The Dispatch has filed a lawsuit against the Columbus Board of Education for a simple reason: Public meetings should be open to the public.
The board has ignored repeated requests by the newspaper to honor that legal requirement.
State law allows only specific, narrow exceptions to the open-meetings law; in our opinion, the board has acted improperly by shutting the door to the public and the press more than a halfdozen times recently.
As Marion H. Little Jr., attorney for The Dispatch Printing Co., said this week: “The public’s business should be conducted in front of the public. The public is entitled to access.”
A preliminary injunction has been requested to bar the education board from further closed meetings.
The Dispatch also has asked the court to compel the board to turn over records of what was discussed in the closed meetings, something the board has repeatedly refused to do.
The closed-door sessions with an attorney have been held in the wake of a continuing scandal over the manipulation of attendance data, manipulation that may have been an effort to boost the district’s performance on state report cards.
Coming after the disclosure in a series of Dispatch articles of this apparent gaming of the system, the board’s secret meetings are a second breach of trust with the public.
People who entrust their children to the schools and residents who pay taxes to fund the schools have an absolute right to honesty, transparency and accountability from the board of education and the district administration.
The board’s sole duty is to the district’s students and the public, not to the district administration.
Instead of circling the wagons and closing its discussions, the school board should be actively and publicly seeking the truth about whether or not district officials have been gaming school report cards.
But questions put to the board have been met with denials and stonewalling, eroding what trust and support may be left among district voters who have repeatedly supported Columbus school levies and backed district leadership.
The Columbus schools situation illustrates how one action, even if it seems innocuous or defensible at the time, can have a host of bad consequences.
People apparently have been misled about schools’ effectiveness, the district has had to delay a planned levy request as the investigation unfolds and Superintendent Gene Harris’ legacy is clouded as she prepares to step down.
The school board should recognize that secrecy is the last thing the district needs, not to mention the last thing that the people of Columbus deserve.– Columbus Dispatch