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State open-meetings law trips up board; make-up dates for Hurricane Isaac set

Warren Easton’s board of directors held an unscheduled executive session as they met Sept. 19; though state law allows a board to add items to an agenda, it also requires a board to give 24-hours’ notice of such closed-door meetings, and to cite the legal exception for the private gathering.

The move toward the executive session began with ex-officio board member Arthur Hardy saying he wanted to discuss an email he received from a parent about “student disciplinary issues.”  Board members and principal Alexina Medley proposed to discuss the issue in executive session saying the “parent doesn’t know about privacy issues.”  According to the Louisiana Open Meetings law, discussions with a parent or student may be held in closed session.  No parent or student was present.

Here’s the portion of the law that allows for private board meetings:

42:17(A)(7) Discussions between a city or parish school board and individual students or the parents or tutors of such students, or both, who are within the jurisdiction of the respective school system, regarding problems of such students or their parents or tutors; provided however that any such parent, tutor, or student may require that such discussions be held in an open meeting.

Member Charles Petrey also requested a closed session to discuss what he described as “an employee compensation issue.”  Employee compensation is not a topic that warrants closing a public meeting under Louisiana law.  In fact, compensation of public school employees is a matter of record available to any member of the public on request.

Nonetheless, the board went into executive session for 20 minutes. When asked by a Lens reporter to cite an exception to the Louisiana Open Meetings Law that would allow the closed session, members did not. Medley and assistant principal Joseph Gilyot sat in on the first half of the closed session, and the school’s financial officer Mike Greer sat in on the second half.

In the public part of the meeting, Greer said the school received $396,000 in federal Title I funding, which is awarded to schools with a significant number of impoverished students.  He said the money was used to purchase 267 computers, 21 iPads, and a few laptop carts.  In other financial updates, the school will see an increase in transportation costs to cover an additional bus route in the morning and two in the afternoon to match a rise in enrollment.

To compensate for instructional time lost to Hurricane Isaac, Medley said she had already built four extra days into the calendar this year.  To make up for the fifth she converted Sept. 4 from a professional development day to a full school day.

She said the school’s enrollment has reached 931 students.

The Orleans Parish School Board has categorized the school’s windows replacement project as “substantially complete,” but an extensive punch list of repairs remains to be completed before the project is closed out, facilities consultant Ken Ducote said.

The board approved minutes from their August meeting.  In another vote the board approved the Louisiana Compliance Questionnaire, a requirement of charter schools in the auditing process.  The board also approved a motion to pass the audit to the Orleans Parish School Board’s central office by Sept. 31; if the audit is not clean a special session will be held.  Greer said he had expected the audit to be complete by the September board meeting but it was delayed by the hurricane.

Members Petrey, Robert Delle, John Broussard, Brenda Christiansen and Billy Hatchett were in attendance, joined by a few school staff members.

The meeting began at 6:10 p.m. with reports, reached a quorum at 6:20 p.m. and adjourned at 7:32 p.m. The next meeting will be Oct. 17.

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