School board learns FOI lesson
Charleston County school officials will go ahead with a meeting on school finances in Mount Pleasant today, but there won’t be any school board members in attendance. And that’s a good thing.
Of course, board members should be interested in the funding issues facing East Cooper public schools. But they shouldn’t be party to an arrangement that was aimed at circumventing the state’s Freedom of Information Act.
District officials invited board members to the meeting — but no more than four so that it wouldn’t trigger the public notice requirements of the FOIA.
A notice emailed to board members early this month stated: “Since no public notice will be done for this meeting, only four board members are allowed to attend. Another meeting will be scheduled if others are interested in this topic.”
Under state law, when a quorum of the board attends a meeting — in this instance, five members — the provisions of the FOIA have to be followed. That includes opening the meeting up to the public.
In November, the school board found itself in violation of the FOIA when six members showed up for a tour of the former Rivers Middle School. District officials, who planned the tour, were surprised at the turnout — and at the resultant violation of the FOIA.
It should have served as a warning for school officials to pay closer attention to both the letter and the spirit of the Freedom of Information Act.
School board member John Barter tells us he withdrew from today’s meeting after The Post and Courier criticized the plan in an editorial.
“I wouldn’t have any problem with having that discussion in an open board meeting,” Mr. Barter said.
No question, a public meeting is the proper place for board members to discuss school finances, in this instance and in others.
The district and the board can’t go wrong by ensuring transparency every time that discussions involve how the public’s money is spent.