The Examiner U-46 News Feed
Split vote ensures select U-46 minutes destroyed
By Seth Hancock
The Board of Education in School District U-46 approved by a split vote, 5-2, the minutes of nine closed session minutes as well as the destruction of audio recordings from 14 closed session meetings at its meeting on Monday, Feb. 5.
Donna Smith, the board’s president, read the motion stating “the need for confidentiality still exists as to all or part” of the minutes and recordings from closed session meetings with no explanation as to why the public does not have a right to access any of the information. The audio recordings to be destroyed ranged from Feb. 1, 2016 through June 25, 2016.
Board member Jeanette Ward did not want the audio recordings destroyed. Board member Phil Costello joined Ward in voting against the measure.
“I want us to consider what part of closed session minutes and audio recordings could be released to the public, and for that reason I don’t want, or am not in favor of closed session audio being destroyed,” Ward said.
Ward opened her remarks saying: “I’m glad we’re starting to move in that direction, we’re starting to have discussions as a board about this.”
Although no public discussion occurred as to why the closed session minutes and recordings would continue to remain completely confidential and without public oversight, Ward clarified to The Examiner after the meeting she was referring to “in closed session that night.”
The board did hold a closed session prior to the Feb. 5 meeting, and Ward said that was the first time the board had any discussions on possible portions of closed session meetings being released. She said “we did talk about discussing what could be made public” in regards to previous closed session meetings that have occurred, but there is “no process going forward” as of yet on determining what can be released.
In November 2016, the board approved a change to policy 2.201 which concerns closed session meetings. At the time, both Costello and Ward argued for an open and transparent government and that nearly all of board discussions held in closed session should be made public except for those legally required to remain confidential, such as student disciplinary discussions.
Costello also suggested at the time that the board discuss after each closed session meeting what from that meeting could eventually be released saying “some things could be released and we’re just going to make an asterisk” for eventual release of that portion of the meeting. That process has yet to have occurred according to Ward.
The change to that policy came from a legal necessity to update it as prior to the change the board’s majority denied access to any closed session information to the public and also fellow board members. The board’s majority, along with the U-46 administration, claimed board members did not have a right to access that information and denied access to minority members, Ward specifically, to it until the Illinois General Assembly unanimously approved a bill clarifying that local elected officials always had the civil right to access such information.
Former board member Cody Holt explained part of the reason why the public should have access to some closed session discussions last year when he told The Examiner that the board has made decisions, possibly unlawfully, in closed session without the public ever hearing any discussions on issues that could have saved taxpayers millions of dollars.
Early last year, the district had put out a Request for Proposal for outsourcing part of U-46’s transportation. A proposal from First Student stated it could save the district $3.9 million over three years and Holt said the U-46 administration said the savings went much further, but that information was never released to the public.
Holt said that “there were savings that unfortunately the administration didn’t make public during the negotiation process” that “would have been around $8 million in a three year period.”
All board and administrative discussions of the plan came in closed session and Holt said that the board took a straw poll “at the behest of president Smith.” The board is not legally allowed to take votes in closed session and Holt said he had voiced opposition to using straw polls, a practice he said occurred during other key issues as well, but the administration claimed they were legally justified.
Section 1 of the Illinois Open Meetings Act states: “It is the public policy of this State that public bodies exist to aid in the conduct of the people’s business and that the people have a right to be informed as to the conduct of their business. In order that the people shall be informed, the General Assembly finds and declares that it is the intent of this Act to ensure that the actions of public bodies be taken openly and that their deliberations be conducted openly.”
Eventually the U-46 administration negotiated a contract with the district’s transportation union which guaranteed automatic pay raises each year as an option to outsourcing, and the administration never offered a public justification to the decision.
When The Examiner asked board members about its decision and if it would make public it’s closed session discussions regarding the First Student proposal,” Costello and Ward were the only ones to respond and both supported making those discussions public. Smith, Traci Ellis, Sue Kerr and Veronica Noland did not respond while current board member Melissa Owens was not on the board during the outsourcing discussions.