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Exchange at School Board Meeting Highlights Difference of Opinion
February 20, 2008 - Last week's meeting of the Charles A. Beard School Board concluded with an interesting discussion between two of the board’s seven members.
At issue was the ongoing refusal of the CAB administration to allow board member Kevin Knott to review uncensored copies of four documents that former CAB superintendent Hal Jester sent board members in 2004 and 2005. Although the state's public access counselor (PAC) has said she does not think CAB has authority to deny Knott - or any other board member - access to the records, the school corporation's attorney has advised CAB to keep the records concealed.
Addressing CAB's decision to keep Knott from seeing the records, Board President Mike Fruth said the PAC's position was "an opinion … not a recommendation." Noting that CAB's attorney also had an opinion on the issue, he said, "Unless the board feels otherwise, I think the board will continue to follow the recommendations of our attorney on those matters."
At that point, Knott spoke up and said he believed government business should be conducted openly, and that as an elected official, he had the right to review the records. When he asked to see the records last fall, he was only permitted to see heavily censored copies that had been given to The Banner in response to a 2005 record request.
Fruth responded by saying that "board members have no individual rights." He said Knott or any other board member wanting to review the records in question could only do so with board approval. "If the board so chooses to review those records, then the board can do that."
Of the two differing opinions on this issue, Knott said he believed the PAC was right. He said he and other board members "should have the reasonable right to review any and all records in regard to the school corporation" so they would have information needed to act in the best interest of the school corporation.
"But again, that's a board action," Fruth said. "The board, as a whole - if this board decides that they want to see those records, then all the members of the board can see those records. But the board has to do that as a body. Again, the board acts as a body, not as individuals."
Knott again said he believed the PAC's opinion was the correct one and that individual board members have a right to review school corporation records. "I think we're talking about two different issues here," he said, noting that he had only asked to review the records. Full access to CAB's records, he said, is necessary for board members to have "the historic perspective and the data necessary to make ongoing decisions regarding the corporation."
"The board would have to decide if the board needs to see those records," Fruth repeated.
"I would respectfully submit the other opinion … that as an elected official, one has the right to review any and all records pertaining to that institution," Knott said. He ended his remarks by saying he also believed that, as an elected member of the school board, he has the right to express how he feels about this issue, after which the meeting promptly adjourned.
CAB has declined to release a memo its attorney sent Ray Pavy, CAB's interim superintendent, and the board in December addressing board members' access to these records. When this issue first arose last fall, CAB's public access officer, Jena Schmidt, told The Banner that CAB's attorney told her that the records were confidential and unavailable to anyone who came on the board after they were originally issued by Jester.
Fruth and Debi Ware are the only current board members who were on the board when the records in question were originally issued. The records, all of which are within CAB's discretion to make public, are believed to contain information addressing, among other things, a possible financial discrepancy in CAB's cafeteria program and issues involving a state audit report released in 2005.
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