Board receives training on trustee duties, public meeting law

In an effort to improve the flow of communication with the community, the Sheridan School board received training on trustee duties and public meeting law at their regular meeting last week.

Attorney Kris Goss from the Montana School Board Association gave an hour-long workshop on the responsibilities of school board members in their interactions with the public. While it is important for the school board to be transparent in their business, trustees must also consider privacy issues when discussing specific personnel and student matters. Trustees are prohibited from discussing publically matters related to certified teachers, classified staff and specific students.

Goss proceeded to explain how public comment periods are implemented during meetings to aid in communication with the board. The general comment period presents an opportunity for the board to hear concerns on matters within their jurisdiction. Once a board takes action on an agenda item and the motion has been seconded, this allows a period of public comment for people to present and argument for which way trustees should vote on the item.

“The public comment period is designed for the board to hear citizen concerns about school issues,” Goss said. “Its not designed to be a public debate between members of the community.”

Because the school board is a governmental body, it can take action only by majority vote at a public meeting. Individual trustees have their own authority only to the extent that the board specifically authorizes such, and have no formal authority beyond expressing an opinion, debating an issue and casting a vote at public meetings. Trustees are shielded from personal liability as long as they as they remain within the scope of their authority through participation in regular or special board meetings, he explained.

People with complaints or concerns about the Sheridan School District are encouraged to follow the Uniform Complaint Procedure as noted in School Board Policy 1700, which can be found on the school’s website. Informal complaints may be discussed directly with the appropriate teacher, counselor or building administrator to resolve the matter promptly.

The policy states that f the matter cannot be resolved informally, the person must submit their complaint in writing to outline the nature of their complaint, describe any specific incidents or events giving rise to the complaint and request a resolution to the issue. The complaint will be addressed by the building administrator, superintendent or school board if necessary.

Also during the meeting questions were raised about recent staff departures and declining enrollment, and a suggestion was made that the board look into the issue. As a formality, school counselor, Laurie Bartoletti, conducted exit interviews with families who have recently left district. Members of the public asked if the interviews could be made public since the students are no longer in the school as long as the respondent’s anonymity is preserved.

In other news high school basketball practices will begin Nov. 21 and classes will dismiss at 12:30 p.m. on Wednesday Nov. 23 for Thanksgiving.

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