A recent State Journal editorial, “Don’t close discussions,” published on July 2, 2010 (subscription) offers the opinion that the Franklin County Board of Education and the Frankfort Independent Board of Education did the right thing recently by conducting their evaluations in an open forum.
Sadly, an ill-advised law now taking effect allows local school boards to conduct superintendent evaluations in secret, releasing only a final summary to the public. Clearly, the State Journal is unhappy with that new law, and we are, too. Click the ‘Read more’ link below to find out why.
The State Journal points out that during Franklin County’s open evaluation, objections were raised from some in attendance who are running for school board positions. This highlights one important reason why board discussions about the superintendent should not be allowed to go on in secret.
Local school boards are elected by the public, and the boards’ most important job is oversight of the superintendent. The superintendent is the local school executive “on the ground” in day to day operation of the school system. If the voters can’t see how their individually elected board members conduct themselves in their most important mission, the voters cannot effectively vote.
And, events show secrecy isn’t needed. Several Kentucky school boards successfully conducted their annual superintendent evaluations in open session recently.
By the way, according to the Central Kentucky News-Journal the Campbellsville School Board also recently conducted its superintendent evaluation in open session. The newspaper says Campbellsville had initially planned to do the evaluation in closed session. But, after the paper contacted the board, they opened up the process.
This example shows that the public exposure of superintendent evaluations need not negatively impact the discussions, as both the Campbellsville superintendent’s strengths and improvement areas were listed.
But, most importantly, with open superintendent evaluation sessions, the voters got a chance to see how their elected officials conduct the public’s business. As the Bluegrass Institute continues to collect the written evaluations of superintendents in Kentucky in the freedomkentucky Wiki, it is becoming crystal clear that just releasing summary reports will not meet the needs of the voting public. Many of these evaluations are too short and vacuous to tell voters anything useful, and the evaluations provide no insight at all about the thinking of individual board members.
It’s a terribly important point that the legislature unfortunately missed with its ill-advised secrecy law – a mistake we hope will be corrected in 2011 after legislators get a chance to review the quality of written superintendent evaluations in this state.
And, we remind local voters, while the new law allows secrecy, we don’t believe it mandates it.
Voters can still consider this fact if their local board that chooses to hide behind the law by conducting its most important business in secret.