Board workshops should be treated as meetings when it comes to public records, Pinellas board attorney says
Pinellas County School Board members meet in workshops about once a month, sometimes more.
The purpose of the meetings are generally so that the superintendent can present information on upcoming board agenda items or other school district business. There are no votes taken and no opportunities for public comment, but board members treat it as a time to talk openly about issues of importance.
Often, the administration waits until the workshop to make available materials related to the planned discussion. For example, information relating to proposed busing and school bell time changes, which was on the June 8 workshop agenda, was denied to the St. Petersburg Times until the actual meeting.
At the time, spokeswoman Andrea Davis said the transportation department was still working on that plan on Monday afternoon prior to the Tuesday meeting.
This week, during a Tuesday workshop, board member Linda Lerner asked superintendent Julie Janssen to do a better job seeing that the material for board meetings and board workshops is made public when board members receive it.
"Anything that goes to board members needs to go to the press," Lerner said.
At the June 29 board meeting, for example, the media did not get a copy of amended personnel changes that included principal appointments until more than a half-hour after the 10 a.m. meeting started, despite requests. Board members, meanwhile, said they had gotten the amendment at 9 p.m. the night before.
Lerner then recalled advice from board attorney Jim Robinson who she said has told board members many times that workshops should be treated as regular public meetings.
Robinson, who was out of the room when Lerner first referenced his words, came into the room and concurred.
"Same," he said, when asked. "The agenda and all supporting documents are supposed to be out there on the website seven days ahead."
Janssen said the interpretation was different than what she understood.
Contacted today by The Gradebook, Robinson cited the Florida Statute 120.525 spelling out agenda availability requirements and said, "Going forward, we'll try to ensure stricter compliance for the workshops."