Most charter boards didn’t comply with or know about open-meetings law
Until The Lens investigated last month, only one charter school board in New Orleans may have been fully complying with a two-year-old state law that requires public bodies to post their minutes online, or an older law that requires the same for their agendas.
And even now, as most work to comply, few are completely falling into line with amendments to the state Open Meetings Law that legislators made in 2012 and 2014.
The Lens this summer examined the websites of the 40 Orleans Parish charter school boards, which run 81 schools in the city, to gauge compliance.
The posting of these official documents is more than a technicality or an administrative requirement. Few news media outlets are able or willing to commit the resources necessary to cover the meetings of these publicly funded boards, which collectively manage hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars. Few parents attend these meetings. The minutes are one of the few ways to easily keep track of a board’s actions.
Even for some school boards that post the documents, the minutes lack basic information required by law.
And regarding a third, more recent law that went into effect just at the beginning of the month, fewer than half listed their official custodian of records. That’s the person responsible for providing public records to those who request them.
Transparency and good government were why the Louisiana Legislature updated the Open Meetings Law, said Rep. Neil Abramson, (D-New Orleans), the author of the 2014 bill. He said he wouldn’t be surprised to hear if other public bodies were failing to post official accounts of their meetings.
“I’d imagine if the charter schools aren’t doing it, it’s not unique to them,” he said. “Other people are probably dropping the ball where they shouldn’t.”
When we first looked, seven of the 40 school boards regularly were posting minutes for their full board meetings. Only the board of New Orleans College Preparatory Academies was closest to meeting all the requirements by posting thesame documentation for its committees. However, the minutes posted by that board didn’t have some of the legally required information, including who was absent from the meeting.
For the boards that have formed committees — nothing requires public bodies to do so — much of the substantive discussion takes place in those smaller meetings, and full boards usually approve their recommendations with little discussion.
The law requires the boards to keep the minutes posted for at least three months.
The Lens emailed the 33 fully non-compliant boards for explanations. Some blamed website revisions or other technical issues, others said they weren’t aware of the law and others offered no reason or didn’t respond.
Within two weeks, 30 boards posted their full board meeting minutes to their websites. However, none included committees, though some have recently begun to do so.
OLD-SCHOOL NOTES, SILENCE AND IGNORANCE OF THE LAW
Andrew Shahn, the ARISE Academy principal, said their latest minutes were not posted because they were written by hand instead of electronically.
A few boards, including those of the Algiers Charter School Association and Friends of King, declined to comment.
The Community Leaders Advocating Student Success board, which governs Fannie C. Williams Charter School, never responded to several calls or emails, but its site was among those quickly updated.
The head of the Greater New Orleans Collaborative of Charter Schools, which includes 12 schools in the city, said its boards “just weren’t aware” that the law was amended two years ago to require posting meeting minutes online.
The amendment “slipped through the cracks in the way it was referenced,” said Executive Director Ken Ducote. “It was not flagged in Most charter boards didn’t comply with or know about open-meetings law | The Lens: