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Closed-door meetings damage credibility of school district

Redrawing attendance zones is one of the most tedious and controversial tasks a School Board must undertake. That is understandable because the board's decisions have a great impact on the everyday lives of children and their parents.

Hernando County's School Board recognizes this, and last year ordered the creation of a committee to tackle the issue, which has become necessary because of the rapid growth in student enrollment. The board insisted that parents join administrators on the committee to ensure they had a strong voice in the process.

But superintendent Wendy Tellone and some members of her staff did not honor the board's wish for openness. They held an unadvertised meeting in December and were about to do it again this week. If the Times had not intervened to educate Tellone's staff about the Sunshine Law _ and the clearly stated wishes of the School Board _ yet another secret, illegal meeting would have been held.

This is another example of what appears to be an emerging and troubling pattern in Tellone's administration to attempt to conduct the public's business in private.

Late last year, the Times had to ask a judge to stop the school district from closing the doors to a committee's debate about whether a book, Deenie by Judy Blume, should remain on the shelves of some elementary schools.

Only after the board's attorney advised that the district probably wouldn't prevail if the newspaper sued did the board and Tellone agree to make that committee's deliberations public.

But the administration's initial resistance to allow public access to the rezoning strategy sessions is even more indefensible.

Not only did it directly contradict the board's clear intent to have parents deeply involved in the process, it also showed a casual disregard for constructive and practical solutions the public might offer.

School Board members need to make certain that the appointed superintendent understand she does them and their constituents a great disservice by being predisposed to secrecy, especially on such fundamental issues as what their children read and where they attend school.

The school district belongs to taxpayers; to bar them from observing the decision-making process that determines how their money is spent is contrary to the principles of good government, as well as the law.