Thursday, June 30, 2011

State education board meeting's vague agenda item didn't identify possible elimination of programs

The state Board of Education last week cut several programs even though its meeting agenda noted only "discussion and possible action on the FY2012 Common Education Budget Work Program."

"Some board members complained during the meeting that they only received the budget details the evening before the meeting and they wanted more time to look over the numbers," reported Oklahoma Watchdog Editor Peter J. Rudy.

"The budget details were not posted online and the press did not receive copies until just before the meeting started," Rudy noted. "It could be argued that ... stakeholders (like National Board Certified teachers) had no idea looking at the agenda that their programs were being eliminated."

The board cut funding for National Board Certified teacher bonuses, adult education, charter school startup grants, new robotics programs, and middle school mathematics laboratories, The Oklahoman had reported.

The newspaper had also noted that board members complained about not having enough time to study the budget prior to being asked to vote on it.

"I just think it's kind of unfair to give it to us the day before and want us to try to vote on it," board member Gayle Miles-Scott said. "Could we not have a special meeting?"

State schools Superintendent Janet Barresi told Rudy that staff had worked on the budget "up to the 11th hour."

"We had to make a decision yesterday that we had to move forward with this," she said.

(Watch Barresi's reaction in the video as Rudy explains that the Oklahoma County District Attorney's Office is investigating the Oklahoma Human Services Commission for a possible Open Meeting Act violation because its agenda's budget item did not specify increased co-payments for clients who receive child-care benefits and reduced income eligibility.)

So it literally wasn't possible to call a special meeting to give board members and the public time to mull over the budget details? And to include those important details on the agenda for a special meeting?

The Open Meeting Act says each agenda "shall identify all items of business to be transacted by a public body at a meeting." (OKLA. STAT. tit. 25, § 311(B)(1))

The state education board's agenda didn't do that. Barresi should have asked for a special meeting so the agenda could specify such important budget cuts. The public and the board members being asked to vote on that budget deserved more time to consider it. The board's vote is not supposed to be a rubber-stamp.

Joey Senat, Ph.D.
Associate Professor
OSU School of Media & Strategic Communications

The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the commentators and do not necessarily represent the position of FOI Oklahoma Inc., its staff, or its board of directors. Differing interpretations of open government law and policy are welcome.

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