Delaware DOE and State Board to host an exclusive meeting on 12/15/11. #FOIA #transparency #stakeholders #netDE

So, a couple a days ago, there was a post on Kilroy’s Delaware titled Is Delaware State Board of Education holding an exclusive dinner? It indicates that Kilroy had received information about an exclusive dinner for district supers and board presidents to the exclusion of other board members. He asked for confirmation from the readership and soon it came pouring in. I joined up by asking additional questions on the supposition that it may be true and others followed my lead.

Then Delaware Ed, the Delawareonline education blog ran a post linking back to Kilroy’s Delaware titled “‘Exclusive’ board meeting in Dover? This post sought to get answers to the allegation made on Kilroy’s Delaware and included some information from DDOE PIO, Alison Kepner as well as an explanation of the meeting as “not an exclusive or secret dinner meeting” after intoning that if it were it would be a “heck of a story”. Later in the post, Delaware Ed goes on to assert “I can’t think of a more accepted way of noticing a meeting than an online public notice and outlining the meeting in state code” after having provided the following links:

code: http://delcode.delaware.gov/title14/c001/sc01/index.shtml#106

agenda: http://calendar.delaware.gov/eGov/Calendar.nsf/futuremeetings/D4C56D00C8E288FD8525795E00534680

So, in the meantime additional comments poured in at Kilroy’s and Delaware Ed with additional links to DOE calendars and SBOE webpages both of which had no reference to the meeting as of 1610 on 12/9/11, less than one week before the meeting. As an aside, when I read the agenda it doesn’t come off as a real meeting but the code is pretty clear about how it must be conducted…more on that later.

Delaware’s open meeting laws dictate the correct process for noticing a public meeting. I have experience with this having joined a fellow board member filing and winning, a FOIA challenge with the state’s attorney general office:

Here is Title 29, chapter 100: http://delcode.delaware.gov/title29/c100/index.shtml which is Delaware’s Freedom of Information Act.

Specifically in § 10004, open meetings, it states:

All public bodies shall give public notice of the type set forth in paragraph (2) of this subsection of any special or rescheduled meeting as soon as reasonably possible, but in any event no later than 24 hours before such meeting. A special or rescheduled meeting shall be defined as one to be held less than 7 days after the scheduling decision is made. The public notice of a special or rescheduled meeting shall include an explanation as to why the notice required by paragraph (1) of this subsection could not be given. Public notice required by this subsection shall include, but not be limited to, conspicuous posting of said notice at the principal office of the public body holding the meeting, or if no such office exists at the place where meetings of the public body are regularly held, and making a reasonable number of such notices available. In addition, all public bodies in the executive branch of state government that are subject to the provisions of this chapter shall electronically post said notice to the designated State of Delaware website approved by the Secretary of State.” 

This brings up a few questions: 1) which website is designated by the Secretary of State for posting meetings under education? Is it the DOE website? If so, it’s not posted there! 2) Is the notice for this meeting posted at the Townsend building since that is the principal office of the SBOE? If no, it’s too late, that pesky 7 day, rule applies.

Moving along, to the core question of exclusivity after throwing the nature and legality of the meeting into possible question:

Today, a contact at the DOE shared this with me:

I am not redacting any part of this message. As a taxpayer, every one of these folks works for me and you or has been invited to have a meal paid for by me and you. This is public record; call it my FOIA express to you, the loyal TC reader:

From: Moore Dani [mailto:dmoore@DOE.K12.DE.US]
Sent: Wednesday, November 16, 2011 3:52 PM
To: Howard.Weinberg@DSEA.ORG; Deborah.Stevens@DSEA.ORG; Paul Herdman; Christina Marconi; sfrancis@edsba.org; yvonne_johnson@verizon.net; Frederika.Jenner@dsea.org; Allen Tara; Baldwin Charles; Brewington Tennell; Browne Lamont; Chambers Kimberley; Draper Pam; Emmett Ed; Fredie Edwin; Hermance Trish; Hughes Charles; Jennings Linda; Lewis Ann; Lopez Waite Margie; Maldonado Sally; Meece Gregory; Oliphant Patricia; Pastis Jacqueline; Perry Jack; Rodriguez Noel; Taylor Charles; Thomas-el Salome; Wintermantel Jack; Canon Casson; Charles Copeland; Charles McDowell; Charlie Wilson; Cote Marc; David Shapley; Donald Mell; Dorothy Sbriglia; George Chambers; Harrie Ellen Minnehan; Irwin Becnel; Jaime Rivera; Joan Coker; Kimeu Boynton; Lamar Boyce; Laura Kirkpatrick; Louis Savino; Ronald Pinkett; Stephen Dressel; William Major; Yardise Jones; 57lakers@mchsi.com; breedingmryan@aol.com; Cooper Patrick J.; delsignal@yahoo.com; Eric Anderson; jaschulties@lf.k12.de.us; jim.collins3@verizon.net; Johnson Julie; juris1@hotmail.com; kathleenhaynes@juno.com; leah.davis@redclay.k12.de.us; lynchjf@verizon.net; Magee Leo; ojohnsonharris05@verizon.net; patrick.emory@msd.k12.de.us; Sbritt34823@comcast.net; suzannefarris@comcast.net; VGunter@wsfsbank.com; Wilkinson Sara; Bunting Susan; Burrows Matthew L; Carson Kevin; Curry Daniel; D. Zych – Polytech; Daugherty Mervin B; Dr. David C. Ring Jr.; Fitzgerald Kevin; Gehrt Vicki; Holodick Mark; Knorr Russell H; Kohel Phyllis; Lathbury Aj; Linn Dorothy; LYLES MARCIA V.; Nave Dorothy; Sharon Gail Kanter; Thomas Michael; Wicks Deborah
Cc: Johnson Donna R; Lowery Lillian; Cruce Daniel; Rogers Linda; Rogers Karen Field; Hodges Amelia; Hickey Catherine T.; Hindman John; Ruszkowski Christopher; Barbara Rutt; Greg Coverdale; Jim Wilson; Jorge Melendez; Pat Heffernan; Teri Quinn Gray; Terry Whittaker
Subject: FW: Dinner Meeting with the State Board of Education and Stakeholders

Please see invitation below.

From: Johnson Donna R
Sent: Wednesday, November 16, 2011 1:00 PM
To: Moore Dani
Subject: Dinner Meeting with the State Board of Education and Stakeholders

Dear Board Presidents, Chief School Officers, Charter School Directors, and Community Stakeholders:

The State Board of Education would like to invite you or your designee to attend a professional development and networking opportunity on Thursday, December 15th at the John W. Collette Center in Dover, DE.  Dinner will be available at 5:00 p.m. with time for networking and open dialogue.  The program will begin at 6:00 p.m.  and conclude at 8:00 p.m.

The topics for this meeting will include: A Race to the Top Update – focusing on Projects within LEA’s and Partnership Zone schools, An update and overview of DPAS II, and a Panel Discussion with Delaware Education Leaders around Building on Education Initiatives.  There will be opportunity for questions and answers throughout the program.

We hope that you will be able to join us for the first of multiple events of this nature that will be hosted by the State Board of Education.

Please RSVP to Dani Moore, 302-735-4010 or dmoore@doe.k12.de.us by December 5th. Due to space and cost restrictions, we have limited this event to the Board Presidents, Chief School Officers, Charter School Leaders, and community stakeholders or their designee.  After the RSVP date we will contact those that have responded to provide additional seats that may be available.

Please see attached agenda

Donna Johnson

Executive Director

State Board of Education

401 Federal Street, Suite #2

Dover, DE  19901-3639

302.735.4010 (T)  302.739.7768 (F)

drjohnson@doe.k12.de.us

 

Well, doesn’t the DDOE PIO look patently silly now? She said among other things that

“*Also, invitations for the dinner were distributed at the November DSBA meeting. If board members are active at DSBA, they were made aware of this back in November. We sent invitations out a month before the meeting so that board members would have the time to discuss who was interested in attending.”

Well, it turns out that 1) The DSBA board of directors meeting was 11/9/11. This invite was dated 11/16/11. Also, not all DSBA participants are Board Presidents. The email above makes it clear: the only LEA board  invitees are board presidents Due to space and cost restrictions, we have limited this event to the Board Presidents, Chief School Officers, Charter School Leaders, and community stakeholders or their designee “. Further, to emphasize the intent to exclude, there is a request for an RSVP: “Please RSVP to Dani Moore, 302-735-4010 or dmoore@doe.k12.de.us by December 5th. Nah, still not exclusive yet, at least not in the eyes of Delaware Ed, which still has the “?” at the top of the post and the language suggesting it is so clearly a public meeting…apparently for no more reason than that it says so on the non-DOE website announcement? In fact, the agenda and the meeting posting are NOT dated as the normal, regular meetings are actually notated for their posting date in order to make sure Title 29, chapter 100 is followed. So why the exception in this case? and more egregiously 2) November 16th is less than one month if even by a day but Ms. Kepner states so “board members would have time to discuss” doesn’t she mean board presidents?…..the both sides of the mouth action on this whole affair is pretty robust right about now…..

 

Why is a state agency, DOE and SBOE scheduling a meeting that code requires must be set up to accomplish this:

(1) Review current state policies and submit recommendations to the Department of Education when appropriate for changes, modifications or deletions;

(2) Study and review planning guides for program improvement of the Delaware Public School System as submitted by the Department of Education and make appropriate recommendations to the Department of Education on legislative and policy implementation; and

Yet have an agenda that speaks to neither? Is this the actual code being cited to justify the meeting? The code also speaks to the composition of the advisory board for this meeting:

There shall be formed an Advisory Board to the Secretary of Education consisting of a representative from each board of education and from each county vocational-technical district, and such additional representatives of educational stakeholder organizations as appointed by the Secretary and the State Board. This Board shall not meet less than twice in any calendar year and the State Board shall participate in such meetings.

So, was this e-mail invitation actually the Secretary’s and BOE’s appointment process? Seems a bit flimsy as an appointment. Also, these meetings are compulsory under code. Did they happen last year? If so, when? With whom? Where are the minutes? Did we not exceed the code capped $1000 ANNUAL expense limit? (The members of the Advisory Board shall receive their actual expenses for 2 dinner meetings per year, but not including travel expenses. The Department of Education shall not expend more than $1,000 for such expenses during any 1 fiscal year.)

In conclusion, it seems quite evident that this meeting was called and designed to be exclusive. Not secret. Exclusive. It fits the definition quite precisely. If I were an invitee, I’d sure think twice about my obligation to open government and I would openly question the motives of the meeting makers and their spokespeople in honoring their obligation to Delaware taxpayers.

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