By Jessica Williams, The Lens staff writer |
The board of trustees for the Algiers Charter School Association met Monday night
to discuss their chief executive officer’s departure – but it didn’t notify the news media of the meeting and they held it at a private office building in the Central Business District.
Shortly after the meeting began, the association posted an item on its website revealing that its chief executive officer was not seeking a contract extension or renewal past the June 30 expiration. The notice also said the board knew about the impending departure of CEO Andrea Thomas Reynolds since Feb. 28. Correction: The purpose of the meeting wasn’t made clear on the board’s agenda or in an interview with the board spokesman afterward, as The Lens reported earlier.
Although the organization posted an agenda for the specially called meeting on its website Friday, it didn’t send The Lens a notification, despite our long-standing request for all such meeting notices. State law demands that public bodies give written, mailed notice of meetings to any member of the news media who asks for it at least 24 hours in advance.
A spokesman for the charter network agreed to send notifications to The Lens in the future, but he said they aren’t required to send mailed notice.
The board meeting was held at the Entergy New Orleans office on Perdido Street, an unusual venue change. Normally, board meetings are held at one of the eight West Bank schools the charter network governs, rather than across the river. While nothing in state open-meetings law forbids a public body from gathering and discussing public business at a private venue, the law does say that “public business (should) be performed in an open and public matter,” and that toward that end, the provisions of the chapter should be construed liberally.
Board member Charles Rice is the chief executive officer of Entergy.
Board Chairwoman Cassandra Bookman did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Network spokesman David Jackson insisted that the network isn’t obligated to send a mailed notice.
“Normally we interpret (the law) to mean we have to make it available for the public,” he said Tuesday. “We post it at the place where the meeting is going to be held and on the website. I can do it as a courtesy but am not legally bound to give an advance copy.”
Jackson said the meeting notice was posted outside the Entergy building.
Of course, if the public doesn’t know where the board is meeting, posting the notice there does little good.
The Louisiana open meetings law (La. R.S. 42:19) is clear on the fact that public bodies, such as the Algiers group, must give such notice:
- (1)(b)(i) All public bodies, except the legislature and its committees and subcommittees, shall give written public notice of any regular, special, or rescheduled meeting no later than twenty-four hours before the meeting.
- (2) Written public notice given by all public bodies, except the legislature and its committees and subcommittees, shall include, but need not be limited to:
- (a) Posting a copy of the notice at the principal office of the public body holding the meeting, or if no such office exists, at the building in which the meeting is to be held; or by publication of the notice in an official journal of the public body no less than twenty-four hours before the meeting
- (b) Mailing a copy of the notice to any member of the news media who requests notice of such meetings; any such member of the news media shall be given notice of all meetings in the same manner as is given to members of the public body.
A year after we first ran a story highlighting charter schools’ obligation to comply with open-meetings law requirements, about half of the 45 charter school boards in New Orleans regularly sent us meeting notices. That number’s dwindled in the months since our Charter School Reporting Corps was formed. Only three of 42 boards that met last month sent us advanced meeting notices, instead counting on our reporters to hear through word of mouth about a meeting date change or special-called meeting.
Charter school boards failure to comply with open-meetings law has drawn critics both locally and statewide. Louisiana Public Charter School Association executive director Caroline Roemer Shirley has called charters’ failure to adhere to state law “upsetting,” and said that charters are expected to do better than traditional school systems of days past have done in regards to transparency.
Orleans Parish School Board vice president Lourdes Moran said that the Algiers’ charter group’s meeting at a private venue, as well as their failure to properly notice it, “is a problem.”
“That’s a huge problem because they’re not running private schools. They’re running public schools with public dollars, and they should have noticed correctly,” she said Tuesday. “And in particular if your CEO is stepping down, (that meeting) should have be in the area that your school is in.”
The meeting’s agenda was sparse at best – other than an announcement of an executive session to discuss personnel issues, no discussion or action items were listed.
Jackson confirmed Tuesday that the meeting was to discuss the departure of CEO Andrea Thomas-Reynolds. State law allows public bodies discussing issues relating to a person’s employment to hold closed sessions. Correction: Jackson did not confirm the subject of the executive session discussion.
Reynolds’ confirmed her departure late Monday, saying that she felt her assignment with the Algiers group “is largely complete.” She’d been working with the board on a transition plan since February, but she hadn’t announced officially until Tuesday that she wouldn’t seek to renew her contract.