News

CKSD opens previously closed meetings to public

By PAUL BALCERAK

Staff writer

The Central Kitsap School District has opened up its previously closed-session Task Force Resource (TFR) committee meetings amid pressure from the state attorney general’s office.

In a letter to the school district dated March 21, Washington State Assistant Attorney General Timothy Ford made it clear that he thought the practice violated the state’s Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA).

“An advisorty committee whose primary function is to study, discuss, deliberate, and make recommendations that may affect a school district’s decision or policy, is likely acting ‘on behalf’ of the school district and therefore subject to the OPMA,” Ford wrote.

Ford’s contact with the district was sparked by an e-mail from a Seabeck resident concerned the district was in violation of OPMA, according to Ford’s letter, which also stated that “her concerns are not unique.”

The committees — such as the secondary configuration and school closure study committee, which is currently studying the feasibility of closing another CKSD school to close a budget gap — have been meeting in closed view of the public for some time now. It has been the school district’s assertion that because the committees work on behalf of Superintendent Greg Lynch and not the CKSD school board, the committee meetings were not subject to OPMA.

The school district maintained that viewpoint in lieu of Ford’s letter, but opted to open up the meetings anyway.

“We have no interest at all to debate the open meeting act,” Lynch said. “It would be distracting to us.”

TFR was established in 2006. The group’s charge was to come up with solutions to the district’s mounting budget problems and continues to do so today.

Several subcommittees have been created under TFR during the years, most to brainstorm ideas for a specific budget concern or action plan, such as the school closure committee.

Lynch’s rationale behind keeping the meetings closed-door was rooted in two concerns: that committee members may not be as frank or forthcoming with opinions if members of the community or press were in attendance and that open meetings could start a “rumor mill” over ideas that had not been finalized.

“The downside, when you open up the meeting, particularly to the press, is that you may not be able to get people you want on the committee,” Lynch said. Additionally, “we’re not prepared to handle the avalanche of letters and e-mails” that could be received in regard to ideas that hadn’t been “vetted” by him or the school board.

Until now, TFR committees’ happenings have only been made public during school district study sessions or regular board meetings.

“The motivation isn’t (that) we’re trying to cover things up,” Lynch said. “The motivation is we’re trying to get things right.”

He further cited Attorney General Opinion Number 16, created in 1986, which in essence concluded that governmental committees devoid of decision-making power were exempt of the OPMA.

“We believe that we certainly did not violate the law,” he said.

Whatever the case, the district opened the most recent school closure committee meeting, held March 25, and announced the opening of all future meetings at the March 26 school board meeting.

School closure committee meetings

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