RSU 40 board needs better priorities, transparency

By The Courier-Gazette Editorial Board | Nov 13, 2020

The RSU 40 board needs prompting from parents and citizens to be more transparent and set better priorities. This became clear during its Nov. 5 meeting and through the behind-the-scenes discussions that apparently took place after.

In the meeting, the school superintendent presented a shift in the plan for reopening the schools.

One board member attempted to gain approval for the plan in a motion that rephrased it. This motion failed for lack of a second.

Then, board member Emily Trask-Eaton made a motion to “Give administration a vote of confidence as they go forward with this plan started in August.”

Some board members argued they had confidence in the superintendent, but for various reasons were wary of approving a blank check motion like this, and the motion did not pass.

Lynda Letteney worried how this would look prompting a discussion of how to strike the motion and any mention of it from the minutes.

In our experience, this is unusual. We consider it our job to keep the public informed about what elected officials are doing and to make sure their process is as open and transparent as possible. We grow concerned when we hear them saying, "We need to make sure this discussion we just had never gets mentioned publicly. How will that look?"

We had a reporter watching the meeting, and she took note of this unusual discussion as any good reporter would.

But, after we published our report on this meeting, we received a letter signed by the entire school board attacking us for doing our jobs.

In this letter, the RSU 40 board called our headline misleading and our reporting irresponsible. The letter argues a motion expressing confidence in the superintendent received almost unanimous vote of the board, with one member abstaining.

The letter fails to mention the original vote, which was struck from the record. In this vote, which we reported on, more than one member abstained or opposed the motion.

Who is being misleading?

Asked when the entire school board held a meeting to approve this letter to the editor and sign it, Chairman Danny Jackson said this was decided by phone and email.

We would question whether the entire board reaching decisions via email and phone with no recorded votes or minutes meets the spirit of Maine’s Freedom of Access Law. That law requires that when a quorum of a board discusses anything, it constitutes a public meeting.

Was drafting this letter to the editor such a priority in the midst of figuring out how to educate students during a pandemic, it could not wait until their next public meeting?

It seems to us this is an attempt to bully us into writing stories the way the school district wants them presented, but we are an independent news organization. We are used to public officials attempting to influence our writing, but it is disheartening to see the unusual tactic of having a letter signed by the entire board aimed at us.

To the board, we will say this: You may be able to edit your minutes, but not our reporting.

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