School Board member Bill Hart, a longtime proponent of keeping Francisco Elementary School open, raised a number of concerns about the process the school board had gone through to close the school during Monday night’s board meeting.
Chief among those concerns was the timing and amount of communication that had occurred between the school board and the community during the past two years over the closing of the school.
“I know we are rushing to the finish line to get this done, but this is not the order that this is supposed to be done in to get this done,” he said.
Hart referenced a listing of school closing procedures provided to the board in a packet on the closing of the school after Sunday’s public hearing.
“It says here: ‘After the local board of education carefully studies the facility evaluations, facility capacity, school board membership, school organizations, cost of operation, effect on transportation, alternative uses for the facility, effect on diversity, and effect on local governmental planning, the board should make a tentative decision. If the the tentative decision is to close the school, the board should schedule informational meetings and hearings,’” read Hart. “We had informational meetings, we had a public hearing, but we did not have this information before all of that. We are supposed to get these things, make a tentative decision and then have a public hearing.
“One of the very first things on this list is to evaluate the facility,” added Hart. “I got this book yesterday, after the public hearing. We are supposed to be able to take this study and talk to people about it.”
Hart also questioned if the board had ever made a tentative decision on the school.
“It has been the decision of the board to continue with the process throughout,” said School Board Attorney Fred Johnson. “Did the board take action, no, but the board could not take action. What you are referencing is not the statute. What you have there are guidelines from DPI. Nowhere in the statute does the phrase ‘tentative decision’ appear. You are not required to do that. We did not do anything improper.”
Hart also questioned why the situation at Francisco was discussed in a closed session meeting on Sept. 30, 2013.
“That seems to be something that you could have talked about in open session,” said Hart. “Those comments would have been good things for the folks of Francisco to be privy to.”
Johnson, after reviewing the minutes [see sidebar for full text of the minutes in question], agreed that the conversation should have been held in open session. Board Chair Sonya Cox said she had not been chair at the time, but believed the discussion was held in closed session because the board was unsure if the conversation would end up dealing with personnel issues which are required by law to be discussed in closed session.
“I don’t think there was anything that was trying to be kept private,” she said. “We were just erring on the side of caution.”
Hart also took issue with how the school system had handled offers from the community to help with grant writing, noting that after the offer had been made the community did not hear back from the administration until after grant proposals had been submitted.
“We finally got to see it in November,” said Hart. “It is two pages and the second page is copied and pasted from information Mr. George gave us. We did not get to help on it. We would have loved to help write this, then we waited from April until NOvember waiting to hear something about it wasting all of that time.”
Nicholas Elmes may be reached at 336-591-8191 or on Twitter @NicholasElmes.