District 194 to begin recording study sessions

Proposal part of new transparency plan

The Lakeville Area School Board will start broadcasting its study sessions in August in an effort to increase transparency in its decision making.

For years, the board has broadcast on television and the district’s website its regular board meetings where they vote on issues discussed more in-depth during the study sessions, typically held the third Tuesday of each month.

Although open to the public, the study sessions are rarely attended by community members, and the board has previously discussed broadcasting them, including during the election last fall.

Board Member Bob Erickson then said not broadcasting study sessions “clearly lacks transparency,” and Board Member Judy Keliher called it “critical” to engage the community and keep people informed. Board Member Terry Lind agreed recording study sessions helps the public better understand decisions that are made, but had also cited some concern the cameras could distract from the board’s deep discussions.

The board initially discussed broadcasting study sessions as a pilot project, but decided to try it for the 2017-2018 school year, then reevaluate whether to continue broadcasting the work sessions after the year is complete.

Now part of an effort to open communications with the public, the study sessions will move from the Crystal Lake Education Center to Lakeville City Hall where video recording equipment is available.

Board Member Kathy Lewis said at a May 23 meeting the board also needs to improve transparency regarding how the board operates and makes decisions regarding its committee structure. She has been advocating for rotating the board members assigned to key committees that include facilities and personnel.

Other aspects of the district’s transparency plan include adding the more detailed financial information board members see to the meeting packets available to the public.

District 194 Communications Director Amy Olson said not including the information in public packets stems back to how they operated in the past.

She said the district used to assemble the information by hand and provide it to board members, but there was not a request or interest in the detailed financial data from the public, so they did not feel the need to put those together unless requested.

“That practice, when we went to an electronic format, simply just carried over,” Olson said at the May 23 meeting.

School Board members’ meeting packets will still contain more information than the public sees.

Olson said the district will continue to withhold from the public information containing student and employee private data, disciplinary action or field trip documentation. The district will provide summary information regarding field trips to the public.

Olson told the newspaper they plan to start adding more information in packets right away.

She said the recorded study sessions will be available for play on demand on the district’s website, just like their regular meetings.

Lind described the district’s transparency plan as a first step toward continuing efforts to be open with the public.

“I view this as a start,” Lind said. “It’s not something that we’re going to say we’re transparent now. We’ll just keep working at it.”

The district has also created a page on its website called isd194.org/transparency.

Included on the page is the district’s contact information, quick links to meeting materials, budget and finance documents, policies and election results. It also includes a link to the district’s Facilities Master Plan recommendations and job openings.

“I think our district is making an effort to make the commitment to the public to get information out there,” Board Member Jim Skelly said, calling it “a good thing for the district.”

Erickson agreed, noting that while two of the largest school districts are closing their study sessions, District 194 is opening them.

“We’re going to be one of the first of the largest school districts in the state of Minnesota to provide direct access to our study sessions,” Erickson said. “We may be the first of the largest school districts to do it in this state’s history.”