Schools
 

Charter board strategizes privately despite sunshine law

The board of New Orleans College Preparatory Academies held an unusual three-and-a-half hour closed session Saturday, in part to discuss matters that public bodies aren’t allowed to talk about privately.

Further, members emerged from the closed-door session and approved two measures, neither of which were on the agenda and without providing a reason for doing so, as the law requires.

The state open-meetings law allows private meetings for a handful of specific purposes.

Board Chairman Kenneth Polite explained to a reporter during a break in the meeting that the board was discussing sensitive matters involving the future of the school. He said it would be premature and perhaps detrimental to make such matters public.

Former Chairman Hal Brown said that the board had repeatedly held meetings and retreats in the past that were closed to the public, at which school planning was discussed in depth.

However, the letter of the open-meetings law doesn’t allow for such private discussion.

The board gave two reasons for the private meeting.

The first, to discuss the performance of Executive Director Ben Kleban, clearly falls within in the state law’s exemption, and the board has regularly met in executive session for this reason.

Polite also cited an exemption that he claimed would have allowed private discussion for “strategic planning.” But he later admitted this was not related to a specific litigation or collecting bargaining agreement, as allowed by law.

Materials discussed in the closed session appeared to fall outside the exemptions allowed by law.  PowerPoint presentations were shown to the board diagramming topics such as school attendance, grade performance, and options for expanding to run another charter school.  The presentations were clearly visible through the wall of windows separating waiting areas from the closed session.

When members re-opened the meeting to the public, the board voted to make technical changes to its recently submitted application to the state for a new charter school. That matter was not on the agenda.

State open-meetings law allows board to add items to the agenda, but it requires a board to explain why items are being added; the board did not do so Saturday.

Board members also voted to approve a 5 percent bonus for Kleban. Again, this item was not on the board’s agenda, and members did not explain why it had to be added.

Board member Jim Raby and secretary Murray Pitts left the meeting after those votes were taken.  Vice Chairwoman Monica Edwards and Ruth Kullman had left previously during executive session. Polite, Brown and Treasurer Peter Harding were the only members remaining for public comment.

Additionally, the board voted to add new member Julie Walker. Walker is an expert in non-profit fund-raising, and was introduced to the board at last month’s meeting.

The meeting began at 9 a.m. concluded just after 12:30 p.m.

This story has been clarified since it was posted earlier today. The earlier version is available here.

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