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Saturday, November 03, 2012

Ind. Gov't. - "PAC finds no public access violation by South Bend school board"

Kim Kilbride filed this long South Bend Tribune story Nov. 1st, reporting:

SOUTH BEND — Indiana’s Public Access Counselor has ruled the Sept. 19 executive session of South Bend’s school board did not violate the state’s Open Door Law, so long as the discussion that took place was all related to the consent decree, a desegregation order from 1980.

The Tribune filed a formal complaint with the PAC after school board Vice President Bill Sniadecki said he was uncomfortable during the executive session because he felt some of the topics brought up should not legally have been discussed behind closed doors.

In his amended advisory opinion issued Thursday afternoon, Public Access Counselor Joseph Hoage, wrote, “if the discussions that occurred during the September 19, 2012 executive session were limited to what was provided in the notice, it is my opinion that the school did not violate the” Open Door Law.

Hoage wrote “emphasis added” on the “if”.

He went on to say the public access counselor is not a finder of fact.

“Advisory opinions are based upon the facts presented,” he wrote. “If the facts are in dispute, the public access counselor opines based on both potential outcomes.”

Indiana law allows public boards to discuss only specific things in executive sessions, meetings that are closed to the public.

The notice the school corporation sent out prior to the Sept. 19 meeting said its purpose was to discuss the initiation of litigation or litigation that was either pending or had been threatened specifically in writing.

The district has undergone an extensive facilities study and Superintendent Carole Schmidt had publicly said one or more buildings would close by the beginning of next school year to save money, though she has since said that likely won’t happen.

The district is actually looking at opening new schools now.

Hoage initially told The Tribune he questioned whether the consent decree from 1980 would be considered “pending” litigation.

In his ruling Thursday, though, he clarified that the consent decree has indeed been pending since 1980 since the obligations of it continue until the school corporation attains “unitary status.”

That happens, he wrote, when a district has been desegregated and a court determines it has “eliminated the vestiges of past discrimination.”

The issues Sniadecki claimed were inappropriately discussed during the session include what would happen to school buildings that would close.

Specifically, Sniadecki said, it was discussed that state law allows charter school operators to purchase former school buildings for $1 if they sit vacant for a year or more.

He said there was also discussion about Perley Fine Arts Academy and potential interest in the purchase of the property it sits on by a certain neighboring organization.

On Thursday, Sniadecki said it was also discussed that “if we have any challenges as far as closing any of the buildings, we won’t be saving any money because legal fees would overwhelm any savings of closing any buildings.”

The story links to the Nov. 1, 2012 opinion issued by the Public Access Counselor in response to "Formal Complaint 12-FC-287(a); Alleged Violation of the Open Door Law by the South Bend Community School Corporation."

Posted by Marcia Oddi on November 3, 2012 01:03 PM
Posted to Indiana Government