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Let in the sunshine
November 12, 2008 - John Stack
There was a recent situation at the Saranac School District about a pair of successful coaches being fired. This was much different than the usual firing, or, ‘not retaining’ a pair of coaches. This happened just a week before practice was to start for the winter sports season! As I do not know all the facts, I can only conjecture at a lot of the happenings. If a school board was going to terminate a pair of coaches, it would seem reasonable the decision would be made well in advance. This would not jeopardize the season, it would at least keep the public informed and not think the decision was made in a vacuum, the coaches in question would have the ability to fight for their jobs, or even look to coach elsewhere for the season. Why would this decision have to be sorted out at the very last minute? Its possible that some new information came to the board at the last minute about one of the coaches that had to do with integrity or other embarrassing situations. But, it does seem odd for both of these coaches to be let go at the very same time. The school has decided not to give any reason, but that they have deliberated carefully, and with the children’s best interests as always at heart. So why was it they did a complete 360 and reinstated them a week later?
One problem here seems to be the ubiquitous ‘executive session’ exemption from the Open Meetings Law. Many boards are quick to invoke ‘personnel issues’ as a reason to go to executive session. But, the board is not OBLIGED to go into executive session. If the issue is private, it is understandable the board could work on this in executive session. But, it seems the board decided to fire these men without consulting them (I may be wrong, but the articles haven’t clarified this, I don’t think). If these guys were fired, but not told why, what is the purpose of the executive session? To protect the embarrassment or uncomfortableness of a school board member is not the intent of the law, and is not legal to go to executive session for such. Also, if both coaches were brought in to discuss this is executive session; they are under no obligation to keep the discussions private at all! If the coaches wanted their dismissal discussed in an open meeting, there is nothing preventing that from happening. Unless these coaches don’t want the reasons for their original firings made public, there seems to be no reason to keep this within executive session.
It seems like the Saranac School Board handled this situation extremely poorly. The delay in notifying the coaches, parents, athletes of the even possible dismissals was extremely mishandled. The reluctance of the school board, on the face of it, to discuss this seems possibly to be in violation of the open meetings law.
There was an editorial in today’s Press-Republican that also discusses this issue.
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