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Plainfield School District is asking for permission to deny a request for comments from an online community survey.

Here's why:

By U.S. Mail and Electronic Mail

May 9, 2011

Public Access Counselor
Office of the Attorney General
500 South 2nd Street
Springfield, Illinois 62706
Facsimile (217) 782-1396

Re: Intent to Deny Freedom of Information Request

Dear Public Access Counselor:

The Board of Education (the "Board") of Plainfield Community Consolidated School District 202 (the "District") intends to deny partially a request for records under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act, 5 ILCS 140/1 et seq. ("FOIA" or the "Act"). On April 25, 2011, the District received a FOIA request, dated that same date, from Catherine Ann Velasco, a reporter for The Herald-News, requesting copies of the "[e]xecutive summary and data from the community survey." On May 2, 2011, I partially responded to the request, enclosing a copy of the Executive Summary of the 2011 Community Survey conducted by the District, which I understood to be responsive to the request for the "[e]xecutive summary." In that same communication, I extended until May 9, 2011, the time to respond to the remaining request for "data from the community survey." 5 ILCS 140/3(e).

Enclosed with this letter is a copy of a record including all data from the community survey other than the comments provided in response to the survey. The District's Superintendent, Dr. John Harper, provided copies to members of the public of and cited to all data other than the comments in strategic planning sessions held this week, which I understand to constitute a public citation by Dr. Harper, the head of the public body, to that data. See 5 ILCS 140/7(1)(f). However, the comments provided in response to the survey were not cited or provided to the public by Dr. Harper. Accordingly, the comments constitute predecisional material exempt from disclosure under Section 7(1)(f) of the Act, 5 ILCS 140/7(1)(f), and the District intends to partially deny the request for "data from the community survey" to the extent the request seeks copies of those comments. Below, the District sets forth a detailed summary of its basis for asserting the exemptions based on Section 7(1)(f), which also constitutes its proposed response to the FOIA requester.

The comments in the survey responses are exempt from disclosure under the preliminary draft exemption, 5 ILCS 140/7(1)(f), because the survey is a predecisional document in which opinions are expressed or policies or actions are formulated, and the comments portion of the survey has never been publicly cited or identified by the head of the public body. Section 7(1)(f) of the Freedom of Information Act allows withholding of:
[p]reliminary drafts, notes, recommendations, memoranda and other records in which opinions are expressed, or policies or actions are formulated, except that a specific record or relevant portion of a record shall not be exempt when the record is publicly cited and identified by the head of the public body.

First, the document is a "preliminary" record in which opinions are expressed. Although the comments section of the survey, once completed by the survey-respondents, are arguably "final" documents, the Illinois Appellate Court made clear in Harwood v. McDonough, 344 Ill. App. 3d 242, 244 (1st Dist. 2003), that the word "preliminary" in section 7(1)(f) does not refer to the "posture of the particular document sought to be disclosed" but rather to "predecisional intra-agency communications." Id. at 247-248. A document that is relied upon by a public body in formulating an ultimate, final decision, even if the "final" product of a third party, is nonetheless a "preliminary" document "in relationship to the eventual 'final' decision" made by the public body. Id. at 248.
A number of Illinois Attorney General letters in response to notices of intent to deny make clear that responses to public school surveys are preliminary documents under Section 7(1)(f). In 2010 PAC 9676, for example, a requester sought, among other documents, a climate report prepared by an outside consultant to explore the climate at certain high schools in a school district. The report was drafted for use by the administration and board of education of the school district in making decisions regarding the operations of the District's high schools. The school district also indicated that the climate report had never been cited publicly by the head of the public body. The PAC approved the use of the 7(1)(f) exemption. And in 2010 PAC 9970, a requester sought survey results in which parents of student-athletes rated a school district's tennis program and tennis coaches for three seasons. The reports sought by the requester compiled survey answers and comments, much like a community survey does. The PAC noted that the responses to the surveys included many recommendations and strong opinions from the survey responders. The school district also indicated that the survey was intended to provide school officials with feedback to consider in making future decisions about the tennis program. Finally, the school district asserted that the documents had never been publicly cited by the head of the school district. The PAC held that the school district could deny the request under 7(1)(f).

Other Attorney General letters in response to notice of intent to deny bolster this conclusion, by recognizing that other records similar to community surveys are also exempt from disclosure. In 2010 PAC 6749, for instance, the PAC approved a school district's use of the predecisional materials exemption with regard to, among other documents, an "IASB Superintendent Search Report to the Board [of Education] from the IASB." The document was "created to aid in developing search criteria and as a resource for the Board's preparation for interviews with finalists" for a superintendent position at a school district. The PAC determined that this document was being used by the District as part of its deliberative process in relation to the selection of a new superintendent, and thus was protected from disclosure by the predecisional materials exemption. School surveys such as the community survey at issue here also seek information from community members in an effort to deliberate on various issues, and thus should implicate the exemption. In another response letter, 2010 PAC 6803, the PAC approved use of the predecisional materials exemption for a score sheet used by the University of Illinois to make bid determinations. The PAC noted that the score sheet is a tool used to numerically evaluate proposals in an effort to formulate a final action. Similarly, the PAC found that preliminary scoring documents used as part of the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency's environmental compliance process were exempt predecisional materials. 2010 PAC 6510. Under these precedents, a survey that collects data of any sort that would be used to make determinations about public body action should be protected from disclosure.

Here, the community survey specifically was created to be used as part of the District's deliberative process in relation to the school climate. The survey results--especially the comments section--contain recommendations and opinions of survey recipients for the express purpose of giving input to the Board as part of its deliberative process. The survey results also provide data that is used to evaluate options available to the District for final action.

Second, the comments provided in response to the survey have never been cited by the Superintendent--the head of the public body, and it is inconsequential that some other portions of or the executive summary of the survey have been cited. Section 7(1)(f) specifically provides that the exemption can be waived by public citation to either "a specific record" or a "relevant portion of a record." 5 ILCS 140/7(1)(f). The Harwood decision also makes clear that citing to some portion of a predecisional document does not make the whole document subject to production. In Harwood, the court addressed the applicability of the predecisional materials exemption to a report concerning the relocation of Boeing's headquarters to Illinois. The report was prepared for the public body by a consulting firm. The FOIA requester argued that Governor Ryan had publicly cited the report, when he cited data that came from the report. The alleged citations included data that was included in an "executive summary" of the survey results and charts that were distributed to the public and that contained information that was not listed in the executive summary. The court noted, however, that the report itself had never been cited. Instead, the Governor had cited only the executive summary of the report, "a document that was prepared specifically for public release and that was provided to [the FOIA requester]." The charts that were distributed similarly "recapitulated all of the information contained in the executive summary and did not cite the complete, full . . . study itself." The court thus held that the report was exempt from disclosure under the predecisional materials exemption, recognizing that citation to some part of certain materials does not lead to waiver of the exemption for all related materials.

Here, although the superintendent has provided copies of an executive summary of the surveys to the public, the executive summary is a document that was prepared specifically for public release and is exempt under the precedent of Harwood. Similarly, although the superintendent has provided copies of some of the data from the survey results, the Superintendent has never cited to the complete, full survey results themselves and especially has never cited to the comments section of the survey. The District has provided the FOIA requester copies of the executive summary and the data other than the comments from the survey results, but is not required to provide the comments section. Harwood v. McDonough, 344 Ill. App. 3d 242 (1st Dist. 2003). The survey results are thus exempt from disclosure under the predecisional materials exemption.

Because the comments section of the data requested is preliminary material that has not been publicly cited by the head of the public body, the District asks the PAC to approve the use of the 7(1)(f) exemption for the comments portion of the survey data from the 2011 Community Survey. If the PAC determines that section 7(1)(f) does not apply to the records, the District retains the right to deny the request based on any other exemptions that may apply.

As required by Section 9.5(b) of the Act, 5 ILCS 140/9.5(b), enclosed is a copy of the original request for records, the extension letters described above, and a completed "Form For Pre-Approval of Use of Exemption 7(1)(c) or 7(1)(f)." Also enclosed is a copy of the letter to the requester for your records. I understand times for response or compliance by the District under the Act are tolled until the PAC renders a decision. 5 ILCS 140/9.5(b).


Tom Hernandez
Director of Community Relations and FOIA Officer
Plainfield CCSD 202

Survey results are always more fascinating when you can look at percentages or the number of folks who voted rather than a rating system.

The Herald-New requested the data via the Illinois Freedom of Information Act.

There were 3,018 people who responded to an online survey questionnaire. The district asked people to reflect on the last five years. They could choose strongly disagree; somewhat disagree; neither disagree or agree; somewhat agree and strongly agree. There were some people who didn't answer the question.

The survey results were broken down by several categories, including school level and staff.

For example, there were 34 percent or 1,513 people district-wide who strongly agreed that students have adequate access to current technology for instructional purposes. However, there were 13 percent or 597 who disagreed.

But if you look at the answers by certified staff, they tell a different story.

Out of the 494 certified staff members who responded to the question, 56 percent or 273 people who agreed there was adequate technology. However, 32 percent or 156 teachers and certified staff disagreed that students had adequate access to technology.

You also have to remember the staff who provides technology in the classrooms almost lost their jobs until the board decided to use a federal grant to save jobs.

It will be interesting to see how this survey impacts the board's decision next year and if those jobs will be saved to keep technology in the classrooms and if the district decides to place technology as a top priority among its goals in the five-year strategic plan.

Below the Herald-News lumped "the agrees" together and "the disagrees" together to show how parents, staff and community members rated Plainfield School District.

The survey says:

Satisfied with gifted services for children: 79 percent agreed and 15 percent disagreed.

Satisfied with special education services for kids: 76 percent agreed and 16 percent disagreed.

Elementary schools provide adequate opportunities for extra- and co-curricular activities: 67 percent agreed and 18 percent disagreed.

Classroom instruction is designed to meet students' individual learning needs: 65 percent agreed and 20 percent disagreed.

District administrators and staff is helpful and supportive: 64 percent agreed and 13 percent disagreed.

I am satisfied with the level of technical skills that students learn and use for learning: 63 percent agreed and 19 percent disagreed.

My school provides adequate support and resources to meet non-academic needs, such as post-high school plans, personal counseling and crisis support: 60 percent agreed and 13 percent disagreed.

Resources have been developed to fulfill the vision, mission and goals of the district: 60 percent agreed and 18 percent disagreed.

Student discipline is fairly consistently administered on the bus: 58 percent agreed and 16 percent disagreed.

My elementary school provides additional time, support, resources and programs before, during and after school to assure student learning: 54 percent agreed and 19 percent disagreed.

As a high school parent/guardian, I feel encouraged and welcome to participate in my child's classroom and school: 48 percent agreed and 24 percent disagreed.

I wished I had Nicole Walker as a teacher in high school. She truly shows you how science works.

Walker, who has been teaching at Plainfield Central High school since 1997, has received the prestigious 2011 Harald Jensen Award. The award is named for Lake Forest College faculty member Harald Jensen, who was an influential member and founder of the Illinois State Physics Project. Jansen used physics to inspire and intrigue students, and the award honors teachers who do likewise with their students.

She has also received the Claes Nobel educator of distinction award for encouragement of and dedication to the academic success of students in 2009.

Is your kid not doing well in science? Well, here are some tips from the master.

1. What is the challenge of teaching physics?

"The greatest challenge of teaching physics or any class lies in convincing teenagers that a little work goes a long way. If they were to re-read the notes they took in class the night that they were taken, they would understand so much more. It would actually become much easier," she said. "They would save time in the end. The language of physics consists of vocabulary words and formulas. Spending three to five extra minutes a night times five days in a week would cost you 25 additional minutes. Learning the same material the night before the test would require an hour and a quarters worth of effort. Your retention of the material would be short term and not as deep. A little daily studying helps you to understand far more. Each day, I add another piece to the puzzle. You won't see the big picture if you're ignoring the daily tidbits. Those who have enjoyed a physics class with me exit with a stronger work ethic. My goal is to better prepare students for college and to encourage them to ask questions throughout their lives."

2. Why do we need to know physics?

"Physics encourages critical thinking. This is the art of analyzing and evaluating how you think with the view of improving this process. Critical thinking is essential to the mastery of content. I use Socratic questioning to teach. Students are not familiar with this technique at first and are not terribly fond of it. They would prefer to just be given an answer," she said. "Socratic questioning is a systematic and in-depth line of questioning that uncovers the structure of your own thoughts and allows one to make connections and see the big picture. It teaches one how to think and to figure things out for themselves. It's beneficial for building ACT test taking strategies. In essence, we play 'volleyball' with questions that are asked in class. It may take us five or six 'hits' to get the 'ball; over the net, but we learn something in the process about solving the problem. We also learn to trust our own judgment and ability to problem solve. That is a life-long skill."

Starting next year, no matter what school you're at - high school finals will count 20 percent toward the overall grade.
Last November, school board member Michelle Smith said there should be consistency among the four high schools as to the value assigned to final exams.
Currently, depending on what high school you attend in Plainfield School District, a final exam could impact the class grade by 10 percent or 20 percent.
Smith said she didn't have a problem with 10 percent, but thought that value should be applied at all high schools.
The high schools decided a couple years ago that finals would count for no less than 10 percent, and no more than 20 percent of the semester grade. But each building has autonomy to decide what that means for themselves, said Glenn Wood, director of high school curriculum.
At Plainfield East, finals are worth 10 percent of the final grade. Plainfield Central and Plainfield North set it at 20 percent.
Plainfield South allows between 10 and 20 percent, depending on course or department. For example, all algebra courses are worth the same percent because individual math teachers cannot set their own percentages.
Last fall, the board decided to let its curriculum coordinating council, consisting of teachers, parents and administrators, come up with a plan that would address consistency among the schools. The board requested the council to create an equal weighting across the district for final exams.
At Wednesday's committee meeting, Wood presented the new weighting system of 20 percent.
The curriculum and instruction department contacted school districts and universities to see what they do.
Valley View School District in Romeoville and Bolingbrook came in at the highest with 25 percent. The majority of the school districts have finals count for 20 percent of the overall semester grade, including Lincoln-Way, Joliet Township, Naperville, Downers Grove, Minooka, Lockport and Hinsdale.
Wood said they discovered that there was no consistency at the colleges, which range from zero to 60 percent. They checked with the colleges of business, engineering and education.
Principals are set to start the new policy next school year.
"Everybody is on board," Wood said.

Plainfield School Board slightly adjusted its school start and finish times for 2011-12 school year from the times originally published as part of the new triple tier busing system.

Superintendent John Harper said the district was able to end elementary school five minutes earlier because the high school principals shaved a minute off of each of their six passing periods. Passing periods will be five minutes long instead of six.


"We were able to use the extra minutes at the end of the day to release our elementary school students a few minutes earlier than what we had originally planned," Harper said. "It is not a significant deviation from the original plan."

The board approved the new start times at its Monday night meeting.

In December when Harper originally unveiled his plan for a later start time for elementary school students, he said there would be a challenge in the winter when students walked home from bus stops around 4:15 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. - when the sky was getting darker.

Elementary schools will now start and end five minutes earlier from 9:05 a.m. to 3:40 p.m. except for Lakewood Falls.

Lakewood Falls will hold school from 8:55 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. due to its proximity to Creekside Elementary, which is about a half a block away. By staggering the times, it will help with traffic in that area, Harper said.

Middle school will start five minutes earlier at 7:55 a.m. and end six minutes earlier 2:55 p.m.

High school will still start at 7:05 a.m., but will end six minutes earlier at 2:10 p.m.

Plainfield Academy's first tier will be held from 7:45 a.m. to 1:15 p.m. and its second tier from 8:35 a.m. to 2:05 p.m. Turn-about program at Plainfield Academy will be held from 1:10 p.m. to 6:10 p.m.

Bonnie McBeth early childhood classes will be held from 8 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. to 3 p.m. Special need classes will be held from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

St. Mary's Immaculate School will be held from 8:30 a.m. to 3:15 p.m.

To save $598,298, the board approved a triple tier busing system that tightens transportation schedules and adjust school times. Bus drivers will handle three routes instead of two, eliminating the need for about 30 buses.

The biggest impact is on Plainfield South and Plainfield East high school students who will start school an hour and five minutes earlier than they do today. Students at Plainfield Central and Plainfield North would start 15 minutes earlier than now.

Comment on this story.

Great article this morning. Having been a school board member for over sixteen years in a small district. I am amazed. Amazed that board member Dargan stated he had nothing to do with the contract. Well I beg to differ.

Does the board have nothing to do with any language or salary or benefits?

I was on our negotiating team last year. The superintendent was impartial. The board team negotiated along with the teacher team. I think it is a joke that these board members took money for their campaign. Evidently the teacher union sees some kind of benefit to supporting these candidates. Otherwise they wouldn't have spent that outrageous amount of money. As always. I applaud your work. And I look forward to more. - Nick

I cannot write a letter to the editor for several reasons, but I strongly urge an editorial regarding school board candidates accepting financial support from teacher associations or unions. The comments from candidate Dargan are incredibly naive. Candidate Van has a wife working in the district and while this could work out it is froth with problems. - Don

This might be the local teachers union's first time endorsing and contributing to a candidate's campaign, but it's not unusual elsewhere.

Unions have been contributing to local politics for a long time.

Since there is usually a low turnout in school board elections, a union's endorsement could have an impact. In Plainfield School District, there are about 700 teachers and support staff union members who live within the boundaries so their vote could swing toward a union's endorsement.

Then, there's the question of what happens if union-endorsed candidates get on the board and have to make decisions about the folks who helped them get elected.

We turned to the educational and political experts for their view on this national debate.

Richard Rothstein is a research associate of the Economic Policy Institute, , and a former national education columnist for The New York Times.

"In my view, this is a much broader issue than teachers and school boards. We have a generally corrupt political system in which campaign contributions from interested parties are routinely made to public officials who make decisions affecting the contributors. How is the situation you describe different from a defense contractor making a contribution to a congressman or senator who will vote on new weapons systems? In such cases, they all claim, with a straight face, that there was no quid pro quo.

"I don't see how you can prohibit teachers unions from contributing to school board candidates when this larger corruption infects the entire political system. And are teachers any different from those who might contribute to school board candidates because they want to keep their own property taxes low, and so they contribute to candidates who might favor a tougher line on teachers' salaries?

"I fully agree with you that the situation you describe is problematic, but I think it is mistaken to single out your teachers' union here. Until we take all such money out of politics, there is no basis for singling out the teachers' union. I have never heard of a local school district that adopted a public financing policy, but it would be worth considering.

However, even if you have public financing, that would not prevent teachers' unions from spending their own money to run their own independent campaigns for or against candidates. And the same is true of a taxpayers group."

Paul Peterson is the Henry Lee Shattuck professor of government and director of the program on education policy and governance at Harvard University; a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University; and editor-in-chief of Education Next, a journal of opinion and research. Peterson is a former director of the Center for American Political Studies at Harvard University and of the governmental studies program at the Brookings Institution. Website:

"It is not so much a matter of whether or not unions can give as whether or not candidates may receive a contribution from a party with which they will be negotiating directly upon election. If a candidate makes explicit promises, it is probably a violation of the law. If the candidate does not, the practice is dubious, bordering on the unethical, but it is probably not a violation of the law.

"This issue comes up in well-known political corruption cases. Can candidates for public office receive money from organizations with whom they will be in direct negotiation if elected for public office? I believe the former governor of Illinois was prosecuted for allegedly accepting gifts from individuals who had a stake in decisions the governor made. I think it was necessary to prove that a quid pro quo was agreed upon, at least implicitly.

"A city council member in Boston was recently convicted for accepting money in return for assisting with securing that person a liquor license.

"In the case you describe, it is probably more the appearance of an ethical impropriety than an outright violation of the law, unless the candidates for office have promised support for union demands during the negotiations in exchange for receiving financial support.

"The stated motives of the donor would not seem to be relevant, as they may mask another motivation. But even though the practice strikes me as dubious, it is probably not a violation of the law."

Mike Petrilli, executive vice president of the Fordham Institute, oversees the organization's research projects and publications. He contributes to the Flypaper blog and weekly Education Gadfly newsletter. He is also a research fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution and executive editor of Education Next
Previously, Petrilli was an associate assistant deputy secretary in the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Innovation and Improvement.

"No, I've never heard from candidates abstaining from a vote on the contract. In many places, there might NEVER BE A VOTE if all of the endorsed candidates abstained, because everyone is endorsed by the union! I certainly think the union has the right to take action like this, and parents are right to raise questions, too. But I don't think there's any legal or ethical code that would require a board member to abstain. The parents might want to run their own slate next time!" Petrilli said.

Not everyone approves of the Association of Plainfield Teachers (APT) getting involved in local politics.

Seven candidates are vying for three four-year slots on the school board, including incumbents Roger Bonuchi and Dave Obrzut and newcomers Anthony Scala and Greg Nichols.

The union has endorsed three candidates: Newcomers Kevin Kirberg, Tommie Van and William Dargan Jr., giving them $2,000 each.

Bonuchi, Scala and Nichols say it's a conflict of interest because the new board will vote on the teachers' contract.

Van, Kirberg and Dargan disagree.

So far the APT's political action committee has spent $14,361 supporting their three candidates. The group spent:

$1,260 on advertising in Enterprise Newspapers
$4,000 to FedEx for mailing
$1,228 to R&M Specialties LTD for yard signs
$1,873 to R&M for printing

On March 21, the Association of Plainfield Teachers union received $18,240 from the Illinois Political Action Committee for Education, a vehicle that allows teachers in the Illinois Education Association to help get candidates elected to the the General Assembly, statewide offices and local school boards who will make a difference for quality education, according to their website.

Karie Beck, president of the teachers union, said this is the first time in at least 10 years that the union has endorsed and financially supported candidates for the local school board.

An interview committee was made up of teachers of different ages, gender, experience and schools. Board representatives at each of the 30 schools voted on who the union should endorse, Beck said.

Committee members stayed away from positional questions, such as how candidates would vote to eliminate the deficit.

Beck said they asked the candidates to explain how they agree to disagree; how they reach a consensus; their philosophy on education and if they were long-term decision-makers.

"The three that we endorsed is what we think are good characteristics of school board members. I'm not saying the others are not of good character. This is just what we felt was the best," Beck said.

Beck said all seven candidates participated in the union's interview process, with three objecting only after they weren't chosen.

The union is mailing fliers to some of the 58,000 registered voters.

There are about 700 members in the teachers union and the Plainfield support staff union who live within Plainfield School District boundaries and can vote in the upcoming election.

Beck said she doesn't see a conflict of interest, saying unions across the country support candidates.

She especially doesn't see a conflict regarding the teachers contract because the administration makes a recommendation to the school board.

"We are not going forward with a recommendation. The district's administration is going forward with recommendations to the board," Beck said. "The (board members) are the managers of the district. We don't make recommendations to the board."

During teachers' contract negotiations, the school board is not part of negotiations, but sets parameters, Beck said. Administration sits at the table with union representatives and each side bargains before taking what they think is a fair offer back to the board or teachers for ratification.

"Either party can turn it down," Beck said. "My members can turn it down and the board can turn it down."

While the union endorsed Van, Kirberg and Dargan, other candidates also received endorsements.

Bonuchi did not receive campaign contributions from anyone, but was endorsed by the Plainfield Township Republican Organization, the Wheatland Township Republican
Organization and supported by Plainfield Mayor Mike Collins, Bolingbrook Mayor Roger Claar and Romeoville Mayor John Noak.

Nichols has been endorsed by the Wheatland Township Republican Organization and the Plainfield Township Republican Organization. He received no money or campaign materials from them.

Obrzut said he was endorsed by the Wheatland Township Republican Organization. He also received no money from them.

Scala did not receive any endorsements.

Plainfield School Board meets about twice a month. Before one of the two meetings, the board holds a committee meeting which allows the press to write an advance story to let the public know what the board will be voting on.

However, without a committee meeting, the public can be in the dark.

Last year, administration gave the board a packet including its recommendation not to install turf at its four high schools. District office wouldn't give the press the recommendation in advance of the meeting.

I got the recommendation from a source, but in other school districts the packet is available before board meetings - with or without a committee meeting.

So this question is important to not only the press, but the public.

Five candidates - Kevin Kirberg, Tommie Van, William Dargan Jr., Anthony Scala and Greg Nichols - are hoping to unseat incumbents Roger Bonuchi and Dave Obrzut. School board President Stuart Bledsoe is not running for re-election.

Should the press have access to board packets to write advance stories on what the board will be voting on at the next meeting? Please explain your answer.

Here's what they said:

KIRBERG: Giving access to the press is an important component in keeping the public informed. Having not served on the school board, I am not sure what level of detail is included in the packet and would want to make sure the information was presented in a way that the press could write an advance story on that would clearly present the information. If that was the case, I would be in favor of providing additional access.

DARGAN: I would support the distribution of information to inform the public of upcoming discussion points to ensure that the public has the opportunity to give feedback prior to any vote taken.

OBRZUT: I believe strongly in the public's right to access information, however at the same time, I also believe the governing officials have a right to receive it first and to publicly discuss and debate the merits of the information, without the intrusion of the media. In today's high-tech information society, news media outlets not only report the news but also provide a forum for readers to publicly respond to it online. We're all human and vulnerable to the same pressures as anyone else. It's my view it's in the best interest of the organization we serve to release this information at board meetings rather than in advance of those meetings.

SCALA: Yes we need the word to get out and we need to be more transparent.

VAN: All information that is pertinent for public release I have no problem with that being released early. Any issues that involve personnel matters should be kept confidential.

BONUCHI: Only board members should have access to board packets. However, we could create a "press packet" that would describe current subjects that the board is considering. Any particular event, vote, or discussion, that can be made public, can be available in advance of a meeting in a press packet.

NICHOLS: While I believe that the operation of the board needs to be as transparent as possible, I also understand that sharing all information with the board and the public at the same time might result in "Management by Public Outcry". Board members need time to analyze and research issues in order to make the best decision for the entire district. It would not be fair to the board or to the public at large to allow the groups that can assemble the most people in the shortest time to unduly influence select board decisions by mere mobilization.

Over the past year, the school board has had some miscommunication problems with the board's current committee process.

Board members pointed fingers at administration and one another about who is responsible for passing down information regarding action items to be voted on.

Superintendent John Harper recommended that the board meet monthly as a whole committee to go over the upcoming agenda rather than holding four separate committees with three members each.

However, that set-up would eliminate the chair position for each committee. In turn, the board president would run the committee-of-the-whole meetings.

The board was scheduled to discuss this issue at their winter retreat, but the board didn't make a final decision. So it will be up to the new board. There are three seats that voters will decide upon during the April 5th election.

Five candidates -- Kevin Kirberg, Tommie Van, William Dargan Jr., Anthony Scala and Greg Nichols -- hope to unseat incumbents Roger Bonuchi and Dave Obrzut.
School board President Stuart Bledsoe is not running for re-election.

Are you in favor of the whole committee concept? Why or why not?

SCALA: I favor the committees there is a lot of info that needs to be looked at and processed.

BONUCHI: "Committee of the Whole" (COW) could be useful to ensure that everyone gets the same information at the same time. However, with so much committee work to do, a COW could take a long time. Today, every board member gets the same information in advance of the current committee date, even if you're not on that committee. Those items discussed at the committee is then the responsibility of the chair and the board participants to make known to the rest of the board members at the next meeting, where a vote may be taken. If that step is satisfied, then the current committee system works. I have no hard feelings either way, I just expect the COW process to be very lengthy.

DARGAN: I would recommend the committee of the whole process. It would ensure that the board would all get the same information at the same time. Additionally, it would provide the atmosphere for more direct dialog and a deeper dive into the understanding of the topics with all parties impacted by whatever the specific discussion points are. In the end it can only positively impact the board as they will make fact based decisions based on first hand discussion of the subjects being discussed/proposed.

VAN: I would be in favor of the whole committee concept. By meeting together as one team it creates a productive environment and clears the path for the district associates and board members to be productive in other areas rather than their calendars being bombarded with meetings.

OBRZUT: The committee of the whole is just one idea being discussed. As made apparent by some recent miscommunications, something needs to be done. When the new board is seated I recommend that it set time aside on a monthly or bi-monthly basis to evaluate their meeting structure as well as their decision-making process, and if a fundamental change is needed such as moving from a subcommittee structure to a committee of the whole, then it should happen.

KIRBERG: I do believe the committee of the whole is a viable option for the District 202 School Board. It would streamline the communication among board members and allow for thoughtful input from all board members on each issue at the committee level.

NICHOLS: I am not in favor of a committee of the whole for our district. There are too many details to be considered and too many decisions that must be made in a timely fashion to have the entire board sit in on every facet of everything.
The existing board is more transformational than most, dealing with issues relatively new to our district (stalled growth and horrible economy) and trying to change the culture of the board to be more transparent.
The end result of these actions is that the board has had some growing pains in regards to communication from committee back to the board as a whole as well as instructions issued by committee back to the administration. These issues will resolve themselves over time as the operating parameters of the district stabilize and the Board can mature to these parameters.

FRIDAY'S QUESTION: Should the press have access to board packets to write advance stories on what the board will be voting on at the next meeting? Please explain your answer.

Catherine Ann Velasco

Catherine Ann Velasco has covered education and children and family issues for The Herald-News since 1997. She keeps an eye on schools in Will and Grundy counties. Her best stories always come from readers’ tips or public comment during a board meeting. So if there’s some good news or bad news at your school – she’d like to know. Join the conversation about the twists and turns and surprises that pop up on her beat. And, find some extra news that she just can’t wait to tell you.


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