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  • Of course the Chronicle is done: Without Sandberg to give stores to the Chronicle there is no Chronicle.

Attorney General says D150 did not violate OMA

The Illinois Attorney General’s office issued the following ruling in a letter dated November 16, 2010:

Dear President Wolfmeyer:

On February 16 and February 18, 2010, this Office received three Requests for Review alleging a violation of the Open Meetings Act (OMA) (5 ILCS 120/1 et-seq.) by the Peoria School District 150 Board of Education. The Requests for Review raise questions whether the Board violated the requirements of OMA when four members of the Board attended a February 16, 2010 event with media and the District’s new Superintendent that was closed to the public.

On February 26, 2010, this Office sent a further inquiry letter to Board of Education President Deborah Wolfmeyer requesting the minutes and the audio recording of the event. On March 12, 2010, School District attorney David Walvoord responded to our further inquiry letter and supplied us with an audio copy of the meeting and a written explanation regarding the event.

In its written response to our letter, Mr. Walvoord confirmed that four members of the District’s seven-member board, including the President and Vice President, were present at the event. Clearly, therefore, more than a majority of a quorum of the Board was present and gathered at that time.

One requester was told by District Spokesperson Stacey Shangraw that the event was open only to “members of the professional press.”

This Office has reviewed the audio CD supplied to us by the District. The event’s timeline follows:

2:54- Primary speaker invites questions from the media “for us.”

4:07- In response to a question regarding whether deficits came up in the selection process, the primary speaker states, “I don’t think we got into those kinds of specifics,” and goes on to recount that Lathan shared “with us” an anecdote about a deficit she dealt with in her job with the San Diego school system.

6:00- In response to a question whether Lathan has unanimous support of the board, the primary speaker states “she has the full support of the board.”

13:00- At this point, multiple board members amplify previous answers. At least 3 board members appear to speak interactively at this point.

21:00- The primary speaker notes that “we” are paying for her expenses while she’s here.

23:00- A Board member other than primary speaker makes concluding remarks.

In his letter, Mr. Walvoord explains that the press conference did not violate OMA because the only comments made by Board members were in response to press questions and that there was no discussion or dialogue among the Board members present.

For purposes of OMA, a “meeting” is defined as a gathering of at least a majority of a quorum of the members of the public body held for the purpose of discussing public business. 5 ILCS 120/1.02. The phrase “discussing public business” refers to an exchange of views and ideas among public body members on a matter or matters germane to the affairs of their public body. It is not directed at casual remarks, but, in effectuation of section 1 of the Act (5 ILCS 120/1), at discussions that are deliberative in nature. A deliberation in this context is a discussion aimed primarily at reaching a decision on a matter of concern to the public body, regardless of whether the discussion will result in the taking of an action, will set policy or is preliminary to either. See, Guide to the Open Meetings Act, at 20 (Rev. 2004).

In this instance, we conclude that although a majority of a quorum of the Board was present at the February 16, 2010 event, the Board members did not engage in a deliberative discussion of public business, and thus, did not violate the Act. Based on our analysis of the audio recording, the comments made by the individual members in response to questions posed by the members of the media did not constitute a deliberative process aimed at setting policy or that could lead to a final decision by the Board. Accordingly, the gathering was not a “meeting,” for purposes of OMA.

Therefore, we find that further action is not warranted.

We would strongly suggest, however, that gatherings of this nature should be discouraged. Clearly, in these circumstances, the gathering of four members of the Board in a venue closed to the public caused serious questions to be raised as to the propriety of the event. Further, although a gathering may not be planned with the intention of discussing public business at its outset, the gathering is subject to conversion to a statutory “meeting” at any point. Thus, a gathering will becomes [sic] a “meeting,” for purposes of the Act, if the attention of the requisite number of public body members present turns to a deliberative discussion of public business, whether or not there was any intent to conduct a “meeting.” Had this occurred in these circumstances, a violation of the OMA would inevitably have happened.

Should you have any questions or would like to discuss this matter, please feel free to contact me at (312) 814-5383. This letter shall sever to close this file.

Sincerely,
Cara Smith
Public Access Counselor

By:
Matthew Rogina
Assistant Public Access Counselor

79 comments to Attorney General says D150 did not violate OMA

  • 2 cents

    May 13, 2009.

  • Frustrated

    Sharon – not sure what your mission is with the class size quest. I don’t think 30 sounds like an unbearable number to manage for a high school teacher. What number would you expect to have in a classroom given that the District is so strapped??? The District has to cut back in all areas in order to attempt to balance the budget.

  • Jon

    Charlie, I’m so glad you mentioned The Onion. Here’s one of their recent stories on education that reached a somewhat different conclusion (warning: strong language):

    http://www.theonion.com/articl.....ese,18461/

  • Sharon Crews

    Frustrated, for one thing I wanted solid information for those who tell us that the average class size in District 150 is 12. At least, I want the district to have to acknowledge out loud (because they surely aren’t going to tell anybody) that classes are too large. What about the charter school–didn’t it cut off classes at 25? Why is that?

    I guess you are not a teacher with five large classes who has to take home all that homework to grade every night, etc. You are a parent who expects communication from teachers, etc., and expects them to go the extra mile. How can a teacher who sees from 125 to 150 students a day be all that you want a teacher to be and still have a family life of his/her own? Most of all, do you want your child in a class with that many students? Of course, I think your daughter could well survive in a class that size–but there are many students in these classes who do need individual attention–how is that possible in a class of from 30 to 35 students?
    You don’t think 30 is too many students to manage–have you been in some of these classrooms lately. Do you really have any idea about the kinds of behaviors with which a teacher has to cope?

    What do I expect of a district that is so strapped–I expect the cuts to be as far away from the classroom as possible. Tonight at a meeting where Dr. Lathan answered questions posed by teachers, she was asked about the supplies that teachers have to pay for out of their own pockets. Her answer was that teachers shouldn’t have to do so. Great answer, but teachers do have to buy their own supplies and hearing that they shouldn’t have to do so doesn’t help at all.

    I am hearing (and have done some FOIA’s) that the primary school classrooms are, also, too large–and in those classrooms children truly do need more attention than a teacher can give–teachers just can’t spread themselves or their time that thin.

  • Sharon Crews

    Frustrated, I do have another question. I really don’t understand your insensitivity to the subject of class size when you are such an ardent supporter of the IB program. A district that makes all decisions based on the bottom line certainly isn’t going to see the financial value of maintaining a program where the upper level classes (when IB really kicks in) have so few students. Why should students who need the most academic help have to survive in large classes to support a program that doesn’t draw a sufficient number of students? You know that I support the IB program, but I support the needs of students in basic classes as well.

  • Jon… you DO realize The Onion is satire… right? It is parody. It is sarcasm. Tongue in cheek. Not serious. Ironic. The Mad Magazine of online news.

    (I suspect Jon will not be appearing on this blog for awhile now)

  • Jon

    Thanks for the revelation, Charlie. Now can you help me understand if The Daily Show is a news program? Is Stephen Colbert really a conservative? And don’t get me started on George Carlin 🙂

  • Peoria taxpayer

    Doesn’t cutting “as far away from yhe classroom” mean cutting the cost for FOIA’s? Or is it – just don’t cut what I support? Do you not think that us taxpayer/parents would like admin to do their job and not be second-guessed through costly FOIA’s by wannabe’s and has-beens? I could understand an occasional FOIA or comment before the board, but, really……is the watch group elected to represent the people or self-appointed? Didn’t the watchgroup get involved because of the shortened-school day? Why doesn’t that group encourage teachers to lenghten the school day to what it used to be?

  • Timeforethics

    Peoria taxpayer-

    People would not be so quick to FOIA the district if D150 was more transparent. Do we need to start a list of all of the unethical and illegal activities that have been uncovered at D150 during the last two years?

    “wannabe’s and has-beens” ? Low blow. It is easier for people not currently working in the district to FOIA D150 than it is for current employees to do so. There is no fear of retaliation if you are not a current employee. Trust me, I know for a fact that the Board does not look kindly on those employees that FOIA the district.

  • Sharon Crews

    That is one of the reasons I FOIA now. For instance, when I was teaching, teachers never got to see a compilation of class sizes, etc. We were never certain which teachers had “easy” class loads and which were burdened with too many students, etc. Maybe the union received the info–but I rather doubt it. The information that I presented to the board (the 10 pages of data that took me many hours to compile so that it revealed the overall picture of class size)would never be available to the public or to teachers–and maybe not to board members, at least, in the form that I presented it. I am sorry that there isn’t an easy way to share it with the general public. The unfairness to Richwoods and Peoria High teachers is quite evident. More Manual teachers, in general, have smaller classes. Besides, because of the Johns Hopkins schedule, they teach only 3 classes a day (about 75 students) compared to RHS and PHS teachers who teacher 5 classes (over 125 students per day).

  • Jon…
    I didn’t know if you understood what The Onion is. I had someone else point out the Glenn Beck: man of year article and commented that he thought it was GREAT! About time Beck got the recognition he deserved.

    You just never know…. I mean, really… Kevin Balfe (or whatever) writes all of Glenn Beck’s books and people still think Beck wrote them.

  • Frustrated

    Sharon, I am not insensitive to class size, BUT . . . the District can only do what it can do. For a “regular” HS class, I am just saying 30 does not seem too many. Washington Gifted has always had classes of 30 per class. I agree that it is too many in the younger grades, and perhaps in HS if it is a remedial class. Not sure why you are complaining then that Manual has less per classroom — they also would appear to have more students with learning challenges so how is that unfair?? Unfair to whom?

    As to IB, I think the District has failed to promote this program sufficiently and has not done a good job of preparing students that might be a good fit to join the program. My 9th grader must have sat for 5 plus hours over 2 days to prepare for a social studies exam she is taking today that was all essay based, in which she had to exam the Meiji period in ancient Japan and identify what she believed to be the significant events. A student can’t be prepared to do this level of work in 9th grade unless they begin a process of strenuous reading, writing, and analytical activities beginnning in junior high. That is why I think the District should develop a magnet MYP middles school.

  • Sharon Crews

    Frustrated, I do partially understand your thinking. I had many classes of over 30 in the 1970s and never complained. However, toward the end of my career I could not have handled classes that large–the discipline problems and the academic diversity make it much too difficult. Do you really believe that Manual and Peoria High students are that different academically?

    I just heard about a complaint from a Manual parent recently–that 9th grade enriched students are being taught 8th grade material and that enriched students weren’t asked to read Romeo and Juliet–they were listening to audio tapes instead.

    I just wrote on this subject on Emerge’s blog–I truly believe that you will soon find that your daughter is not going to be a good fit in District 150–there just aren’t enough top students (maybe they haven’t been discovered) in the district to demand the top courses. If these students were still in the district, there wouldn’t be any rumblings about dropping the IB program. Of course, I agree with you (I think) that District 150 hasn’t done much to encourage these students to stay in the district.
    I don’t think you have any idea how many very, very bright students went to Manual during the years of my career. I didn’t teach AP or enriched, so I can’t give you all the specifics. But the English teacher who taught those young people for many years still keeps in touch with many of them who have been extremely successful in college and in their careers. For that matter, many of our basic students have done very well. In recent years, Manual made all manner of choices that caused academically talented students to go elsewhere.

  • Sharon Crews

    Also, I said it was unfair that Manual teachers have class loads of only 75 students per day (3 classes) instead of the 5 classes, totally 125 or more, at PHS and RHS.

  • Frustrated

    Yes Sharon, I would believe you that at one time Manual had many distinguished students. Many of my mothers friends grew up on the Southside of Peoria, graduated from Manual, and were successful members of the business community. But that was back in a time when that area of Peoria was a strong working class neighborhood — now it is povery strickened.

  • Sharon Crews

    Frustrated, in what era did your mother’s friends live? I am not talking about that long ago–actually, up until the early 1990s Manual had south side students and West Peoria students who excelled. Manual continued to have students who could compete with any students in the district–just not as many.

  • cttsp5

    If MHS teachers have less classes which equal less students could it be that it is due to classes being 90 minutes long? Therefore they can’t teach as many classes per day as RHS or PHS who have shorter class time.

  • Sharon Crews

    cttsp5: Yes, the difference is due to the 90-minute time. I have no doubt that MHS teachers work as hard as do RHS and PHS teachers. The fact still remains that grading and record keeping tasks are lessened for teachers with a teaching load of 75 students compared to 125 or more. (I believe I am safe in making the generalization–from the data I compiled–that MHS classes are, also, smaller). Also, I’m not sure but I believe the 90-minute class periods, also, means that MHS teachers have longer prep periods than do teachers at the other high schools. The main point, of course, is that it is doesn’t seem to be fiscally sound to utilize teaching time this way. The fact remains that “fairness” isn’t the measuring stick in 150. Manual can have smaller classes, etc., because MHS is funded with grant money. Personally, I do not believe that students are asked to do double the homework just because the classes are 90-minutes in length.

  • Sharon Crews

    New District 150 hires:
    Confidential Administrative Assistant (Ed Fund 10E000 2321 1450 50 000000)
    Honold, Angela – Administration 11/09/10
    Jefferson, Sophia – Administration 11/09/10
    Brown, Kanika – Administration 11/22/10

    I was told that Terri Dunn was no longer doing FOIAs–could these “confidential” people be handling FOIAs–since District 150 chooses to keep as much as possible confidential. 🙂

  • my 2 cents

    Sharon–did you notice the salary range for the position(s)? I had no idea three would be hired. Is it from stimulus money–meaning the jobs are temporary? Would like to see the qualifications of those hired. Time will tell. One FOIA (Jan. ’10) was provided as requested on disk and an entire file was blank (the pages were upside down when scanned). The name of the requester and the requester’s children were redacted on some pages. I’m sure that was a(nother) coincidence.

  • Sharon Crews

    Laura Petelle answered the question as follows:
    “’Confidential’ has to do with their relationship to the union and with the job expectation that they will keep certain properly-private information (such as personnel matters) confidential. It does not suggest they will keep public information confidential. I think it’s kind-of a strange designation but that’s what the union calls them.

    The new FOIA person has done the FOIA training and, I believe, is also doing paralegal training, and should be well-qualified to perform the FOIA compliance tasks, at considerably less cost than Ms. Dunn’s time.”

    I still wonder if these are new positions, why three people are needed, and who handled “confidentiality before.

  • Sharon Crews

    My 2 cents–Are you requesting a redo of the FOIA? I am now more curious about the confidential administrative assistants–Laura tells me they are replacements, not new hires. If so, to whom were they assigned and what happened to the old ones–why would they quit at this time of the year or have the positions be unfilled since the beginning of the year, etc. No salary was given.

  • Crisis Alert

    Movement in the clerical functions and the realization that confidential info should be kept confidential really isn’t news. Filing FOIA’s to satisfy personal curiosities wastes taxpayer resources. If you want to research something newsworthy, look into what the Performance Counts Act that was introduced into a special House committee last week is. Sounds promising. Call your reps. Our children deserve better than protecting the status quo. Accountability should begin and end on Wisc. Ave, but taxpayers need to demand it throughout.

  • Sharon Crews

    Crises Alert–why do so many “one-time name” bloggers sound so much like Jim Stowell–same agenda and everything. 🙂

  • my 2 cents

    The job was posted at $18 to $22 per hour August 2010. There was no mention that three would be hired, that I noticed. The reason to do FOIAs is to find out when employees of public bodies who are paid with taxpayer money are violating policies and/or the rights of citizens. A FOIA is a formal request and the public body that provides the information must take responsibility for the information provided (i.e., they can no longer claim ignorance). Stop throwing around big words like “accountability”. What a joke.

  • Open and honest government is the cornerstone of American democracy, and it can only be achieved through the free exchange of information between the government and its citizens…. Illinois courts have long recognized that “good policy requires liberality in the right to examine public records.” …The courts have also recognized a common law duty to disclose public records, qualified only by a balancing of the public’s right to know against individual privacy rights and governmental interests.

    –A Guide to the Illinois Freedom of Information Act

    I don’t consider it a waste of time or money to disclose public information to the public. The school district has a large number of FOIA requests because they’ve proven themselves untrustworthy in the past. It takes time to rebuild the public’s trust once you’ve lost it.

  • Crazy!

    “Filing FOIA’s to satisfy personal curiosities wastes taxpayer resources.”

    To “crisis alert”….If you really think that is why so many individuals are filing FOIA’s with the district then you are pathetic. And if you have your eyes on a City-wide office and hold this point of view then that is even more pathetic.

  • Sharon Crews

    My FOIA request that had been reviewed by the Attorney General’s office, which ruled in my favor, is costing the district more money than is necessary. The board lawyer wrote his original rebuttal to my request; then I was asked to respond; then the lawyer wrote another rebuttal. The “final” letter from the AG, stating that the district was required to “give up” the information that I had requested in August, was sent to the wrong address. There were three clerial errors in the letter–no errors in the body of the letter except for the use of CPS (Chicago Public Schools) instead of PPS, but the context clearly indicates the letter is all about the Peoria Public Schools and my FOIA.
    The lawyer is now conducting more correspondence with the Attorney General because of this “technicality.” Some will blame me for the costs attached to my FOIA. However, I believe that the district is being disingenuous in claiming that they are protecting the rights of students to privacy by not revealing “masked” student record data. In fact, I believe District 150 is trying to protect its own right to operate in privacy and with confidentiality. Certainly, the AG letter states that students’ rights were not being violated by providing me with the information.

  • my 2 cents

    CJ–thanks for calmly adding words of wisdom. I shouldn’t have been snarky. Just because I wasted two years trying in vain to use the district “chain” or “ladder” is no excuse for being snarky. People who FOIA are not the problem and should not be treated like the enemy.