2012-11-08 / News

School board examines open-meetings law

Committee concerned if it’s complying with new rules
BY NICHOLAS PEREIRA

The School Committee at its Nov. 1 meeting discussed changes to Rhode Island’s open-meeting laws, and noted that the revisions were minor in nature.

Several members expressed concern whether Jamestown was in compliance with the changes. Those concerns focused mostly on the manner in which requests for information are dealt with.

Citizens who wish to request information from the School Committee now only need to send a written request for clearly identifi able information. For further information, residents can log onto the School Committee’s website to read its procedures and policies, the board said.

It was noted that while the School Committee must provide any information requested, it doesn’t need to provide the information in any specific format. It also doesn’t need to compile the information into a report, it just has to supply the data. In some circumstances there may be costs to the requester.

In the upcoming weeks a subcommittee will review the School Committee’s policies concerning open-meeting laws and report back with any changes that need to be made in order to remain in compliance with the state’s new laws. It is believed that any changes will be minor and Jamestown is already in substantial compliance with the changes.

In other news, it was discussed whether Jamestown is in compliance with the requirements for posting meetings. In essence, the law requires that meeting dates be posted at the location the meeting is to be held, a government building open to the public, and the secretary of state’s website.

The panel said that it advertises its meetings on the secretary of state’s website, two locations in Melrose Avenue School and the Town Hall.

The committee also discussed the possible reorganization of the agenda format. It was mused whether reorganization of the agenda would better convey information to the public. For instance, if it would be helpful if the committee placed all reports made by the superintendent under one heading.

In other business, there was some concern whether the committee is doing enough to remain transparent and professional. Everyone agreed that members make an effort not to “talk shop” when acting outside an official capacity. Dr. Marcia Lukon, the superintendent, noted that this School Committee does a good job refraining from overusing email to discuss issues.

Public comments and how to maximize their impact was also discussed at length. It was noted that the North Kingston School Committee only allows public comment during an open-forum period listed on the agenda. Otherwise, that body found its meetings become politically charged and resemble a debate.

Both Middletown and Portsmouth request that a citizen wishing to be heard fill out a form ahead of time. The citizen’s request then becomes an agenda item.

No conclusion was reached but all members agreed that it was important that any citizen wishing to speak should have the opportunity to do so. However, few citizens attend School Committee meetings so this issue appears to be moot.

Currently, Robert’s Rules of Order govern School Committee meetings and the rules allow citizens wishing to speak to do so.

Finally, committee member Sav Rebecchi said his goodbyes, since this is the last time the current board will meet. Rebecchi did not run for re-election this year. “It was great serving on the School Committee,” he said. “[Jamestown is] fortunate to have dedicated administrators and teachers.”

The newly elected School Committee will meet for the first time on Thursday, Nov. 15, at Melrose Avenue School.

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