GROVE CITY – Grove City School Board unveiled a new meeting procedure that may run afoul with the state’s Open Meetings law.
After the first run Tuesday, school board President Lee McCracken, who instituted the format, said it might need to be tweaked so the public can participate in board discussions.
“Transparency is important,” McCracken said.
After beginning the board’s work session Tuesday, McCracken – who was elected in November to the board and voted board president in December – said board members would conduct committee meetings for the next hour.
McCracken said at the Dec. 4 reorganization meeting that committee meetings would be held at the beginning of monthly work sessions to institute a more structured procedure.
Previously, committee meetings, which are open to the public, were held separately from work sessions and business meetings. Committee chairs typically reported their group’s discussion during full board meetings.
Each committee sat at separate tables in the board room, with the facilities and school safety committee initially going into executive session to discuss potential litigation with the Hillview Elementary School construction project. The facilities committee returned to the board room after a half hour.
Each committee discussed its designated agenda items simultaneously, which made their conversations difficult for members of the public to hear.
Melissa Melewsky, media law counsel with the Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association, said that process excluded the public and posed a potential violation of the state’s Open Meetings law, also known as the Sunshine Law.
“That’s not the way it’s supposed to work,” she said.
Melewsky said committee meetings should be conducted like any other board meeting – the public should be able to hear and understand everything that is being said and given the chance to offer input.
“It’s a public process,” she said.
State law guarantees the public’s right to witness those discussions, Melewsky said, which makes simultaneous committee meetings problematic.
McCracken said he spoke with district’s solicitor Andrew Evankovich before Tuesday’s meeting and the attorney advised him that the process complies with the Sunshine Law.
The board may have to make a few changes to how the committee meetings are conducted, McCracken said, to ensure the public can listen to the discussions that they want to hear.
He hopes that the new format gives the board members a chance to put more focus on the topics that interest them the most.
The rest of Tuesday’s work session included reports from each committee chair and information about what topics they discussed.
Heather Baker is chairwoman of the student affairs and activities committee, with board member Ray Abplanalp and board Vice President Ryan Thomas. The committee did not have anything to report.
Dr. Constance Nichols is chairwoman of the educational services committee, with board members Doug Gerwick and Patty Wilson. Their discussion included staff conference requests and name changes to school buildings at George Junior Republic.
The board will vote on the calendar for the 2020-21 school year in February, Nichols said. The committee is also looking at plans to move students from Highland Primary Center to Hillview, Assistant Superintendent Dr. Joshua Weaver said.
McCracken is chairman of the finance committee, with board members Dr. Armando Sciullo and J. Scott Somora. Their agenda items focused on bills and the budget. Sciullo was absent.
Somora is chairman of the personnel committee, with McCracken and Wilson. They discussed new hires and substitutes.
Abplanalp is chairman of the facilities committee, with Baker and Thomas. They talked about work planned for Forker Field, and having Solicitor Evankovich look into Grove City YMCA’s interest in buying the Highland building.
Gerwick is chair of the policy and legislative affairs committee, with Nichols and Sciullo. They reviewed the principles for governance and leadership, which are supposed to be renewed every year, as advised by the Pennsylvania School Boards Association.
Board members then held “Moment for Missions,” which is a chance to share positive news and events related to the school district. The meeting then adjourned.
No one from the public chose to comment at the beginning of the meeting. There was no opportunity for public comment offered at the end of the work session, in another break from previous procedure.
Pennsylvania appellate courts have interpreted the Sunshine Law to require a comment period at the beginning of meetings, so residents could speak on proposals prior to a vote. There is no requirement for comments at the end of meetings.
The voting meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. Monday, Jan. 13, in the board conference room at the district’s main office.
Melewsky said the board should return to conducting committee meetings separately from regular board meetings. Committee chairs can then report back to the rest of the board.
“The larger board hears what’s happening and so does the public,” she said.
She understands the desire to streamline meetings, but Tuesday night’s process was “not the way to do it.
McCracken added that while committee meetings are open to the public, it’s not a time for back-and-forth between the public and board members.
The board president said he believes the board will continue holding committee meetings during work sessions instead of going back to the previous setup.
“That’s not in the cards,” he said.