Open works best

Published 11:12 am Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Untangling all of the issues that are creating a furor in the Lyle School District is impossible. That does not mean, however, that the district and its residents can not at least find their way back to a place where civil discussion is possible, provided that the school board is willing to take the first step by overcoming the perception that it has not been completely open.

Like every other taxpayer-supported entity, a public school district has the legal and moral obligation to be absolutely transparent in the way it operates, except under very special circumstances when protecting individuals’ privacy takes precedent. We can not judge whether Lyle’s board has, in fact, been completely transparent — but it is clear that many residents don’t feel it has been, which in turn fosters suspicion and rancor.

One key to being transparent is to avoid closed meetings whenever possible. When employee privacy or legal strategy involving an ongoing court case absolutely require a closed meeting, keep it brief and be up-front in explaining to the public the purpose of the meeting.

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Go out of the way to post meeting agendas prominently and early, and don’t deviate from the agenda.

Make sure that copies of all board correspondence, financial information and the like are available to the public at meetings — and not just one copy, either. Make enough for the expected attendees. Extras wouldn’t hurt.

The foregoing is good advice for any public board. In Lyle’s case, there’s a major need to revise its public comment rules so that it is clear the board welcomes comments. It makes sense to set time limits and to require civility. But rules which clearly discourage public input are flat-out wrong.

There appears to be a vast chasm of distrust between the Lyle school board, school administration, and many of the district’s residents. Openness and civility won’t immediately bridge that gulf. But it is an absolutely necessary first step.