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GCSC officials: Public access concerns all have been addressed

Friday, November 16, 2012

Recent questions raised over the Greencastle Community School Corporation's compliance to public access laws have been addressed and the corporation is in compliance, school officials said Wednesday.

Three formal complaints have been lodged against the school with Indiana Public Access Counselor Joseph Hoage since June, alleging violations to Indiana's Open Door Law (ODL) and Access to Public Records Act (APRA).

GCSC Superintendent Dr. Lori Richmond said Wednesday the corporation is in line with both laws and that any past violations were unintentional.

"Everything is in compliance," Richmond told the Banner Graphic. "I have been so pleased with the board -- old board members and new. Everyone is trying to follow the law."

Looking specifically at Hoage's advisory opinions on the three complaints against GCSC, the corporation was found to be in violation of both laws on the first complaint, in only partial violation on the second complaint and in no violation on the third.

The first complaint, filed by Greencastle resident Leslie Hanson against the school board in June, was that the school did not provide minutes for its executive sessions.

In responding to the complaint, Richmond advised the school board did not keep minutes for its executive sessions. It was found to be in violation for this reason.

Although the nature of executive sessions is to keep sensitive matters private, a public board is still required to keep minutes for these gatherings. These minutes are rudimentary in nature, providing only date, time and place of the meeting, members present, general subtance of matters discussed and a record of all votes taken.

Specifics of the discussions are not recorded, as they would defeat the purpose of an executive session.

School officials said the lack of executive session minutes resulted from personnel changes in the central office and unfamiliarity with the requirements of such records.

"From here on out, everything is documented properly," Richmond said.

The school board even went so far as to approve executive session minutes for all such meetings from January through June during its July session. In his ruling, Hoage noted the school had brought itself into compliance with the law.

"As of now all records appear to have been provided, I trust that this is in satisfaction of this portion of your formal complaint," Hoage wrote in his letter to Hanson.

Hanson's second formal complaint, filed in August, dealt with an objection to how the school provides copies of its personnel report for each meeting.

Beginning early this year, the corporation began dividing the report into two parts. The first part is for matters that are not deliberative in nature.

Among these are matters that require no board decision such as resignations, retirements and the hiring of substitutes.

The second part of the report contains matters the board might need to discuss in an executive session such as hirings, firings, compensation adjustments, transfers and leave requests.

These are kept private until after an executive session, then voted on at the public meeting and disseminated as public record thereafter.

Richmond explained that such records are kept private to protect the individuals discussed.

If, for example, the board discusses the possible firing of a coach but ultimately retains him, the public knowledge that the move was considered would still be damaging to his reputation.

In his findings, Hoage largely agreed with the school, saying they did not violate the law in the substantive issue of denying the personnel report request.

He did find it violated APRA by not providing the denial to Hanson in writing.

The third complaint also involved the personnel report, with Hanson challenging the school's inclusion of volunteers in part two of the report, saying volunteers do not actually constitute employees and should be handled differently.

Again, the school defended its right to deliberate on these matters, contending anyone interacting with students on the school's behalf should be deliberated over.

"Anyone we have with students will go through a background check, history checks, reference checks," Richmond said.

Like the example from earlier, a local resident being considered for a volunteer coaching position could be embarrassed by the public knowledge the school rejected the offer.

Hoage agreed with the school's stance in the third opinion, ruling that APRA was not violated in any way.

Besides the matters of the law, Richmond and the board also discussed what addressing these matters is costing the school corporation in both time and money.

Richmond and other central office staffers spend time addressing the complaints, as does corporation attorney Bob Rund -- at a cost of $140 per hour.

"(Rund) has spent probably 10 hours on each case," Richmond said. "While we appreciate that, I would much rather we spend the thousands of dollars for a student program."

She estimated the total cost of addressing the complaints at more than $4,000.

During Wednesday's meeting, board members expressed their desire to learn from the complaints and move forward.

"I think we've learned a lot along the way here," board member Gary Haussin said. "(Public Access Counselor) Joe Hoage is a guy I think we can depend on."

Hanson also used Wednesday's meeting to defend her point of view, saying she filed the complaints when she believed she had run out of options locally.

"I did try to go through the proper channels," Hanson said. "I did not do it frivously. This is not fun for me."

Perhaps the biggest message coming from the board Wednesday was that any violations were unintentional, and that the school will continue to strive to follow the law.

"This board has never and will never intentionally or knowingly break code or rule or regulation," board president Mike Dean said.

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It seems mighty high-handed and arrogant for a well-educated public employee to complain about the cost to the school system of reviewing how to properly conduct meetings. It seems the president of the school board is also rather ignorant considering that he has been a long-time member of the board.

Thank you for citizens who take the time to hold public servants accountable for doing their jobs properly!

-- Posted by sassylass on Fri, Nov 16, 2012, at 7:04 AM

The suggestion that this board and superintendent did not know that they were in violation of state law is extremely disingenuous. This has been a question that has been raised multiple times in the past. It really comes down to a simple thing. This board needs to change the way they do business and they need to truly put students first. The low morale of almost all of the school staff makes this impossible. Let us hope that this community will not accept the way things are being done and will expect better.

-- Posted by justasking on Fri, Nov 16, 2012, at 10:43 AM

pretty easy to comply after you have been caught and dont have a choice- now for the other issues- hope they get caught too!

-- Posted by talkymom3 on Fri, Nov 16, 2012, at 1:38 PM

now, now, mike is just doing what jack told him to do. the old ways are still going on. how many mistakes and wrong doings will it take. poor gary just stepped into it. elected board NOW!

-- Posted by unclewayne on Fri, Nov 16, 2012, at 5:52 PM



-- Posted by waepc on Fri, Nov 16, 2012, at 6:57 PM

I too feel thankful for Ms. Hanson that she was brave enough to put up with the bullying from the school board. This superintendent and board seem determined to have their own way with our schools and to do whatever they like regardless of the community's input. People who work for the schools have low morale because they are scared. If the superintendent is worried about money spent on legal fees then maybe she should have answered questions when asked. If people didn't feel like the board was trying to hide things, then they wouldn't be upset and push these matters.

-- Posted by greengrass on Fri, Nov 16, 2012, at 11:42 PM

Ignorance is not an excuse. It is the board's and superintendent's duty to know the law. Are you not members of the Indiana School Board Assn.? That is money well spent! That membership, with active participation, will help keep issues such as this out of the board minutes.

Good luck to all of you and thanks for serving the community.

-- Posted by cvilleguy on Sat, Nov 17, 2012, at 7:36 AM

I am so incredibly pleased to see all of the fantastic things that our schools are doing! Have you noticed their A rated grades, the accelerated classes they have added, the new programs for reading and math in place, the $30,000 grant they just received, the wonderful musical production,....? They are moving in the right direction!!

All of the board members, superintendent, and principals, as well as most of the employees are working hard for our kids, really hard. Let's not forget they had millions of dollars of issues to clean up last year...and yet they still are making huge progress for kids, for us.

Thank you, thank you to all of the positive board members, positive superintendent, and positive employees who are choosing to use their efforts for good.

And to the few, very few, community members and employees who always want to find fault instead of getting off their ugly horse and offering to lend a helpful hand, go somewhere else. Greencastle does not need you in our community or schools! Go away.

-- Posted by SupportOurCommunity on Sat, Nov 17, 2012, at 10:58 AM

S.O.C.,sure hope the nay sayers stay out of North Putnam district,they definitely don't need squatters.......

-- Posted by kubotafan on Sat, Nov 17, 2012, at 6:58 PM

Is that all you want, "A" ratings without the teacher's freedom and ability to really teach and not just test? Ask a teacher....

-- Posted by kbmom on Mon, Nov 19, 2012, at 3:05 PM

SOC, are you for real? I can't stop laughing at your comments, "Rose colored Glasses"!!!

-- Posted by idiot on Mon, Nov 19, 2012, at 5:02 PM

Beyond the blatant disregard for rules; I am troubled by the whispers that so many teachers claim "low morale"? WHY? I do not recall this being such an issue at any point in the past 20 years. Is it the new bosses? New accountability standards or rules? Too many students per class resulting in 10-12 hour work days? Anyone . . . ? teachers?

-- Posted by befree2think on Thu, Nov 22, 2012, at 9:27 AM

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