Public struggles to understand decisions at meetings
By Scott Bellile
The Hortonville School Board will introduce new measures aimed at bringing more transparency to its meetings.
The board on Monday, Aug. 8, came up with three ways it and Hortonville Area School District plan to be more open with the public:
• Post minutes online from all committee meetings beginning with Jan. 1, 2016. Currently only board minutes are posted online.
• Provide a synopsis detailing proposed revisions to district policies before the board votes on them. Currently the agenda only gives the policy number and title, such as “8453.01 Control of Blood-Borne Pathogens,” with no information on what’s being changed.
• List dates of when returning agenda items were last discussed at committee or board meetings, so people can refer to those minutes. This won’t include the topics of new hires, firings or closed session discussions.
Additionally, board members agreed they should tell the audience a brief history on action items before a vote. Board members view relevant meeting materials on computers during meetings, so oftentimes that cuts down on their discussions and questions to one another. In turn, the public has criticized the board for voting without discussion.
“[Teachers] don’t feel like they get much out of [a meeting] because they’ll see an agenda item, we don’t say anything about it, we just vote,” board member Bob VanDenElzen said. “So they were telling me they would like to come and know some information so they leave here feeling that they got something out of it.”
Discussions about the school board’s transparency began this summer after dozens of parents attended two board meetings to express concern over the administration’s alleged mistreatment toward Hortonville Middle School teachers. They accused HASD of not being an open government.
No parents spoke on the matter at Monday’s meeting and no mention was made of it.
The board didn’t specify when or how its transparency measures will be implemented. For example, it’s not yet clear whether the board will begin to include with its agendas memos outlining histories on returning agenda items, or if that information will all be presented orally at meetings.
Board member Craig Dreier said he’s on board with offering brief histories of discussions at meetings provided the attendees don’t expect board members to rehash everything. The public should attend those prior meetings if they want the full story, he said.
Attendees have told board members major items sometimes appear to get approved out of the blue, such as a July decision to eliminate activity bus routes. The reason is the discussions begin at sparsely attended committee meetings. They don’t appear before the board until it’s time for a vote.
Board member Dana Ramshak suggested the school board create an online tutorial that educates the public on how its meetings work. She said it should tell the public the committee meetings are the key ones to attend if they wish to hear in-depth discussions or interact with board members.
“A lot of the discussion with the public, a lot more of it happens at the committee level, at least that’s been my experience so far,” Ramshak said. “But if you don’t know that, it can be a little daunting about where to start.”