The Cassville Democrat recently ran an editorial titled "Sad news for Southwest" concerning the resignation of the superintendent of the Southwest R-5 School District.
Last April, I exercised my newly acquired right to vote for the first time by casting my ballot in the Southwest School Board election. I had faith that the members of the board and the superintendent would work together and cooperate to better the district for the students, teachers and staff. I would have never expected that the board would break the law.
I'm sure the editor of the Cassville Democrat has read a copy of the letter dated July 21, 2005, from Assistant Attorney General of Missouri James H. Klahr to the Southwest Board president. Allow me to quote a couple of passages from this letter:
"While the Sunshine Law allows a school board to discuss certain employee matters (hiring, firing, discipline) in closed session, that provision does not apply to school board members because they are not employees of the district."
From the same letter pertaining to a separate matter:
"...salary discussions do not fall within the personnel exception and must be discussed in open session. That is consistent with our reading of the law that salary information should be discussed in open session because the personnel exception (610.021 (3)) does not cover salary discussions."
According to my research of the closed session minutes publicly available on-line, each of these laws were violated. The first instance occurred when, according to the closed session minutes of the May 26, 2005, board meeting, one particular board member's actions were discussed:
"(Board Secretary) read the letter presented to (Board President) from (Superintendent)"
Direct quotes from this letter are:
"I recommend that the Board take one or all of the following actions:
Through an executive session vote provide (Board Member) a verbal and written reprimand for her behavior noting that her efforts are both unprofessional and unethical and they furthermore do harm to the Southwest R-V School District."
The second instance occurred in the June 21, 2005, closed session. According to the minutes of this session:
"The Board Discussed personnel and budget matters for the 2005-2006 school year. Discussion included salary impacts and adjustments. In addition, specific impacts regarding percent adjustments to the salary schedule versus raises to the base."
Simply put, the Sunshine Law appears to have been violated when the board discussed a certain board member in closed session on May 26, 2005. The Missouri Statute regarding discussion of salary issues seems to have been compromise during the June 21, 2005, meeting.
But, in the words of LeVar Burton, you don't have to take my word for it. The minutes are clearly posted on the Southwest District's web site at http://www.swr3.mo.us under the Board of Education/Minutes icon.
It is understandable that board members, PTA representatives or city council leaders get into disagreements at times. My point is, it is sad news when such disagreements cannot be resolved within the parameters of the law.
Benjamin F. Fry
Missouri State University broadcast journalism major
Southwest High School Class of 2005