Plainfield Superintendent John Harper wasn't pleased to find his recommendation to the board in The Herald-News article as part of an advanced story to Oct. 12th board meeting.
He asked school board President Stuart Bledsoe for a moment to comment to the school board and journalists Tuesday night.
"It has been the practice of the administration to provide our board of education with the background information and the recommendations that they need in order to vote on important issues at board meetings . As duly elected officials of this community who spend countless hours of their time studying and evaluating many different perspectives of this district. It is both professional courtesy and protocol that that information is provided to them in advance to a meeting.
"It was brought to my attention over the weekend that very detailed information associated with the study that Mr. Murphy and Mr. Brown presented tonight was published in a local newspaper. For my purposes, it's important that this board of education know that information was not released by the superintendent nor was it released by the department of community relations. That again is out of respect and protocol.
"I think it is blatantly unfair for the board of education to be reading the superintendent's recommendation in the paper days or even hours before you have an opportunity to act upon it," Harper said.
"In fairness to the reporters and journalists in the audience, it is not released by the administration and it's important for you to understand that is not how we do business and we do not release it to some and not all."
Harper said unless he hears something different from the board, the administration will continue to provide the media with packets at the beginning of meetings.
"We will continue to extend the courtesy to seven elected members of the board and not release that information prior to them to having an opportunity to discuss it, debate it and make some decisions upon it in an open meeting," he said.
The Herald-News responded with an e-mail to Harper and the school board on Wednesday:
Dr. Harper and board members,
I was quite surprised to hear Dr. Harper's reaction to yesterday's article. Tom Hernandez e-mailed he couldn't release the information, but I could get it from somewhere else. So I did.
If there was a committee meeting last week, I would have seen the report, heard Dr. Harper's recommendation and have written an advance article in the newspaper so the taxpayers could be aware that the board would be looking at the information and discussing it.
Unfortunately for the taxpayers, there was no committee meeting last week so I did my duty as a journalist to get the information to them since your district did not have the information on its website.
Valley View School District posts the board packet online before board meetings. You can look at www.vvsd.org as a reminder if you wish. You will see personnel information on who will be hired as well as who is retiring is included. There is also detailed information before the meeting on what will be presented so taxpayers can review the information that the board is also reviewing.
After listening to Dr. Harper's comments last night, I have a concern. Are you saying that the taxpayers have no right to the information the board is reviewing until after the meeting - which then in some cases is too late? That means the public does not have a right to an advanced story prior to the board meeting.
Are you also saying the board should not have the opportunity to discuss with their constituents your recommendation before they act upon it?
Dr. Harper said: "I think it is blatantly unfair for the board of education to be reading the superintendent's recommendation in the paper days or even hours before you have an opportunity to act upon it. We will continue to extend the courtesy to seven elected members of the board and not release that information prior to them to having an opportunity to discuss it, debate it and make some decisions upon it in an open meeting," he said.
Could you please explain why?
To the board: My question is - Are you going to let Dr. Harper release full packets to the media so they can write an advanced story prior to the meeting. Don't you want your constituents to be able to reach out to you before you make a decision on an issue?
I am writing a story about the lack of information available to Plainfield School District taxpayers before board meetings. While it's nice to have the information and presentation on the district Web site today it really doesn't serve the public now that the board has made its decision.
The story will run tomorrow. Please respond by 4 p.m. today. Thanks! Cathy
Catherine Ann Velasco
Plainfield School District's response on Wednesday afternoon:
First and foremost, District 202 is dedicated to open, honest and efficient communications with our community. We have gone to great lengths in recent years to increase and improve communications at every level. We've added online tools, web sites, public meet and greet opportunities, publications and more to give our taxpayers and families more and better access to district staff and the Board.
For you to even suggest that we're somehow trying to keep anything from the public is unfair and inaccurate, at best.
That being said, it is a longstanding practice here to give the duly elected Board of Education members -- who are themselves members of the public -- the courtesy and respect of receiving and digesting information that they will discuss and act upon, before adding the obligations of public and media scrutiny. We have been doing it this way for years as you well know. Frankly, it doesn't make a whole lot of sense why some districts would publish or share information ahead of time (like personnel reports, for example) that might, and often does change, thereby creating more confusion and in some cases, needless embarrassment.
As I told you on Friday, the public would get the turf report on Tuesday through us, and through the media, including you. And that's exactly what happened. I sent out an Education Partners email newsletter to 28,000 email addresses at 9:30 p.m. and you posted your story on line after midnight. As I also told you, I understand and respect your wish to do an advance story. But our first obligation is to the Board of Education.
You capture Dr. Harper's comments from last night very well. He said what he said for three reasons:
1. To reiterate to the Board our established and longstanding procedure and protocol re: releasing Board information
2. To let the other reporters know that we have this procedure, and intend to hold to it
3. To reassure the Board that we did, in fact, follow our procedure and protocol.
As I said in my email Friday evening, Board members can do whatever they want with the information they receive. It's fine if they want to release information -- as, clearly, someone did by giving you the reports ahead of time. Good for you and kudos for your journalistic tenacity.
But the administration is not going to usurp the Board's authority to conduct its own business as elected representatives of the community by giving the media information before the Board gets it, unless the Board tells us to do so. So far, it has not.
Director of Community Relations
Plainfield CCSD 202
What do you think? Should Plainfield School Board release board packet information after the board receives it so the local media can write stories to alert the public to an upcoming board meeting?