 2011 school board candidate, also asked why the district has spent $63,000 on public relations firms and a lobbyist, expenditures she said she found during a search of the financial transparency link on the district’s website.
Board president John Carson said district staff would look into her monetary concerns.
“Obviously, we have a lobbyist at the legislature, which I think we need,” he said. “I will note that the board has been very lean in a number of expenditure areas. I’m very confident we’re spending the dollars wisely and leanly.”
School officials confirmed later that the public relations firms cited by Meek help conduct the district’s telephone town halls.
“The telephone town halls have been an excellent tool in reaching out to our employees, parents, and the community as a whole,” school spokeswoman Cinamon Watson said. “It’s one of the few opportunities we have to connect with members of the community that don’t have children in the school.
“We certainly welcome the community to take a look at our books,” she added. “We have a very high level of financial transparency. That comes hand in hand with our commitment to be fiscally responsible and good stewards of our taxpayer dollars.”
Strong Schools emailed its 500 members the petition Aug. 8.
Ross said it’s unlikely the board will talk about its closed-door conversation.
“I would have to advise the board they could not by law disclose what was discussed in the legal advice executive session,” he said.
Strong Schools Coalition describes itself as a group that “works to inform and engage the community to positively impact the Douglas County School District.”