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School board appoints Sears
Coupeville School Board appointed Christine Sears to fill the board seat recently vacated by Don Sherman.
Sears was one of two people interviewed last week during a special meeting.
In the process of the interview and appointment, however, the board may have violated the Open Public Meetings Act.
The interview process was held in open session, as required.
The board members asked Sears and the other candidate, Orson Christensen, separately a series of questions about what they see as the role of school board members.
Questions ranged from their involvement currently in the district to their knowledge of the education system.
Sears said she sees the role as one that serves as leadership and governance.
“I’d be accountable for student achievement, proper use of resources and funds,” she said.
Sears volunteers at after-school events and with the Community Foundation for Coupeville Public Schools.
Sears said she has a basic understanding of how schools get funding and is aware of future challenges and priorities within the district, including new state mandates and declining enrollment.
Christensen has been volunteering with Coupeville sports for a year and has past experience working in education.
Being on the school board is a chance to do community service by helping determine what’s good for the school system, he said.
After interviewing the candidates, the board members went into executive session, though they didn’t initially cite the reason or the length of time they expected to be behind closed doors.
The Open Public Meetings Act requires officials to announce the reason they are going into executive sessions and the length of time of the session, according to the state Attorney General’s Office.
In addition, the officials aren’t allowed to make any decisions, even informal ones, within executive sessions, the law states.
After reconvening, however, board president Kathleen Anderson announced the board had chosen Sears and prompted Superintendent Jim Shank to give Sears the oath of office.
Administrative assistant Janet Wodjenski reminded Anderson that proper protocol calls for a motion and vote to be made by the board.
In response to Wodjenski’s reminder and notification from a Examiner reporter that they could be in violation, Anderson said she missed that part on the agenda and called for a vote.
The decision was unanimous.
In some instances an agency can “cure” a violation of the Open Public Meetings Act by publicly repeating what was done in executive session, said Nancy Krier, assistant attorney general for open government.
“When I hear stories like this I assume it’s a training or knowledge issue. I try to deal with it in an educational standpoint.”
Recently passed legislation requires elected officials go through Open Public Meetings Act and public disclosure training.
Krier contacted the Coupeville School District to discuss concerns about the recent executive session and explain training resources were available.
“Maybe this is the kind of board that would benefit from additional training,” Krier said.
Wodjenski told Krier three of the board members are relatively new and was very open to seeking additional training resources.
“This is a good reminder for them,” Krier said. “They need to pay attention to the requirements.”