Winona Area Public Schools will name a committee charged with studying long-term facility planningódetermining the condition of existing school buildings and examining which should remain open in the future. The question left on the table last month was whether the group would include the full school board, or just a handful.
"I would like to see this almost be a committee of the board, or just have the board involved in all of these deliberations," said board member Steve Schild, noting that facility planning involved some of the most important issues facing the district: money, enrollment, and buildings. "This is going to be the most significant [decision] in terms of what we do."
Superintendent Scott Hannon, however, said he preferred a group of administrators and just a few board members be assigned to the committee. "The bigger numbers [of committee members] the slower the process," he said. "[The committee can] put that framework of what is it that the board wants, and they can take the bigger topic and break it down into smaller bits that can be chewed on. I think, from a board standpoint, having the whole board involved every time we talk about one of these things, it might really be a long, slow process and a lot of board meetings."
Board member Jeanne Nelson said for the purpose of displaying openness, trust and integrity, the seven elected board members should be part of the facilities talks. "We have to clearly understand what the face of education may look like for us," she said.
Schild said that if the issue were less complex, it might be easier to handle it with a committee composed of administrators and a couple of board members. But, he said, "There are ideological differences here."
Board member Ben Baratto said he had continuously heard talks about building closure on the horizon, and if that was what was going to be discussed, he said he wanted the board to be involved. "That's a real heavy discussion," he said, adding he would be reluctant to make a decision about building closure without being privy to all the information.
The board elected to wait until several pieces of information were compiled to determine the makeup of the committee. First, Energy Savings Group will provide a set of building assessments for energy improvement measures, part of an ongoing district energy savings project initiative. Second, Wold Architects and Engineers is expected to provide an update to a building maintenance study it completed for the district seven years ago. Additionally, Hannon said he would bring forward information from the "Warner report," a building assessment from a number of years ago, which recommended the district build a new elementary school to house all the district elementary students.
Several board members said if a committee was formed that did not include the full board, committee agendas and minutes should be sent to the full board in a timely manner so that all members knew what the committee was studying. While this is a request that has been made multiple times over the years to various committees, such detailed information has not been consistently provided to the full board.
This time, there was a new idea raised: agendas and minutes could be placed into an online "drop box" location that all board members would have access to, so that each could check in on committee work. Several members indicated that draft minutes are generated after a committee meeting, but are not typically finalized through a committee vote until the next committee meeting, often at least a month later. To ensure the committee minutes are available to the full board quickly, board members discussed having the draft minutes deposited into the drop box. Several board members said these draft minutes and the drop box itself would not be available to the public, since the meeting minutes would be in draft form.
However, simply because meeting minutes might be considered a "draft" does not make them private data, according to Minnesota law. According to Minnesota Newspaper Association Attorney Mark Anfinson, even if meeting minutes are in draft form, those documents are considered public information. If a member of the public asked to examine draft meeting minutes and the school district were to deny access to the document(s), it would be a violation of the Minnesota Data Practices Act.