The organizational meeting of the Fayette County Board of Education on Jan. 4 began easily enough with the unanimous election of board member Bob Todd as chair and board member Marion Key as vice-chair.
But when it came to the board’s meeting nights the discussion became more problematic, with board members eventually voting to keep the meetings on Tuesdays through July then switch to Monday nights for the remainder of the year. Yet it was of note that the primary reason for changing the meeting days last year to Tuesdays was never addressed by anyone on the board.
Todd and Key at the beginning of the Jan. 4 meeting were elected as chair and vice-chair, respectively, each on a 5-0 vote.
Prior to the discussion pertaining to the day of the week board meetings would be held, Key made a motion to change the days from Tuesdays to Mondays. The board, for the past year, held its regular meetings on the third Tuesday and, if needed, a work session on the first Tuesday. In prior years the meetings had been held on Mondays.
Board member Janet Smola advocated for leaving the meetings on Tuesdays, saying that she had to work on the Monday when the school board would be meeting, adding that attending meetings on the first and third Monday nights would force her to have to quit her job. Smola also said she could attend meetings on the second and fourth Monday nights.
Board member Terri Smith also said Monday meetings could cause a “personal conflict” for her.
Todd, citing business interests, said Mondays would be better for him, adding that perhaps the board could meet on the second and fourth Mondays as Smola had suggested.
Smith during the discussion said that Todd had previously told her that continuing to have the meetings on Tuesdays would be satisfactory. Todd in response said he did not recall making that comment.
The discussion continued, with Todd saying that the board historically met on Mondays to give the local newspapers adequate time to report on board meetings in the same week.
So the idea is to go back (to Mondays) for the local news media, Smola asked, also wondering how the media would not be able to report based on Tuesday meetings.
The Citizen’s publisher, Cal Beverly, said later that the change to Tuesday night meetings deprived the county’s largest circulation newspaper from having the latest school board news in its Wednesday edition because of print deadlines that have remained unchanged in 17 years. “I welcome the board’s decision to move the meeting night back to Monday night, as it was for all of the 1990s and remained so until recently,” Beverly said.
The discussion led to a compromise and took the form of another motion by Key to have board meetings on Tuesdays through July, when Smola’s Monday work obligations would come to an end, and then changed to Mondays through the end of the year.
The vote on that arrangement was 5-0, with Smola and Smith saying they appreciated the compromise.
Throughout the Jan. 4 discussion there was one pivotal facet of the conversation that was never mentioned by anyone on the board. Central to changing the meeting days last year, and at the recommendation of then-Superintendent John DeCotis, was the insistence by Smola, Smith and, by his vote, former board member Lee Wright, that meetings should be held on Tuesdays to give board members and the public an additional work day to look over agenda items and the supporting documentation provided on the school system’s website.
But the change in meeting days from Mondays to Tuesdays often failed to bring a more timely release of data, with the agenda and, especially the supporting documentation, sometimes not being posted until mid- or late Mondays and, at other times, early in the day on Tuesdays.
It was at the January 2010 organizational meeting that Smith, in advocating for changing the meeting days from Mondays to Tuesdays, said, “It seems like an extra day would help us get our homework done. Sometimes it’s kind of crazed on Mondays.”
So the board voted 3-2 to move the meetings to Tuesdays with the agenda and supporting documentation to be posted on the school system’s website early enough on Mondays to give board members and the public two full business days to review the agenda information.
“If that’s not done it doesn’t matter if the meeting is on Monday or Tuesday,” Todd said at the January 2010 meting. “There’s got to be a deadline that’s set. So is it necessary to change the day or is it conducive to set a deadline on Thursday (prior to the meeting)?”
Todd also mentioned that in years past the board held to Monday meeting days to give the local press adequate lead time for issues they wanted to cover.
Smola responded, saying that the newspapers could publish the stories in the next day’s paper.
Key during the discussion agreed with Todd.
“We still don’t get some documents until we get to the board meeting,” Key said, reiterating the point that both the board and the public need access to information earlier than now exists.
Wright agreed with Key, saying, “Lots of times we don’t get (information) for the work sessions until we get here.”
Responding to Key’s question about getting supporting documentation for agenda items a week ahead of time, Smola said that was not possible.
Also commenting on the issue of requiring staff to submit agenda information prior to Fridays, DeCotis said the district in the past tried for a Wednesday cutoff but the schools could not get all the information in on time. DeCotis said he would be willing to try a Thursday deadline.
After the brief discussion the idea of calling for a deadline day was dismissed by the majority. The discussion ended with a 3-2 vote to change the board’s meeting day to Tuesdays. Smith, Smola and Wright voted to the change, while Todd and Key were opposed.
DeCotis after the meeting told The Citizen that he had previously attempted to have schools submit their information for the meetings on Thursdays prior to the Monday meetings but that attempt had not been successful.
The Citizen in a mid-2010 review of nearly a dozen large school systems around the metro Atlanta area found that the Fayette County School System lags behind nearly a dozen school systems in metro Atlanta in terms of a required deadline for staff to submit supporting documentation used at board meetings and in posting the agenda and supporting documentation on-line for public review prior to the meeting date.
Those school systems include, Coweta, Henry, Gwinnett, Forsyth, Cobb, Fulton, Douglas, Clayton, DeKalb and Cherokee counties.