Duluth School Board Under Fire Over Closed Door Meetings

For some reason, the agenda for the Duluth School Board’s public meetings gets discussed and set in private behind closed doors. Not only are members of the public excluded from attending meetings to set the agenda. So are all but two of the school board members who represent the public.

But perhaps not for much longer, thanks to questions raised in the news coverage and now the editorial page of the Duluth News Tribune.

Yes, of course there’s suspicion — or the “implication” — “that there is something that is going on in School Board agenda meetings that’s secret or excludes people,” as newly re-elected Duluth School Board member David Kirby said in a Sunday News Tribune report.

That’s because that is exactly what is happening. Meetings are being held, closed to the public and even closed to elected representatives of the people, to determine coming School Board agenda items. Only a small select group, including just two School Board members, is determining what the elected board as a whole is allowed to take up and discuss.

Consequently, just two School Board members are receiving information and insights that the other five aren’t, even though all seven represent every one of us tax-paying district residents.

There’s been no allegations of shenanigans going on behind closed doors to date. Yet meeting outside the view of the public only gives rise to suspicions that undermine taxpayers’ confidence in the process.

Encouragingly, and finally, the district’s agenda-setting process is coming under scrutiny. It’s to be discussed today at a district business committee meeting, as the News Tribune’s Adelle Whitefoot reported.

In the interest of maintaining open and honest government, changes to the district’s agenda-setting process are appropriately being pursued.

“For an organization that is public (and) manages over $100 million, there should be a lot of accountability and transparency,” Josh Gorham, who announced his resignation as a School Board member in September, said in Sunday’s story. “It’s too easy (right now) to sweep things under the rug and hide them.”

Opening up the meetings would send a welcome signal to the community from a school board that has been a source of controversy and division for the last decade.

District constituents deserve at least that, especially with an elected board that long has battled perceptions of not working well together or in the best interest of the community. Any move to increase public trust can be pursued. And any attempt to justify snubbing transparency and sidestepping open government can be rejected. Let that start today.