The Oregon school board is considering establishing regular committee of the whole meetings as a way to thoroughly discuss issues facing the district before voting at upcoming board meetings.
“As you can see this evening, we’re having a problem of communicating all the information that is brought forth at the regular business meeting at the school board,” Diana Gadus, vice president of the school board, said at a board meeting on Feb. 21.
Currently, board members are assigned to separate committees to discuss specific issues, such as personnel, but the number of members who can attend is limited by law.
“We’re not allowed as a school board to be at a committee meeting all together. It’s a violation of sunshine laws,” said Gadus. “Also, if three or more of us are together, it’s considered a board meeting. At any kind of committee meetings, there can only be two of us.”
Gadus said the current committee system is recent and started a couple of years ago.
“Prior to two years ago, I don’t think we had a committee structure, nor did we have board members who were working board members. They weren’t involved in learning all the aspects of what goes on. The committee structure is fairly new. What has happened in our community now, we see, is that more information is necessary and more people have things to say,” said Gadus. “They want to know what’s going on because it doesn’t appear that things are out in the open, But in the context of the schools, it’s moving so rapidly.”
Few in the community, she added, are aware of all the changes that are occurring in the district. A committee of the whole meeting would provide such information to the public.
“To bring more information to the forefront, [board member Carol] Molnar and I thought it would be a nice idea to have a committee of the whole, where all the committees are meeting once per month, two weeks prior to each business board meeting, to gather, share and discuss all that information about what is going on in our schools,” said Gadus.
Board member P.J. Kapfhammer said the current committee system could have more board members at the meetings if advance public notice was given to allow the public to attend.
“If we had public notice and allowed the public to come into these meetings, we could bring every member into these meetings. That’s the way the city does it, and I believe a lot of people do it that way,” he said.
Gadus said she learned at a workshop that there can only be two board members on a committee, which would be less than the majority on the five member board. The committee meeting is considered a board meeting if there is a majority of the board attending.
“If it’s a board committee, and there are more than two board members there, then it is considered a board meeting. More school districts and communities want more transparency because the financial resources are shrinking, and academic achievement has to move into a different direction than what we are previously used to,” said Gadus. She said the legal representative of the Ohio Department of Education has indicated that if there’s more than two board members in a meeting, it is a board meeting.
Board member Carol Molnar said the ODE’s lawyer said “it was too much of a gray area for any school board to take a chance on having more than two” on a committee.
“This is a discussion for the board to go through later,” she said.
“I don’t see a problem,” said Board President Dick Gabel. “We can have a board meeting, have it open to the public, and discuss all the items at one time. If we’re going to do it, we’re going to do it the right way.”
Board member Jeff Ziviski said if the board agrees to have committee of the whole meetings in the same month as regular board meetings, he did not want board members to be compensated for the additional meeting.
Currently, state law allows board members to be paid up to $125 per meeting, which is what the Oregon School Board is paid for meeting once per month. He would like to see the pay set at $125 per month rather than per meeting so the board could meet as many times as it wants for the month without increasing its compensation.
“We can meet as many times as we want,” said Ziviski. “I just want to make sure we’re not being paid for these additional meetings. I’d like to see the board compensation policy revised at the same time,” he said.
“That would be up to each individual board member,” said Gabel.
“We can change the way we do it, we can vote on that as a whole,” said Kapfhammer.
“We can have a board policy covering board compensation,” said Ziviski. “We can modify that. I don’t want to see the board members getting extra compensation.”
“If you want to do that, it’s got to be changed,” said Gabel. “That’s all I said. As of right now, it’s up to the individual.”
The board scheduled a special meeting on Monday, March 5, at 6 p.m. at Clay High School’s media center.