Open meetings refresher
Kentucky School Advocate
By John Powell
KSBA staff attorney
School boards, like many other public entities, are subject to the provisions of the Open Meetings Act (OMA). As districts across the state gear up for another school year, boards may wish to refresh themselves on what it means to hold an open meeting.
Many school boards (and other entities) hold “work sessions.” How do “work sessions” fit into open meetings law?
The OMA does not use the term “work session” and there is no such category of meeting, but it is OK for boards to refer to a meeting as a “work session” as part of the annual regular meeting calendar. Boards typically approve their annual meeting calendars in January unless their policies state otherwise.
“Work sessions” held as part of the annual regular meeting calendar are often instructional in nature, such as professional development, planning sessions, etc., and don’t include action items. OMA rules still apply to work sessions. That means minutes must be taken, the meeting must be open to the public, etc.
Any meetings outside of the approved calendar are considered “special meetings.” These are commonly added to the schedule when an urgent issue comes up, or when unforeseen circumstances require a regular meeting to be canceled/rescheduled.
There has been some discussion as to whether boards are required to hold public hearings prior to setting tax rates if rates don’t exceed certain levels. Should our board hold a public hearing or not?
These statutes were not amended in the last session of the General Assembly. For the most part, statutes pertaining to these types of public hearings have not changed in many years. There have been, however, some new interpretations of existing law that suggest a hearing on tax rates may not be required in some cases.
KSBA very strongly urges local boards to consult with their own legal counsel on this issue. The setting of local school taxes is a high stakes issue that many feel passionately about. As a matter of best practice, boards should always strive for transparency.
When conducting business, are school board members the only ones in the district subject to the OMA?
Some may not realize that school-based decision making councils (SBDMs) are also required to conduct all their meetings in full accordance with the Open Meeting Act. Councils shoulder several major responsibilities for which the public is guaranteed a level of access: school budgets, approval of policies, staffing decisions, consultation on curriculum, etc.
OMA also sets parameters for how business is done in meetings. For instance, SBDMs and boards cannot meet or take action if a quorum (majority) is not present. This includes a SBDM’s state-mandated consultation on the filling of a principal vacancy (conducted in closed session). If there’s not a quorum, the council cannot legally consult with the superintendent.
Were there any changes in law this past year that might impact how boards conduct meetings?
New legislation passed in 2022 requires a public comment period of at least 15 minutes during regular meetings. This does not apply to special meetings and the 15 minutes does not apply if no one wishes to speak. Board policies may include common practices such as time limits or prior sign-in. Many districts in Kentucky were already holding public comment at each regular meeting, so this may not feel like a major change.