Afraid to Speak Up, Lakeville School Board Pulls the Plug on Online Sessions for Public

One of the largest school districts in Minnesota is taking heat for canceling the online streaming of its monthly work sessions, which enabled parents and taxpayers to keep an eye on them. But at least the Lakeville School Board was transparent in announcing why they will no longer record the nuts-and-bolts discussions that precede policy decisions voted on at the official board meetings that follow.

It turns out some board members don’t feel comfortable saying what they really think online, even though the sparsely attended work sessions are open to the public anyway, says the Star Tribune.

The Lakeville school board has decided to stop broadcasting and recording some of its meetings to allow for more candid conversations, a move that does not violate state law but is troubling some residents and government watchdogs.

“We’re just trying to find a way to allow for more robust discussions,” said Judy Keliher, school board chairwoman. “[Board members] are just uncomfortable speaking their minds, that it might be misconstrued.”

The reluctance to speak openly at Independent School District 194 starts at the top with Superintendent Michael Baumann, who earns more than $200,000 and oversees more than 11,000 students.

At the school board’s Jan. 6 work session, Superintendent Michael Baumann and several board members said they didn’t like having work sessions recorded. It was interfering with the board’s ability to get to the “essence and nexus” of matters, Baumann said.

“I never wanted them televised but I was told I wasn’t being transparent at the time,” said Terry Lind, a board member. “It was frustrating because it was a show. I’m sorry, you had to look good because you were on camera.”

While recording is not a requirement under the state’s open meeting law, the controversial decision to scrap showing the work sessions while the public has limited access to the meetings rubs some open government proponents the wrong way.

Matt Ehling, a Minnesota Coalition on Government Information board member, said he doesn’t know of any school boards that have started recording and then stopped. He finds the Lake­ville school board’s rationale for discontinuing broadcasting “a little bit troubling” and “problematic for oversight,” he said.

“I just kind of reject … that stance,” he said. “They have to get used to the fact that public scrutiny is part of the role.”

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, governments have relied heavily on virtual meetings, often livestreaming them for members of the public to watch online.

Don’t bother looking for the video of the last recorded work session at which board members spoke their minds about being online. It’s no longer available for viewing.