If Harrisonville residents want to know exactly what local school board members say to the public and to each other during their monthly meetings from here on out, they will need to attend the meetings themselves or watch videos of them posted online by board critics.
Those details will no longer be available in official minutes recorded by the board secretary and posted on the district’s website.
During their monthly meeting Nov. 18, board members approved a policy amendment restricting the board secretary from recording in the official minutes any information other than what is required by Missouri’s Sunshine Law: the nature of the meeting (regular, special, open, closed, etc.); the date, time and place of the meeting; the members present and absent, and a record of votes.
The record of votes includes all motions made, the names of the members making and seconding the motions, and a numerical record of the members voting “yea” and “nay,” unless each member’s vote is recorded because it’s a roll call vote or required by law.
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If a roll call vote is taken, the vote will be attributed to the name of the member. Special notation will be made of abstaining members, and their vote will be recorded as an abstention.
School board president Marie Vallee has said the policy follows a recommendation of the Missouri School Boards’ Association.
Board member Susie Yoder moved to make the change, and Marv Cochran seconded the motion. There were four votes for the motion (Yoder, Cochran, Vallee and Jerald Dickey) and three against (Chad Reynolds, Deb Welhoff and Jeff Rudell).
Previously, the board secretary included members’ deliberations about agenda items. The board first discussed the issue of board minutes in October.
Before the board approved the change Tuesday, Marci Bauml was one of two individuals from the audience to speak out against such a move, asking the board to leave the policy “as is.”
Chris Bell, a vocal critic of the board who began videotaping board meetings in October, also spoke, reiterating his longstanding suspicions that the board is trying to “squelch the flow of information” to the public. His videos are posted at www.HarrisonvilleSchoolBoardWatch.com.
Bauml, a former family and consumer sciences teacher for the district who retired in 2010, said that certified and classified employees of the district would not have access to important, meaningful information if the content of board discussions was not accessible without attending the meeting in person.
After the meeting, Bauml said that the minimum information that will now be reported is not sufficient for anyone to grasp a meeting’s content. “They won’t know anything.”
Vallee the board president, said the next day that the change would not eliminate all access to board discussions because the district’s director of communications, Jill Filer, takes her own notes and sends a detailed summary of meetings to all teachers, a practice that the board did not change.
Bauml said she began attending board meetings last spring when newly elected board members came on so that she could observe changes made and the working relationships of board members.
“I needed to see for myself what was going on and not listen to it secondhand.”
There’s a lot of “negativity” now, Bauml said. One board member in particular, whom she would not name, has displayed “unprofessional, obnoxious behavior.”
She said the videotaping that Bell started in October has resulted in an obvious and drastic change of behavior and/or attitude by board members.
“All of a sudden they’re acting like they’re friends. They’re respectful of each other … They act like they’re working as one unit.”
Vallee said the next day that she did not agree: “I don’t think there was unprofessional behavior before the videotaping.”
The board is divided on some issues, she added. “I believe it may even be healthy for boards, at times, to disagree.”
But Bauml thinks that “they are so caught up in changing policies and appointing subcommittees for closed meetings that I have to question, ‘What have they actually done for our students and what have they done to better the Harrisonville school district?’ They are wanting the district and the public to know for sure they are in charge and they are the power people right now. It’s just really a shame.”
Bauml also said the district has some “fabulous” board members.
“I support the school district 100 percent.”
School board member resigns; Dickey is new VP
Jerald Dickey is the new vice president of the Harrisonville Board of Education.
He was elected Nov. 18 by fellow board members after Jeff Rudell resigned from the board. Rudell previously had held the vice-pesidency.
In his resignation letter, Rudell said “new career obligations and family responsibilities” were driving his need to leave with about four months to go in his second term. Rudell was elected in 2009.
Rudell did not respond to efforts to contact him. His letter to the board said, “I am a better person due to the exposure I received in being immersed in the workings of our district, the field of education and for the many people I have met due to their involvement in the district.”
According to the district website, a two-week period will be established for receipt of applications from residents who wish to be appointed to Rudell’s seat. The board will also set a date for an open session to review/interview the applicants and make a selection.