School Board Broke Spirit of the Law

Article excerpt

The Duval County School Board violated the spirit and intent of the Sunshine Law, if not the letter, in its meetings and discussions that led to its ending Superintendent Ed Pratt-Dannals' tenure.

The maneuvering was so blatant as to shatter trust in this School Board. Given the years of elected experience of the seven members, the actions at two meetings were especially disappointing.

The board, which last year signaled unhappiness with Pratt-Dannals during its flawed evaluation process, gave the required notice for a meeting on Monday, Feb. 20.

The notice stated it would hold a "Board Development Meeting" at the Schultz Center, an education facility at 4019 Boulevard Center Drive. The board usually holds its regular meetings and workshops at the School Board's main offices at 1701 Prudential Drive.

The agenda item stated simply "Quarterly Goals Update."

The board has had such "board development" meetings in the past, which are similar to workshops in that they must be noticed but at which major policy action is not normally taken. It has used the sessions for discussing progress toward goals and other matters.

Only board members were present at the Monday meeting, along with a staff auditor who was there for part of the session, according to Chairwoman Betty Burney. No one from the public attended.

Minutes prepared by member W.C. Gentry indicate the board discussed a wide range of topics during the five-hour meeting:

"Progress and performance vis-a-vis state averages ... how the board may transform the district ... concerns regarding teacher morale ... college readiness data for all high schools and poor performance at charter schools ... lack of follow through by the district ... the need for transformational change of the culture of the district ... how to ensure integrity and accountability for applying school board policies ... succession planning and consideration for a comprehensive audit of the organizational and administrative system of DCPS."

SOMETHING IN THE WORKS

Those are weighty topics. The public, interested in these crucial issues, should have been invited with more than a terse three-word statement.

Clearly something was in the works, although the superintendent's name did not appear in the minutes. The board ended the Monday meeting with sufficient progress and clarity that it set another meeting for four days later.

The one-line agenda for the Friday meeting: "Continue Quarterly Goals Update."

There was no hint that the board would vote to change the leadership of the school system, set the course for finding a replacement and discuss hiring consultants to chart new directions.

No staff nor members of the public attended on Friday. …