A District 200 Board of Education closed session last Wednesday to discuss the new administrative structure under incoming Supt. Attila Weninger caused one board member to question whether it violated the Illinois Open Meetings Act.

At a special board meeting last Wednesday, Weninger, who officially starts July 1, presented an update on his transition and on the principal search for Oak Park and River Forest High School.

The agenda included a closed session meeting to specifically discuss Weninger’s outline for the reorganization of the school’s administration.

But board member Sharon Patchak-Layman objected to going into a closed session because it did not involve the evaluation of staff performance, one of the specific criteria outlined in the Open Meetings Act.

Layman, who was elected to the board in April, said the agenda that members received the day before did not specify that the closed session would involve a performance evaluation.

Layman was the only board member to vote against the motion to enter into closed session.

Weninger said the closed session was taking place because the discussion would involve the specific names of employees and what positions they have under the new structure. He added that the performance of specific staff did come up during the closed session.

Weninger said the structural chart for next year was only a draft and that changes might still be made to it. The draft chart was not made public.

“My intent was to discuss with the board more specifically the individuals involved in that draft,” he said, explaining the decision to go into closed session.

Layman, however, said a personnel discussion should not be combined with a discussion of the reorganizational chart.

“This deals with who holds what job and who’s held accountable. None of those are closed-session warranted,” she said.

The Illinois Open Meetings Act establishes the criteria for how and when public bodies can enter closed meetings. Discussions of personnel with respect to employment, compensation, dismissal, discipline and performance are among the exemptions allowed for a closed session.

Scott Sievers, assistant public access counselor for the attorney general’s office, said the Open Meetings Act is specific as to what constitutes an exception for public bodies to enter into a closed session.

A general discussion about an organization’s structure, though it inevitably involves personnel, is not an exception, said Sievers.

“Anything concerning a public body eventually touches a person, and consequently the personnel exception would swallow up a range of issues that comes before a public body, and that can’t be the case,” he said. “Simply talking about whether we’re going to add positions or eliminate or shuffle positions or change the duties and so forth, that’s not a basis to go into closed session under the so-called ‘personnel exception.’ We’re talking about specific employees, and not just organizational design and structural issues.”

Donald Craven, an attorney with the Illinois Press Association, agreed, saying that the discussion of such matters as the structure or reorganization of any public body does not require a closed session even if it does involve talks about specific employees.

Craven added that public bodies can’t enter into a closed session to talk about one thing and then end up talking about something else.

“If they’re talking about people and performance, yes. If it’s just a discussion about structure and what position people have, they can’t,” said Craven.

CONTACT: tdean@wjinc.com

OMA guidelines

The Illinois Open Meetings Act lists six exceptions for a public body to enter into a closed session, meant to be limited in number and very specific.

The Employment/Personell Matters exception states: “Public bodies may hold closed meetings to consider the following employment or appointment-related topics: 1) The appointment, employment, compensation, discipline, performance or dismissal of specific employees of the public body or legal counsel of the public body.”

A full guide is available online: click here 

 


Principal by July 1

District 200 Supt. Attila Weninger still expects to name a principal candidate by July 1.

Weninger said 22 candidates have currently applied, and nine qualified candidates will be selected from that group.

The candidates will be interviewed by a team that includes staff, faculty, parents and students. Three finalists will be interviewed by stakeholder committees, June 25-26. Weninger expects to make a recommendation of a finalist at the June 28 board meeting.

Join the discussion on social media!