A bill that would require local school boards to hold public meetings within school district boundaries was given a favorable recommendation from the House Education Committee Wednesday afternoon.
HB 81 – Local School Board Meetings Requirements, which is being sponsored by Representative Craig Hall (Republican – West Valley City), provides an exception for a disaster, local emergency, or site visit. The bill will only apply to public schools. Charter schools would be excempt.
Over the summer, Hall became aware of a school board that held its meeting outside of the district at Snowbird Ski Resort. “That is not right. Many of the constituents of the school board are not capable of traveling to Snowbird to participate in the (meeting).”
“The school board meetings are for the public to participate, to listen to. The meeting up at Snowbird was properly noticed. They did have a recording. So they did everything right, but it was miles and miles away from the constituents. They weren’t able to participate as well as they could have,” Hall said.
Salt Lake City School Board member Kristi Swett testified to the committee, acknowledging that the school board in question was Salt Lake City. She defended the choice of location, stating that it was an annual end-of-year work meeting. “We’ve done it for seven years now. I’ve chaired that meeting. The only vote that’s taken at that meeting was a limited consent agenda for our purchasing.”
She went on to explain that the purpose of the meeting is for the board to look back at how the past year went and also to discuss goals going forward. “In the seven years that we have had this meeting, we have never had one constituent ever say to us that they couldn’t make it to the meeting. We offer rides. If anyone was to call us, we would carpool up. We would make sure that our constituents were able to attend this meeting,” Swett said.
Representative Justin Fawson (Republican – North Ogden) expressed concern over the possibility of a school board voting outside of their district. He noted that during his previous service on a school board and city council, they would always come back into the district to vote. “What I don’t understand is the absolute necessity to make decisions off-site. In an effort to be open and transparent, we would come back within our school boundaries. We would come back within our city limits and we would make our decisions and have our discussion there.”
“I don’t think it’s that much of a burden for the school board to just meet within the geographical boundaries of its district to allow the constituents to participate in the process,” Hall said.